By Susanne Ault, Billboard
Thanks to stronger radio support and another big hit, the second leg of Matchbox Twenty's 2003 tour is pulling bigger crowds than its spring run.
Of the 42 shows reported to Billboard Boxscore, the band's April-June installment filled 63% of the overall capacities of the arenas hosting the band.
Tour organizers admit that those results were weaker than anticipated. The band's last major arena outing in 2001 packed 84% of its venue capacities, according to the 87 shows reported to Billboard Boxscore. Per-show grosses for the 42 shows in 2003 averaged $264,631; in 2001, they averaged $318,762.
Regarding the May 6 show at the Gund Arena in Cleveland, GM Peter Patton says, "We were very surprised about the soft sales." The date drew 6,046 people--43% of the arena's 14,195-seat capacity. "It was very strong when [the band] last came through." (Matchbox Twenty sold out its March 5, 2001, show.)
But radio stations are backing the Atlantic Records act more extensively this fall. That, organizers say, is fueling a number of expected sellouts on the 41-date second leg, which kicked off Sept. 24 at the Leon County Civic Center in Tallahassee, Fla., and will wrap Dec. 8 at the Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill.
"It already looks like we're going to exceed our sales from the first leg," says Carole Kinzel, Matchbox Twenty's booking agent at Creative Artists Agency, who cited the war in Iraq as part of the reason for the lagging sales. "I'm anticipating [buildings will be filled] at least 80% or more."
Kinzel says that the 14,000-seat Tweeter Center in Mansfield, Mass., sold out Sept. 30. Expected sellouts include the Oct. 24 show at the 18,000-seat Madison Square Garden. Tickets for shows on both legs range between $30 and $40.
During the spring, those markets did not perform as well. According to Billboard Boxscore, a May 12 Fleet Center date in Boston drew 9,146 people, 52% of its 17,511-seat capacity. On May 16, the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., attracted 9,187 people, which is 73% of its 12,500-seat capacity.
This leg, radio stations are showing more support, partly because they are out of the crunch of their own spring/summer radio listener shows, promoters say. Additionally, the band has another huge radio hit, "Unwell," under its belt.
"When we first announced Matchbox Twenty, radio wasn't gearing up with the promotion that they should have devoted to the band. That was a big problem," says Debra Rathwell, senior VP of AEG Live, who promoted the Continental Airlines Arena show and is working the upcoming Garden show.
Rathwell explains, "There were a lot of radio shows going on. There was [mainstream top 40 WHTZ] Z100 Zootopia here [June 1]. They had their show [to promote]. It wasn't personal. But now they are being fabulous and really behind [the October show]."
She is coordinating with four stations in the New York market in giving away Matchbox Twenty tickets multiple times per day.
"There was something to that," says Dave Universal, PD at mainstream top 40 WKSE Buffalo, N.Y., adding that the station's May 26 Kiss Me Hello show had promotion priority over Matchbox Twenty's concert in the market at that time. "But more than anything, 'Unwell' became a huge hit over the summer."
"Unwell" peaked at No. 5 on The Billboard 100 in June, after much of the initial leg of the tour had finished. This issue, the song is No. 15 on the chart, and new single "Bright Lights" is climbing the list, at No. 50.
"I think more people are responding to the shows this time around. 'Unwell' has been their biggest song since 'If You're Gone' [from 2000's "Mad Season"]. Their concert base increased," adds Tom Cuddy, PD at adult top 40 WPLJ New York.
Cuddy says that WPLJ is holding a contest where the winners will attend a Matchbox Twenty sound check prior to the Garden concert. WKSE is rolling out ticket giveaways for the Oct. 8 show at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario.
Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas feels that it is tough overall to receive the same amount of radio push that other bands do as concert dates near. His band impressively earns airplay on a wide range of radio formats, including mainstream top 40, adult contemporary and adult top 40. But that makes it tricky to promote shows on one radio station without insulting a rival station.
"It's a blessing and a curse to be a multi-format band. When three different stations are playing you, it's hard to be exclusive to anyone," Thomas observes.
Cuddy agrees that "it's difficult being able to do something to please all the stations. You have to try not to offend anyone."
However, Thomas jokes, in "kissing every radio station's ass at the beginning of the year, that helped 'Unwell' get to the status that it is."
Thomas says that some of the first-leg shows were not as packed as he would have liked, where "some nights you go into a 8,000-seat place and can't sell 5,000 tickets. [But] we're just happy out there playing. There's enough fans out there to justify playing."
With some notable exceptions like Madison Square Garden, the fall leg contains more secondary- and tertiary-market venues than the first run.
"It seemed like things had cooled off in the first run. But the size building we were looking at and the size market [led] to going forward [in signing on as promoter]," says Bill Rogers, a promoter with Jack Utsick Presents Northeast. He predicts that the shows he is working-- Oct. 12 at the 9,000-seat Sovereign Center in Reading, Pa., and Oct. 21 at the 7,000-seat Wicomico County Civic Center in Salisbury, Md.--will be near-sellouts.
Many tour organizers are rooting for Matchbox Twenty, as they are one of the few young mainstream rock bands that have sustained an arena-level career.
"Not everything is going to outperform year after year. In 1998, Collective Soul, Three Doors Down and Matchbox Twenty [broke through]. Matchbox Twenty are the guys that are still around," says Emmanuel Patterson, talent buyer with House of Blues Canada, which is promoting a number of first- and second-leg dates. "They are very consistent. Still a great band."