Ed Sheeran returned to the stage last week for the start of his UK and Ireland arena tour. The dates are his first domestic dates since his acclaimed three-night stand at Wembley Stadium in 2015.
Sheeran is due to headline the Pyramid Stage at this year's Glastonbury Festival in June. In between, he visits Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Mexico, before heading to North America later in the year.
Here, his international booking agent Jon Ollier, of CAA, sits down with Music Week to explain the method behind one of 2017's biggest tours and beyond...
Why did you decide to go back to arenas for this tour?
The answer's fairly simple in that, with an Ed Sheeran album, it has such legs that we end up doing two year campaigns. Going back straight into stadiums, the question would be: where do you go from there? You add to that that you can only do stadiums for certain months of the year outside of the football season, and it just made sense this time back to go back into those smaller rooms.
How did you settle on the number of dates?
We were guided hugely by the album release. It was a very clandestine process where everything was kept under wraps, all to do with the fact that he was having a year of blackout on social media. We couldn't do anything until January this year when he came out with the new music and he was back on social media, and everything picked up from there. Looking at what we could fit into the year, he's got to fit in all of the different continents. We had to finish at a certain time before he went to America.
What was the demand like for tickets?
it's been absolutely off the scale. I'm told that, in the UK alone, five million people tried to buy tickets, which is unprecedented. During the presale, we experienced traffic that absolutely crippled everything; ticketing systems were failing, websites were falling over, all that kind of stuff. It got to the point where, because we didn't have enough tickets in the marketplace, it was actually slowing down our sales pattern. Between the presale and the general sale, we had to go out there and actually actively try and slow it down. We cancelled radio ads, we cancelled print ads... To actually be in a position where you're trying to cool it down so that you can service the people that are trying to buy tickets was just something completely unheard of for me. It's something that I've never had to do before and I doubt I ever will again.
How big a concern was secondary ticketing?
Secondary ticketing is a huge issue. I think it is regarded as a problem across the board. Different people have different views on how to deal with it. We moved away from trying to directly stop secondary ticketing because it's a beast and a difficult one to control. We pushed [Twickets] as the primary partner, not because we thought it was going to stop touts in their tracks but to start the education process on getting people to understand what secondary ticketing is. Although that might not sound as strong as some other artists, it's allowed us to be part of a conversation where now Stuart [Camp], the manager, is sitting on the FanFair Alliance panel, presenting to the parliamentary select committee, doing BBC News interviews and that kind of thing.
We made sure that no journalist could point to things - like they've done with other artists recently - and say, Such and such has put their tickets straight on a secondary site and the money's going straight into their pocket. We made sure that everyone was absolutely clean on that and that nothing could come back to Ed. That meant that we could go forward into the conversation with clean hands and a clean conscience. It’s been about a bigger conversation than just this tour.
Is Ed visiting any new markets on this tour?
There's the odd one but the idea is that we're going to start exploring markets that we haven't been to in 2018 and maybe even 2019 as well.
What can you tell us about his Glastonbury headline slot?
I think it's going to be amazing. It was a really important part of my plot based on the fact that we were going to start in arenas and then go on in to stadiums the following year because I felt that we needed to do something that would just tip those scales even further in terms of his profile and his weight in the marketplace. It was important to me that we did that and it was important to me that we did it as a worldwide exclusive so it was very special. I think personally whenever there is a little bit of a boundary push, or there's a little bit of apprehension on Ed's part, where he knows that he's pushing the envelope a little bit, that's when you get the best out of him. I'm confident it's going to be a real moment.
Finally, what can you say about Ed's live plans beyond this year?
I can talk about it like an agent and say we're doing arenas this year and we're holding a run of stadium dates for next year. The year after that there'll be a whole ton of residual markets that we haven't had a chance to get to yet. Beyond that, he's never done a year where he just goes, I'm going to pick the main festival in each market and aim to do a summer of festival headline shows.
That's the agent's response. The response when you know the guy is that, we're limited by venue capacity and that's about it. His drive and the ambition know absolutely no limits and any time a barrier is put in front of him, he will smash right through it.