NASHVILLE (Billboard) - Since 1986, only two bands have claimed the honor as the top-grossing act twice in three years: the Rolling Stones (1998 and 1999) and the Grateful Dead (1991 and 1993).
But this year, another act can claim that title: Bon Jovi.
For the second time in three years, Bon Jovi ranks as the highest-grossing touring act. The band's achievement, this year and previously in 2008, demonstrates that, remarkably, the group is hitting its touring peak 26 years after releasing its debut album.
Ranking at No. 1 on the year-end Top 25 Tours chart with the Circle trek carries more cachet with the industry than with fans, Jon Bon Jovi acknowledges.
"It's funny, because there's obviously a part of you that's very proud of it," says the singer, calling from Japan following the band's two sellout shows at the Tokyo Dome. "In the industry it means something; it doesn't mean anything to the public. But in the industry, all your peers are going to look at it. They're going to see some kind of year-end charts for everything: albums, singles, touring. It's a very nice industry asterisk, for sure. U2 are paying attention."
Bon Jovi says fans don't come to shows because the band is the top touring act. "They come to see it because they've seen it before and they're willing to spend their disposable dollars," he says, adding that the band doesn't set out to top the Boxscore charts. "You can't think about it. In order to break records you have to just do it to satisfy the need."
In an ongoing global trek promoted by AEG Live that saw the band play stadiums and arenas, Bon Jovi reported Boxscore grosses for the period of November 20, 2009, through November 28, 2010, of $146,507,388 and attendance of 1,591,154 to 69 sellouts. When Bon Jovi was tops for the year in 2008 with its Lost Highway tour, the trek finished with a gross of $210 million, the 10th-biggest of all time.
"The biggest thing to remember about this tour is that having a great plan executed by an amazing team delivers the results," says band co-manager Paul Korzilius, who has worked Bon Jovi's tours since the band's earliest headlining days. "What it comes down to is Bon Jovi has always delivered on the promise of an incredible live show and has always remained current with records and their singles. And the customer, who we love, responds."
The 2010-11 trek is AEG Live's third outing with Bon Jovi, following the Have a Nice Day tour in 2005-06 and the Lost Highway tour in 2007-08, which grossed a combined $342 million and moved 3 million tickets worldwide, according to Billboard Boxscore.
"I joke with Jon: 'Bon Jovi is the gift that keeps on giving to us promoters,' " AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips says. "Bon Jovi is like our U2, that anchor client. A lot of times when a company is on their third tour with an act, it loses some of the sparkle of the first tour in terms of enthusiasm and attention to detail. In this case, it only intensifies. I credit that to the band's work ethic and to Paul's ability to work with an organization and get the most out of it. The bottom line is when a band is as loyal to a company as they are to us, we owe that back to them in spades."
The current tour could be considered Bon Jovi's most ambitious, at least for the modern era, Korzilius says. "But Bon Jovi got to where they are by great music performed live, and that has meant touring, touring, touring on a worldwide basis since the beginning," he says.
Bon Jovi agrees that the tour might be the band's most ambitious in a while, at least in terms of its length and scope. "Lost Highway was, I believe, a 100-show tour, and we'd gotten accustomed to that 100-show kind of a run," he says. "This will probably be 140 shows all told, so it is a bit ambitious. But when Paul and I sat with the calendar, it's paced in a way that's very doable."
The basic routing of the Circle tour began with a pair of dates on February 19 and 20 at KeyArena in Seattle, followed by runs through North America, Spain and Holland-and a 12-night stand at the O2 Arena in London that grossed more than $18 million. Then it was back home in July to finish a four-sellout stand at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., that, combined with the run's first three shows in May, took in more than $21 million and drew 200,000-plus fans.
The band played North American stadiums this summer, then headed to Mexico and Latin America for a box-office-busting fall run. Following promotion of the release of the new "Greatest Hits" album on Island Records in November, Bon Jovi resumed touring in Japan, Australia and New Zealand before a holiday break.
While the run has evolved from the Circle tour to the Greatest Hits tour, the same production will ramp up again in North America in February through April 15, then head for stadiums in Europe May 15-July 15.
The band and its management recognized the challenge of launching a tour of such breadth in uncertain economic times.
"We're aware of it," Bon Jovi says. "We were aware of it in the routing, and we were aware of it last night in the stadium. People don't have that kind of disposable income in the middle of the week, a school night, a work night. Ticket prices are what they are, unemployment is high over here as well. We were aware of all of those factors, but this is where it had to fit, so we were willing to sacrifice a couple of things for the opportunity to come."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte