'Incredible, gobsmacking, breathtaking': Inside Ed Sheeran's year back on the road

'Incredible, gobsmacking, breathtaking': Inside Ed Sheeran's year back on the road

As huge as 2017 was for Ed Sheeran on the live circuit, 2018 promises to take things to a whole new level.

Last weekend’s Capital Jingle Bell Ball at The O2 marked the pop phenomenon’s final show of a year that has seen him tour Europe, the Americas and Asia, as well as headline the Glastonbury Festival.

“This year has just been incredible,” says Sheeran’s international agent Jon Ollier of CAA. “The tour was a success, we broke some records, we put the stadium tour on sale and we sold three million tickets outside of North America for next year. It’s just been gobsmacking. Glastonbury was just breathtaking. To see him up there was one of the proudest moments of my career.”

Glastonbury organiser Emily Eavis could not agree more. “With Ed being pretty much the biggest artist on the planet right now, he was a really clear choice for a headliner,” Eavis tells Music Week. “Also, all the kids in Pilton are massive fans and kept telling me and my dad that we should get him!

“It was just amazing. People almost take it for granted now that Ed can play these enormous shows entirely on his own, with just a guitar and a loop pedal, but it’s an incredibly impressive thing, and one that I think very, very few musicians could pull off.”

The next 12 months will see Sheeran play stadiums around the world, with the UK/Ireland leg lined up for May to June.

Ollier explains: “We know we could’ve come back and gone straight into stadiums [this year], but then where do you go after that?

“We just felt that by doing the arenas first and keeping the heat in the ticket, and then aiming for that Glastonbury headline slot, it would catapult us forward into the following year – and obviously it worked.”

Kilimanjaro Live and DHP Family are co-promoting the majority of the UK tour, with AEG Presents staging the Scottish dates. More than one million tickets have been sold for the shows.

“The arena tour was such an underplay for him. He can make any room feel intimate, you run out of superlatives,” says DHP’s Dan Ealam.

“It also gave a sense of excitement thinking about those bigger shows next year.”

“Ticket sales were off the scale,” beams Kili’s Steve Tilley. “We went for a Saturday onsale [for the stadium dates] to give everyone the best chance, and got rid of all presales so there wouldn’t be one channel getting a preferential start.

“I started adding shows very quickly. We went on sale with one Manchester Etihad, one Newcastle St James’ Park, two Wembleys and one Cardiff [Principality Stadium] and ended up with four Manchesters, three Newcastles, four Wembleys and four Cardiffs. Ed has always confounded expectations.”

AEG’s Simon Jones is organising Sheeran’s trio of Hampden Park concerts in Glasgow.  “I think we now have equalled the record for the most amount of tickets sold in Glasgow for a stadium, jointly with Take That,” he says.

It was a similar story at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium in Wales. “The feeling I was getting from people at the venue was that two nights would be incredible because no one had ever managed more,” notes Ealam.

“When we went on sale we were straight into four nights and that was a major moment. No one’s ever done three nights at St James’ Park in Newcastle before either – it is just mega.”

Up to 10,000 tickets purchased illegally by known touts were cancelled and returned back into the marketplace for purchase at face value via Twickets after promoters and Sheeran’s team worked to protect fans from the excesses of the secondary ticketing market.

Three of the big four resale sites heeded warnings not to resell tickets (Viagogo failed to comply with the promoters’ requests). As a result, 90% of tickets were delivered directly to fans at face value.

“That was another reason why we decided not to do presales,” reveals Tilley. “We felt that presales drive the secondary market because you’re restricting the supply of tickets, therefore people start panicking that they can’t get a ticket and so the first thing they do is go to the secondary market. That’s normally when they then get ripped off.”

Last month, the CMA announced it would take enforcement action against secondary ticketing websites suspected of breaking consumer protection law. Google has also recently unveiled new global resale regulations.

“We’ve done a lot of work in trying to effect change and get some regulation, and there’s been some news over the past couple of weeks that shows that people are starting to listen,” adds Ollier.

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