A vast global expedition in support of his third album ÷ (Divide), the ÷ World Tour saw the one-man band play arenas throughout Europe, North America, South America and Asia last year.
Ed Sheeran then switched to stadiums in Australia and New Zealand in March, for a month-long run that would leave every concert attendance record in the territory obliterated.
Achieving unprecedented ticket sales wherever he went, Sheeran’s shows included four nights at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium (cap. 65,000), three at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium (75,000) and a trio of dates at New Zealand’s Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin (37,000).
In total, the 27-year-old singer-songwriter sold in excess of 1,040,000 tickets for the Australasian leg, the highest selling tour of the territory in history, smashing the previous record of 950,000 ticket sales held by Dire Straits since 1986.
It was a remarkable achievement for any act, and a truly astounding one for an unaccompanied solo artiste who was accompanied on stage by nothing more than a guitar and effects pedals.
“Ed Sheeran has broken every record under the sun here, he is bigger than Abba,” says promoter Frontier Touring’s Michael Gudinski. “It was the biggest tour in Australia and New Zealand in history. I don’t think the numbers will be beaten in my lifetime.”
Sheeran’s association with Gudinski goes back to November 2011, when the then 19-year-old artiste gave his first performances in Australia – showcases in Sydney and Melbourne in front of invitation only audiences of approximately 40 media and industry personnel sat around tables.
Sheeran was there to promote his debut album + (Plus). A monthly earlier his breakthrough hit The A Team, a ballad about drug use and prostitution, had proven an unlikely radio hit and went on to reach No 2 on the ARIA chart.
The shows included a performance at Collingwood’s Bakehouse Studios, a rehearsal space frequented by artistes such as Beck and Nick Cave, in Melbourne. Gudinski was in the audience.
“I was very impressed by Ed’s natural musical ability and his great communication, which was apparent even though it was a very small audience,” he says. “There was clearly something very special about him.
“Stuart Camp, Ed’s manager, had worked at the Mushroom label [also founded by Gudinski] for 10 years so I had a good relationship with him and I jumped on board from there.”
Frontier has promoted every Sheeran tour of Australia since, six in total, and over the years Gudinski has noticed Sheeran’s fanbase not only grow in number but expand into new demographics.
“When we first started playing here it was very much to an audience of screaming female fans, but Ed has been able to take that audience and expand it to the extent that he now has everyone from five-year-olds attending with their parents to teenagers and adults in the crowd,” he says.
Anticipation prior to the latest tour was high, with fans having had to wait more than two years between Sheeran tours of the territory. His previous tour, in support of his second album X commenced in August 2014 and closed with a run of stadium shows, the final one being at New Zealand’s Mount Smart Stadium (47,000) in Auckland, on 12 December 2015.
Understandably, at the end of the mammoth X Tour, Sheeran decided it was time to take a break, and resolved not to play live in 2016.
When details of the ÷ World Tour were revealed the following year, the lack of 2017 Australasian dates was a conspicuous gap in the plan given that Australia and New Zealand had been the first countries, after the UK, to be won over by Sheeran.
While the artiste’s fans waited two years for him to tour again, it was evident their veracious appetite for Sheeran’s music had not diminished.
When the two singles, Shape Of You and Castle On The Hill, were released simultaneously on 6 January 2017, they broke Spotify’s one-day streaming record with a combined 13 million streams in just 24 hours.
The tracks debuted at No 1 and No 2 on the ARIA Singles Chart – a feat no artiste had previously achieved.
All 16 tracks from ÷ have charted in the ARIA Top 40, and by the time the Australasian leg of the ÷ World Tour came to an end at the Forsyth Barr Stadium on 1 April this year, the album was in its 27th week at the peak of the Albums Chart and Sheeran’s previous albums, X and +, were at No 4 and No 7 respectively.
Despite no official dates having been planned, Sheeran couldn’t resist performing in Australia in 2017. A February visit saw him play shows at Sydney Opera House (5,700), and an invitation-only concert for 250 people on top of the six-million-year-old Hanging Rock, an extraordinary volcanic formation 44 miles (70km) north-west of Melbourne.
“Ed likes to do unique and different things,” explains Gudinski. “There were kangaroos everywhere, and then when Ed came out it was pouring with rain, but he insisted on playing, and it wasn’t until after the show that he told me, ‘You know, I’m not much good at height’.”
“For me at this stage in my career, working with Ed has been a revelation”
Sheeran’s production manager Chris Marsh says the show at a remote and near-inaccessible rock formation was “truly magical”, but in order to make it work the production team had to overcome some major challenges.
“It was tricky, the spot we performed on was not accessible by trucks or cars, there was no power, no stage and no potential rain cover, and it rained,” he says. “The team from Frontier did a great job of pulling it together, but it took quite a bit of out-of-the-box’ planning and throwing out the rule book to get to the end result.”
Gudinski says the absence of any arena shows in Australia in 2017 was all part of the master plan.
“Ed finished the previous stadium tour at Mount Smart in Auckland, so when it came to the under-play arena tour in 2017, I consciously spoke with Stuart and Ed’s agent Jon Ollier [at CAA in the UK] and said we finished the last stadium run here, so all we need to do is do a couple of promo shows,” he says.
“I had great confidence that we didn’t need to hit the market twice at that stage. When we announced the 2018 shows it hit the news worldwide because Australia was the start of the stadium tour.”
The opening date of the ÷ Australasian leg on 2 March was a fitting landmark; Sheeran became the first artiste to play Perth’s new 60,000-capacity Optus Stadium, and he set a tough record to break – two sell-out nights.
Marsh says the shows in Perth were a great start. “It was the first time we had managed to get all of the production built in one place, the first time we saw the whole thing ready for a show.
“The stadium had spent a lot of money on installing a permanent intelligent lighting system throughout the stadium bowl, so we had a lot of fun making the most of that,” he says.
“I have worked with the highly efficient and professional Stuart Camp and his team on this and all previous tours. The collaboration is reflected in Ed’s unprecedented global success.
“The old saying, “less is more”, is perfectly demonstrated by one man on stage who keeps re-writing the record books.”
Martin Goebbels, Director UK/Europe at insurance broker Integro Entertainment & Sport, UK
Four days and a 1,670-mile (2,690km) journey later for the tour’s 46 trucks, and Sheeran was in Adelaide for a sold-out show at the Adelaide Oval.
“The stage was set at the northern end of the stadium and Ed played to a capacity audience of over 66,000 fans,” says Adelaide Oval marketing manager Lucy Johnson.
“With 25,000 people standing on the oval, the show set a record for the highest capacity end-stage event at the venue.”
Johnson says the atmosphere during the show was remarkable and that despite the size of the venue, Sheeran created a real sense of intimacy. “To see one person hold an entire audience in the palm of their hands for two-hours was really special,” she reports.
Marsh says the key to ensuring the stadium shows were as intimate as possible was a production design that made great use of screens and provided the best sound throughout the venues.
“The aim is to keep the focus on Ed all the time, which seems fairly easy with him being the only one on stage, but actually it is quite difficult for a production design for stadiums not to end up so big that the artiste gets lost,” he explains.
“We attempt to give a sense of intimacy by working very hard on two key areas – keeping his image on the large video screens as often as possible, but without it becoming big TV. Secondly, we are very particular about the sound. The best way of creating intimacy is making sure that everyone in the building can hear everything Ed says and every nuance of the music.”
UK-based Light Control Rigging’s director Mike Oates and his team worked on the ÷ arena tour and turned the system around at the end of last year to start the stadium leg of the tour in Australia.
“There were no major challenges in changing the system for stadiums, there was an increase in height, additional lights, PA towers and extra fixtures, but nothing that meant a whole re-design,” says Oates.
“The great thing about this show is that they designed an arena set-up that would work great in stadiums.”
Other vital members of the Sheeran team are show designer Mark Cunniffe and tour manager Mark Friend, but everything revolves around Sheeran, his guitar and a looping station.
Sheeran has his own signature guitar, the Martin Ed Sheeran X, and a tailor made looping station called The Chewie Monsta.
Camp still finds himself gasping at some of the things Sheeran achieves with the looping device.
“It is remarkable to watch what Ed does with his feet, working those pedals,” he says. “I’ve stood there watching him with the people who build these things for a living, and they’re saying, ‘No, that’s not possible.’ They can’t get their heads round how he can do so many things at once.”
“To see one person hold an entire audience in the palm of their hands for two-hours was really special”
After a night off, following the Perth shows, and a 450-mile (725km) journey east, Sheeran played the first of four sold-out concerts at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium.
“Ed drew the largest cumulative crowd for any musician who has played here – 257,000 fans over four nights,” says Etihad Stadium CEO Michael Green. “The previous record holder was AC/DC in 2010 when they played to 180,000 fans over three nights.”
Green was also impressed by the show. “Seeing the entire stadium lit up when Ed asked the fans to turn on their torches was a spectacular sight,” he says.
The next stop was Sydney’s ANZ Stadium where Sheeran played three nights and broke the record for the largest crowd at the stadium for a series of shows by one act, with an attendance of more than 243,000 beating AC/DC’s record of 213,000 over three nights.
The final shows in Australia took place on the east coast at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium. When Sheeran last played the venue, on 28 November 2015, he performed to 46,000 people. This time he not only played there twice, but in front of a larger audience on both nights.
“The capacity was just under 54,000 and we had about 19,000 on the field,” says the venue’s general manager Alan Graham.
Graham reveals that demand for tickets was astounding, with both shows selling out 12 months in advance. When the concerts came around, the fans continued to demonstrate a level of excitement rarely seen.
“We had fans queuing up outside the stadium three days before the show,” he says. “We went to a lot of trouble to look after them, providing toilets, food vans, water, first aid and shelter to make them as comfortable as possible.
“More importantly, we ran a numbering system for the fans, so they could enter the stadium in the order they arrived.”
Ticketmaster Australia general manager of communications Jackie Antas reports, “It was the biggest selling tour we have ever worked on and we sold 12 of the 18 shows – six stadiums in Australia and six in New Zealand.
“For Etihad Stadium in Melbourne where we had approximately 52,000 fans in the queue for tickets within the first minute of general public onsale and a peak of almost 200,000 at one time, and 326,000 clicks to the event page.
“At the new Optus Perth Stadium we had almost 100,000 clicks to the event page each minute and sold out in eight minutes,” she says.
“The highlight of the tour was joining in Ed Sheeran’s success in making history by setting a new record number of stadium shows and tickets across Australia and New Zealand.”
On 24 March, Sheeran’s fans in New Zealand had an opportunity to demonstrate their enthusiasm when he played the first of three shows at the Mount Smart Stadium, having last played the Auckland venue 27 months previously.
Again, he set a new attendance record, attracting 135,000 fans over three shows, a venue record previously held by Adele with 130,000.
The sixth leg of the ÷ World Tour closed with three shows at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on the South Island. Attracting more than 110,000 people across the three nights, Sheeran set yet more venue records.
It was the first time he had played the venue and Dunedin Venues chief executive Terry Davies was among those delighted with the result.
“We knew Ed would be popular but we were astounded at the speed in which tickets were snapped up,” he says. “The pre-sale tickets for the first show sold out within 20 minutes. The first two shows sold out in less than half-an-hour of the public sale.
“The fans showed amazing support for Ed, with approximately 60 per cent coming from outside of Dunedin.”
With an attendance of 37,000 at each of the three shows, Sheeran set records for the highest attendance at a single concert at the stadium as well as the greatest number of shows at the venue on a single tour.
The population of the town is only 120,000, so in order to cope with the numbers descending on the building and its environs for the shows, the venue management took a series of measures including modifying the gate entry set-up in order to extend the stadium’s footprint, and the creation of extra food, beverage and bathroom facilities.
“We also invested in new technology, utilising a local Dunedin destination app and adding an Ed button that had stadium and city info on it,” says Davies. “The whole city embraced the three concerts and created a festival of activity all over the Easter break.”
“It was a unique end to a record breaking tour,” says Gudinski. “I knew that the tour would be massive but the key with stadium tours, when you are fortunate enough to be working with an act that can do multiple stadiums, is knowing where to draw the line. In hindsight, we could not have called it better.
“For me at this stage in my career, working with Ed has been a revelation. To be able to work so closely with an act and the manager has been completely rejuvenating for me. It has been a unique experience, there has never been an artiste in history that can perform solo in stadiums.”
Ed Sheeran Tour Dates 2018
|24-Mar||New Zealand||Auckland||Mt Smart Stadium||54,000|
|25-Mar||New Zealand||Auckland||Mt Smart Stadium||50,000|
|26-Mar||New Zealand||Auckland||Mt Smart Stadium||50,000|
|29-Mar||New Zealand||Dunedin||Forsyth Barr Stadium||37,000|
|31-Mar||New Zealand||Dunedin||Forsyth Barr Stadium||37,000|
|01-Apr||New Zealand||Dunedin||Forsyth Barr Stadium||37,000|