Washington (CNN) — Taylor Swift didn’t have to run a major company or helm a central bank to wield some immense economic power this year.
The pop superstar reigned supreme in 2023 not just as a musical artist, but also as a businessperson: Her career-defining “Eras” tour sold out stadiums across the globe, fans splurged on merchandise while attending her concerts, the film of her tour broke box office records in its opening weekend, and Swift herself became a billionaire along the way.
Swift achieved remarkable feats that would be impressive for any typical business leader running a Fortune 500 company. She commanded a loyal base of fans who came out in full force to spend, and in an economy mainly driven by consumer spending, that’s success for any business leader – whether or not they bear the title of “chief executive officer.”
“She’s a powerhouse, business-wise,” Armen Shaomian, an associate professor of sport and entertainment management at the University of South Carolina, told CNN.
No other company leader in recent memory has generated so much goodwill with customers, so much international enthusiasm, or such business acumen.
That’s why Swift is CNN’s businessperson of the year — yet another accolade of the iconic singer’s massive influence on the world’s richest capitalistic society.
The commercially successful “Eras” tour
The Eras tour was the centerpiece of Swift’s phenomenal year, and it’ll stretch through the end of 2024. StubHub said Swift’s tour “was the biggest” in the ticket company’s two-decade history, outpacing other successful acts in terms of ticket sales.
“Taylor Swift wasn’t just performing; she was rewriting the playbook, leaving a trail of glitter, economic stimuli and friendship bracelets wherever she went,” the company’s year-end report said.
Swift herself hasn’t released official sales figures, but some estimates show the tour is already raking in 10 figures. Pollstar estimated earlier this month that the tour’s first 60 shows grossed more than $1 billion.
An analysis shared exclusively with CNN earlier this year projected that Swift’s shows in North America alone could bring in more than $2 billion in revenue, making it the highest-grossing tour ever.
Swift’s gravitational pull was so strong that fans were aggressively bidding up ticket prices on the re-sale market. SeatGeek previously told CNN the average resale price of an “Eras” ticket was $1,607, up 741% from her “Reputation” tour in 2018, for which the average resale ticket price was $191.
She is a generous boss, too, sharing $100,000 bonuses with Eras Tour truck drivers during the summer.
The sensational tour itself was like a traveling ball of economic activity, crisscrossing through major American cities as fans descended with cash burning holes through their wallets.
Hotel rooms in cities hosting Eras shows filled up fast, retailers said they got a boost from concertgoers seeking clothes to match the tour’s theme, and a Federal Reserve report even noted how the tour boosted hotel revenue in Philadelphia, according to one business in the survey.
Swift’s business acumen
What really highlights Swift’s business acumen is how the singer capitalized on that burning enthusiasm to drive even more sales. Electrified fans opened their wallets to snap up shirts, sweaters, hats, posters and other kinds of merchandise exhibiting the singer in all her glory.
It was an excellent case study of understanding your customers and giving them what they want.
“The merchandising aspect of the tour was so important because it allowed fans to bring home some of that experience since it’s all about the memories,” Shaomian of the University of South Carolina said.
“Fans were lining up hours before the arena even opened because the merchandise was set up in a different area and they wanted first dibs on buying. Even if only a quarter of those people bought something, that’s easily at least a million dollars a night,” he said.
That’s on top of merchandise available online. From guitar picks to nail gems, Swift gave her ardent fans another reason to spend more, and spend they did.
Swift’s business strategy went beyond the concert stage to the big screen, again capitalizing on the already-feverish hype for the singer and her signature tour.
The singer-songwriter released a film of this year’s shows in mid-October, titled “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour.” The film raked in a staggering $96 million in its opening weekend in the United States and Canada, according to movie theater chain AMC. That made it the highest grossing concert film domestically for an opening weekend.
“It took less than 24 hours for the Taylor Swift The Eras Tour concert film to shatter AMC’s US record for the highest ticket-sales revenue during a single day in AMC’s 103-year history,” AMC said at the time.
And what business leader doesn’t benefit some good publicity?
In addition to countless other news stories, Swift was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year, an arguably prestigious honor usually reserved for changemakers such as Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and Pope Francis.
“It feels like the breakthrough moment of my career, happening at 33,” Swift told Time. “And for the first time in my life, I was mentally tough enough to take what comes with that.”
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