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Faced with continuing declines in attendance and a potentially disastrous void as the cash-cow classic acts from the ’60s and ’70s retire, concert promoters searching for answers might do well to examine the enterprising route taken by Jon Bon Jovi.
Along with Madonna, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and Dave Matthews Band, Bon Jovi and his eponymous band have emerged this summer, perhaps surprisingly to some, as one of the few sure things on the road. Business is so strong that the group is bypassing arenas and amphitheaters in favor of much larger outdoor stadiums, at roughly 50,000 seats per show. In recent years, only Matthews, a resurgent Green Day, Metallica and a handful of others have been able to attract that many fans.
This month alone, the band is expected to earn more than $25 million from nine dates, with grosses for the entire tour (which launched in November with the first of about 90 dates) exceeding $100 million.
While most free-spending, over-40 concertgoers now seem to prefer comfortable indoor shows to the event-style concerts in football stadiums that once ruled, for some acts the big outdoor show remains very much a part of the equation. For Jon Bon Jovi, a guy mistakenly written off years ago as little more than a big-haired ’80s novelty, regularly filling such venues worldwide seems testament to the more unorthodox decisions he has made through the years.
“His mind is always turning,” says Ron VanDeVeen, associate general manager of the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J., where the band will close out the final leg of its Have a Nice Day tour July 29 with the last of three Giants Stadium shows. “He thinks like the customer. He knows the specifics of every deal down to the last dime.”
That attention to detail — along with a hummable catalog, accessibly priced tickets, alliances with pro sports (he’s majority owner of the Arena Football League’s Philadelphia Soul) and a willingness to stay the course while ignoring traditional promotional advice — has kept the band strong for nearly 24 years.
Sturdy new material, high-profile charity work and a reputation for exuberant live performances also have helped Bon Jovi make a major leap in recent years — from mere lucrative rock group to the kind of career act that’s relatable across genres and generations.
“We did ’em in 2000 and 2003, and now we’re doing more of them,” Bon Jovi said of his various stadium runs during a recent phone call from London, where he was finishing up the European tour leg that included gigs at 17 soccer stadiums. “Last tour, we did Philly, Detroit, Boston and New York; this year we’ve added Chicago (Soldier Field), Pittsburgh (Heinz Field) and Montreal (Parc Jean-Drapeau).”
In April, Bon Jovi became the first rock band to top Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, landing the No. 1 spot with “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” a collaboration with Jennifer Nettles of the rising country band Sugarland. The song also is part of a breezy tourism campaign on behalf of New Jersey, where Jon Bon Jovi still lives.
“Not only does Jon have great business sense, but he gives you the feeling that he’s a good guy,” says Bernie Dillon, general manager of the 5,600-seat Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Fla., where the band will kick off this tour leg Monday with a rare small-hall show. “People like that about him.”
Continually expanding the audience, rather than simply playing to their original fans, also has been paramount. During the height of the boy-band frenzy of the late ’90s, Bon Jovi and sideman Richie Sambora (now 44 and 46, respectively) unabashedly exploited their movie-star looks, targeting older but no less passionate female fans — half-jokingly calling themselves “a man band.”
Suggestive film roles, Jon Bon Jovi’s stint on “Ally McBeal” and Sambora’s Hollywood romance with Heather Locklear had already been resonating with women. When radio and MTV dried up for the band, they took their music direct to housewives via home shopping channel QVC. More recently, the band engineered productive partnerships with AOL and XM Satellite Radio, both of which have beamed concerts live.
“They have always found a way to reach their fans. And it doesn’t hurt that they’ve discovered the fountain of youth,” Randy Phillips, president and CEO of AEG Live, promoter of the tour, says of the guys’ devotion to fitness and clean living. “But the fact is this band still sells a lot of records.” Their 2005 Island Records release “Have a Nice Day” sold 200,000 units in its first week.
“We have always been aware of the future coming,” Bon Jovi said. “When some radio conglomerate says you’re not relevant anymore, we went to a lot of places that no one else would go, like Asia and Central and South America, knowing we’d always have some place to play.”
Phillips noted that the band’s career-long decision to hold the line on ticket prices also has been smart. Tickets now routinely exceed $300 a pop for some superstars, but Bon Jovi is charging $35-$125 per show (excluding the Hard Rock gig).
“I do know how to run our business,” Bon Jovi said. “There are so many other (entertainment) options today — and I remember very well what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck.”
By Deborah Wilker
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