Despite calls for a boycott of Florida concert stages following George
Zimmerman's acquittal in Trayvon Martin's shooting death, the music still goes
Justin Timberlake's and Jay Z's names had surfaced on a list of big-name concert acts supporting such a boycott. But both will perform as scheduled Friday night in South Florida, in one of the summer's biggest music tours. And Timberlake's December concert in Orlando is still on tap.
About a month ago, it looked doubtful that the scheduled shows would happen. After Zimmerman's not-guilty verdict in the teen's death, protesters of the controversial Stand Your Ground law called for boycotts of Florida and more than 20 other states with similar statutes. Legendary soul singer Stevie Wonder proclaimed his intent July 14 to boycott from a concert stage in Canada.
Before long, the names of some of the biggest performers in the music business, including The Rolling Stones, Kanye West and Rihanna in addition to Timberlake and Jay Z, were popping up on Internet lists of boycotters.
As it turned out, many on the list hadn't committed to a boycott. A much shorter list of acts, including veteran soul singer Eddie Levert (the O'Jays), 1960s pop star Dionne Warwick, gospel duo Mary Mary and R&B star Chaka Khan, publicly support the idea.
"We certainly haven't had anything canceled," said John Valentino, senior vice president of AEG Live in Florida. The West Palm Beach office books more than 400 concerts and events annually in Florida for the world's second-largest concert promotion company. Its concert roster includes Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and The Who.
"We haven't been told by any agents that our offers won't be considered because of the verdict," Valentino said. "We also have not been told by any agent that any artist that we've inquired about won't be routed this way because of the verdict. We get emails all day long from acts looking to tour Florida, who want to tour Florida."
Although Live Nation, promoter of the Timberlake/Jay Z concert in South Florida, wouldn't comment, there's no indication that the world's largest concert promotion company has been affected by a boycott.
That's also the case with the Amway Center in Orlando, which occasionally promotes its own events, said Amway Center director Allen Johnson.
"We have not had any holds or show cancellations that have been attributed to a boycott," said Johnson, adding that he has not heard of any cancellations for that reason statewide.
In order for a boycott involving concert tours to work economically, the list of popular acts would need to be substantial enough for many venues in a state to lose business from multiple tours, said Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of industry magazine Pollstar, which tracks the concert business.
"To have any real effect, you need to have the top arena headliners all saying that they're not going to play there, so that arenas in Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami and Tampa are all concerned because they are losing out on big shows. As I understand this situation, those are not the ones who are boycotting," Bongiovanni said.
"In some ways, they [boycotting acts] are punishing themselves and their fans by not appearing," Bongiovanni said. "Whether it actually has any impact on the broader issue is probably pretty iffy."
Who stands to lose money when a concert is canceled depends a lot on timing.
In the early weeks after a show is announced, when expenses are limited to advertising costs, there's less financial commitment. If a show is pulled at the last minute, the stakes are higher. Losses for a canceled date of a typical arena tour could range from $500,000 to $1 million, Bongiovanni says.
"The absolute worse case is when something is canceled the day of the show," Bongiovanni said. "You have spent every dollar you can possibly spend. You have teamsters and stage hands building the stage, maybe you've opened the building to let people in. Not only do you have to give the ticket money back, but you've incurred every expense that you could possibly occur."
Yet a pop-star boycott can be measured by more than financial losses, said Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University.
"There's also the idea of a symbolic gesture and symbolic gestures are still important," Thompson said. "It's like when you threaten to sue somebody. It does get your attention."
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