Adele‘s return to music after four years on the sidelines (save for “Skyfall”) has been record-breakingly triumphant so far. The 1.11 million first-week purchases of lead single “Hello” broke digital sales records and her third LP 25, out Nov. 20 via XL/Columbia, is expected to sell well over a million copies in its first week and could even pass two.
But despite her mighty chart and sales record — 2011’s 21 has sold 11 million units in the U.S. and stuck around in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 for 80 weeks — the singer’s touring history is less established. The 2011 Adele Live tour was plagued by cancellations and postponements as the singer battled laryngitis, then a chest infection, then a vocal cord hemorrhage that required surgery and forced her to cancel her 16 remaining U.S. and U.K. performances.
Finally fully healed, sources tell Billboard Adele is plotting a tour to support 25 using a strategy that’s rare for an artist of her stature: her team is working on deals on a market-to-market basis rather than cutting a single tour deal with a promoter like Live Nation or AEG Live.
It’s a more complex and time-consuming approach that is common for club circuits but has fallen largely out of practice on the arena level. But it can lead to competitive bidding in each market and better terms on hall rental and merchandise percentages. Plus, it can provide individualized attention in each market, as promoters focus on working their own shows independently rather than a tour as a whole.
For all its potential benefits, the tactic also puts much more work on the plate of Adele’s booking agent, William Morris Endeavor’s Kirk Sommer, who now has potentially dozens of deals to negotiate. Though less common for a superstar artist, the practice is not unheard of, and is the model for agents like Dennis Arfa, CEO of AGI, and his flagship client Billy Joel.
Still, it makes sense for an artist like Adele, who doesn’t have an expansive touring record and could require the extra attention each market will provide. And while working market to market means independent promoters like Another Planet Entertainment, Nederlander Concerts, Jam Productions and Bowery Presents — each of which promoted shows on her last tour — are contenders to be involved this time around, it doesn’t rule out partnering with Live Nation or AEG Live on select dates. Ultimately, it puts the focus squarely on who can offer the best terms in each situation.
While Adele’s touring track record is not particularly strong — Billboard Boxscore statistics report just 31 shows from 2008 to 2011, bringing in a gross of $2,765,455 — that “doesn’t matter” in this case, says Debra Rathwell, senior vp at AEG Live in New York.
“It’s totally about pent-up demand,” says Rathwell, who also believes Adele’s four-year absence from the circuit won’t come into play. “People just love her, they’ve never seen her, and they’re going to see her. Sometimes being elusive and unavailable so increases your demand — a thousand-fold in this case.”
She’s also expected to target arenas, a big step up from her previous tour of theaters and smaller venues, though that isn’t expected to be an issue.
“It’s going to sell out every show on planet earth,” says another concert industry source. “As many shows as she wants to play, every show is gonna sell out. You can tell with what happened with the single. It’s going to be a record breaking album.”