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Taylor Swift re-ignites the debate: Which Ohio city gets the biggest concerts?

 A crowd looks at a stage with a band. The frontrunner is a woman with a white dress and an acoustic guitar. Purple lights shine on the musicians.
Brittany Mader
Japanese Breakfast performs at the Agora in Cleveland in 2021. Ohio music fans always argue over which city attracts the best bands.

Taylor Swift is coming to Cincinnati. Not Columbus. Not Cleveland. Not Toledo or Dayton or Lima or Bucyrus. Cincinnati, and Cincinnati alone.

By making the Queen City the only Ohio stop of her Eras tour, she’s re-opened an old debate:

Which Ohio city gets the biggest concerts?

“All three cities think that they don't get the better shows,” said Marissa McClellan, marketing director with Ohio entertainment company PromoWest. “I see everyone commenting on social media like ‘Cincinnati never gets the good shows’, and it's funny because people in Columbus say the same thing.”

But Swift’s tour – while highly anticipated – is only one data point in the fight for concert primacy. So the Ohio Newsroom looked at the top 30 highest grossing North American tours in 2021 and 2022 to settle the debate.

So, who’s right?

In 2021 and 2022, 80% of those tours made a stop in Ohio. Cleveland came out on top with 20 visits. And Cincinnati was just behind with 17. Columbus lagged – only 11 big acts visited the state capital in that timeframe.

McClellan said a lot goes into touring decisions. She said it’s not so much the size of a city, but the size of its venues that counts. Cincinnati and Cleveland have bigger capacity, in a lot of spaces.

“Having football stadiums has a big big thing to do with it to get those bigger artists,” McClellan said. “Columbus no longer has a large amphitheater … so they get different artists and different level acts than we do here in Columbus because we don’t have that.”

Columbus’s biggest amphitheater is KEMBA Live!, but its capacity pales to the other two cities’ counterparts. KEMBA can hold a maximum of 5,200 guests. For a concert series earlier this month, KEMBA’s parking lot was the only outdoor space large enough to fit the fans of the indie rock group boygenius. Bigger crowds aren’t an issue at the Blossom Center in Cuyahoga Falls or at Riverbend in Cincinnati — they both hold around 20,000 concert goers.

Football stadium-wise, the Cleveland Browns Stadium seats 68,000 and Paycor Stadium, where the Bengals play, can fit 65,000 attendees. Columbus has Ohio Stadium, where the Ohio State Buckeyes play. It has a 100,000 person capacity, but that size actually works against it.

“You have to be able to sell a lot of tickets to fill that one,” McClellan said. “Just having the pro-sports teams in the [Cincinnati and Cleveland], they just have a lot more options.”

Plus, you have to consider who owns each venue, said Eric Holt, an assistant professor of music business at Belmont University in Nashville. He said some big artists work with large touring companies to set their schedules. That means they play where those companies own spaces.

“They’ll say we want to buy the entire tour. So you're not dealing with independent concert promoters in each city, you're dealing with one entity for all the dates of your tour,” Holt said.

That could explain why almost two-thirds of the bands that chose Cleveland in ‘21 and ‘22 played at the Blossom Center, owned by the biggest concert promoter in the country: LiveNation.

 Fireworks burst over a large amphitheater. A crowd of people sit on the lawn around the stage.
Roger Mastroianni
The Cleveland Orchestra
The Cleveland Orchestra played at the Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls on July 3, 2021. The Cuyahoga Falls music venue attracts many big names for summertime concerts.

Holt said you also have to factor in the history of the city. Cleveland is home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – so it’s no surprise that nearly half of the big rock tours in that two-year time span chose northeast Ohio.

“I feel like if you go to a Bruce Springsteen show here [in Cleveland], there's a higher level of enthusiasm because of the history that someone like that has with the city,” said Jeff Niesel, a freelance music writer for the Cleveland Scene.

Money, money, money

The state’s musical roots – and the concerts they bring in – are important. And not just to live music fans, said Ohio Arts Council Executive Director Donna Collins.

She said every time an artist chooses to visit the state, it’s like music to her ears.

 A chart of the top grossing North American tours, according to Pollstar.
In 2022, Bad Bunny came out on top with the highest grossing North American tour. His tour didn't stop in Ohio.

“It's an economic driver,” she said. “Not only the spending of money to purchase tickets, but then all the revenue that comes into the state because these folks are here.”

Swift’s concert alone is expected to bring $48 million in extra spending on hotels, transportation, tickets and food, according to the Cincinnati Regional Chamber.

Across Ohio, the impact of live music reached nearly three billion dollars in 2019. That’s according to a study commissioned by LiveNation, the aforementioned concert promoter, which has a vested interest in touting the economic benefits of music shows.

So even if Swift didn’t fulfill your wildest dreams by coming to your city, Columbus promoter McClellan said Ohioans are in a pretty good position.

“I think we're spoiled, where we can literally go two to four hours and see almost any show,” she said. “Just because it's maybe not specifically in your city, you still have really great access.”

In McClellan’s view, fans who are grumpy that a concert isn’t coming to their city…probably just need to shake it off.

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.