The Eagles and Jimmy Buffett, who team up Saturday at Target Field, may sound like classic-rock heaven to some baby boomers. But the tandem could also sound like a megamerger to Wall Street.
Since reuniting in 1994, the Eagles grossed $850 million from concert tickets before co-leader Glenn Frey died in January 2016. Factor in souvenir sales and the Eagles have easily soared over $1 billion, according to Billboard. And their blockbuster “Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)” ranks as the second-bestselling album of all time, behind Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
So accountants, start your calculators.
But the Eagles couldn’t carry Buffett’s flip-flops.
The 71-year-old beach bum ranks No. 11 among the world’s wealthiest musicians, according to TheRichest.com, right ahead of Mick Jagger, Ringo Starr and Bruce Springsteen. Not bad for a singer with only one hit song that anyone other than a Parrothead could name.
Buffett was worth $430 million in 2017, according to theRichest.com, down from the $550 million estimate by Forbes in 2016. By contrast, Eagles co-leader Don Henley, who also has had a hit-filled solo career, is valued at $200 million, says the Richest.
Buffett — no relation to business magnate Warren Buffett, but the pals call each other “Uncle Warren” and “Cousin Jimmy” — has parlayed that hit, 1977’s “Margaritaville,” into a food, drink and hospitality empire.
There are 51 restaurants (including four on Norwegian cruise ships, three at airports and one at the Mall of America), seven bars, eight resorts (three more being built), three casinos, two vacation clubs in the Caribbean, a travel adventure club, a wine club and a parrot in a palm tree.
What’s next? A $1 billion senior living center, Latitude Margaritaville, in Daytona Beach, Fla., opening for anyone 55 or older. That’s in addition to senior housing communities under construction in Hilton Head, S.C., and Panama Beach, Fla. And you don’t have to be a Parrothead, which is a nickname for his fins, er, fans.
Buffett sells a lifestyle of kick back, enjoy a drink, the ocean, the sun and more than 400 branded products.
“He’s about having a good time,” says Brad Rogers, of Fresno, Calif., an editor at Pollstar, the concert journal. “It’s his independent spirit” that makes him popular.
Rogers got hooked on Buffett while in college in the early ’80s, and he’s dedicated enough that he’s wearing Buffett-branded loafers.
Kiss may think they are the kings of rock-star merchandising, selling everything from condoms to coffins, but Buffett’s buffet of items includes a frozen concoction maker ($499.99), Adirondack chair ($249.99), 26-inch men’s or women’s bicycle ($249.99-$279.99), outdoor surfboard bar ($699.99) as well as flip-flops ($39.95-$64.99), loafers ($59.99-$84.99) and, of course, lost shakers of salt ($7.95).
Buffett also has brands of beer and tequila, food seasonings and even food (frozen shrimp, tortilla chips, etc.) in grocery stores. Not to mention his four novels, two of which went to No. 1 on the New York Times’ bestseller lists, as did his 1998 memoir, “A Pirate Looks at Fifty.”
Mr. Margaritaville’s empire employs more than 5,000 people and racked up more than $1.5 billion in sales last year. And people thought the easygoing Buffett was a professional slacker.
It all started when the Alabama-reared singer-songwriter noticed his fans wearing homemade parrot headgear at concerts. If there was a demand, he would make sure there was a supply, with his name and trademark all over the products. He started with parrot-themed T-shirts, hats and flip-flops, and, in 1987, he opened his first Margaritaville restaurant in Key West, Fla. Then in ’96, with a business partner, he began building his empire from a two-restaurant chain.
Buffett is not all food, drink and beach accessories. Unlike other big-name acts, he has gone on a concert tour every year since 1976. He averages about 30 gigs annually, mostly outdoors, of course.
Eagles from frozen hell
The Eagles, who have bounced back from the dead twice, are more about music and concerts than ancillary items. After disbanding acrimoniously in 1980, co-leader Don Henley said the band would get together “when hell freezes over.”
Even though that date was not marked on anybody’s calendar, the Eagles reconvened in 1994 for a tour and have been on a roll ever since.
Selling the dreams of opportunity in the laissez-faire New West in the 1970s, the Eagles turned tunes like “Take It Easy,” “Hotel California” and “Life in the Fast Lane” into musical gold. Actually, multiplatinum, with “Their Greatest Hits” topping 29 million in sales. The band ranks fifth overall in total albums sold in the United States, with 101 million.
Like Buffett, the Eagles have been trendsetters in certain aspects of the music industry. In ’94, the California band became the first pop-music act to charge $100 or more for concert tickets.
“Tickets should be priced at what the fans are willing to pay to see the performer,” Eagles manager Irving Azoff told Billboard in 2016. “The key element in breaking the $100 ceiling was that it changed the dynamic of resale [by] having the revenue generated by tickets going back to the business — promoters, artists, venues, etc.,” not scalpers or resellers.
The average price for an Eagles ticket this year is $162.57, according to Pollstar. Since 1999, the group has the second-highest average ticket price in the entire concert industry, at $117.28. Only the Rolling Stones topped that — $138.20 — while box office behemoths U2 checked in at $97.80. (By comparison, Buffett concert tickets average $62 — or $100 less than the Eagles’ — in that period.)
The Eagles, America’s bestselling band, have released only one album of new music since 1980. And they marketed that recording, 2007’s “Long Road Out of Eden,” with an exclusive deal with Walmart, a surprising pairing for outspokenly left-leaning musicians with a Republican-supporting megastore. But big business trumps politics. “Eden” became the first store-exclusive album to reach No. 1.
While artists traditionally tour to promote new albums, the Eagles became the first to hit the road in support of a DVD, 2013’s “History of the Eagles,” which was first broadcast as a warts-and-all documentary on Showtime.
Touring behind the film accomplished “way more for them at this point in their career than any album could have done,” Azoff told Billboard. In numbers, that translated to 147 concerts in front of 2 million people, grossing $253 million.
Last summer, the Eagles surprisingly resurfaced at two rock festivals with a revamped lineup featuring country star Vince Gill and Frey’s 24-year-old son, Deacon. This year, the band that everyone thought was finished after Frey’s death has returned with an ambitious 52-concert North American tour visiting both stadiums and arenas.
Buffett on Broadway
Buffett wised up long ago when it came to putting out records. In 1999, he started his own label, going from making $2.20 an album when he recorded for MCA (now Universal) to $6 for his own Mailboat imprint. His 27 albums have sold 23 million copies combined, which ranks him right ahead of the original good-vibes guys, the Beach Boys.
Not every venture has paid off for Buffett. His first beer, Lone Palm Lager, did not meet sales expectations, so it was rebranded LandShark Lager (a reference to a line in his “Fins” song), and sales took off. His Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant chain (named after another favorite song) struggled, so he sold his stake. His first stage musical, a 1997 version of Herman Wouk’s 1965 novel, “Don’t Stop the Carnival,” got stopped by bad reviews in Miami before it could reach Broadway.
Buffett finally bowed on Broadway this winter with “Escape to Margaritaville,” a jukebox musical created with two Parrothead sitcom writers. The island-themed show is filled with Buffett ditties, inside jokes for Parrotheads, a cutesy plot worthy of a Hallmark movie and corny jokes that should have been rejected from a deserves-to-be-canceled sitcom. The mildly entertaining but piffle of a musical will close Sunday after only 124 performances.
At least Buffett did something right on Broadway: His musical set the Great White Way record for biggest liquor sales for one night.