George Strait Had Billboard’s Top Country Tour — Wait, What?


After the 2020 Billboard Music Awards on Wednesday night (Oct. 14), George Strait was announced as the winner in the Top Country Tour category. That’s historic and surprising.

It’s historic because, at age 68, Strait was the oldest winner at the 2020 BBMAs (per Billboard). It’s surprising because — didn’t the King of Country retire from the road?

Indeed, aside from a handful of dates during a longstanding residency in Las Vegas, Nev., he only notched a couple of one-offs in 2019. So, what the heck happened?

Let’s start with Billboard‘s Top 5 tours of 2019 list, ranked by total gross:

1. Eric Church: $65 million
2. Florida Georgia Line: $53 million
3. Carrie Underwood: $50 million
4. Thomas Rhett: $47 million
5. George Strait: $46 million

Florida Georgia Line and Eric Church were the two other nominees in the category on Wednesday night. Both toured heavily in 2019, logging 46 and 48 shows, respectively, per Billboard‘s end of year 2019 accounting. That same list showed Strait with just nine shows played, but he averaged more than $5 million a show, which is a tremendous number and far outpaces his contemporaries.

But No. 5 is a long way from No. 1 (i.e., the BBMAs winner), so stick with us, because this next part is critical to understanding how he won: The 2020 BBMAs winners were determined using data from March 23, 2019, through March 14, 2020, which lined up nicely with the award show’s original late-April air date. January, February and March are months typically spent resting and recording for country music A-listers, but Strait hit the gas, playing five more concerts before March 14. The other artists in Billboard‘s 2019 year-end Top 5 were either planning bigger tours for later in 2020 or taking a year off from the road.

Five more Strait concerts at $5 million a show is another $25 million gross. Add that to his $46 million from 2019 and you get a number ($71 million) that exceeds Church’s total gross for 2019, $65 million.

There are, of course, a few other things to understand: First, this math assumes he’d average $5 million once again (a safe-ish bet), and it assumes all things were equal during the first three months of 2019, which isn’t totally true. Strait did a couple of Las Vegas shows, but Church cranked up his 2019 Double Down Tour early — as many as 20 concerts would come off the books to honor the March-to-March eligibility window — and FGL played a handful of dates in Australia.

The second thing to understand is there is some discrepancy between how Billboard and other trade publications do the math. In 2016, Pollstar explained that Billboard‘s data only includes the information reported to Billboard, while Pollstar creates educated estimations for the missing data as well. For this reason, their year-end lists looked much different — Garth Brooks was No. 1 on Pollstar, for example.

The takeaway is that the math for the 2020 BBMAs checks out, and would still check out even if everything had not been shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, Strait may have been poised to repeat in 2021, as he was loading up with Las Vegas and football stadium dates this year. The King makes it rain dollar bills like no one else in the industry. He truly works smarter, not harder.

Think George Strait Was the ’80s Biggest Star? Think Again:

Live Like a King: See George Strait Through the Years

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