Taylor Swift didn’t have to run a major company or a central bank to wield enormous economic power this year.
The pop superstar reigns supreme in 2023 not only as a musical artist, but also as a businessman: her career-defining Eras tour sold out stadiums around the world, fans splashed merchandise while attending her concerts, her tour film broke box office records in its first 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 fan base that came out in full force to spend, and in an economy driven primarily by consumer spending, that’s success for any business leader – whether or not they hold the title of ‘CEO’. (Here are CNN Business’ picks for CEO of the year.)
“She’s a force in business terms,” Armen Shaomian, associate professor of sports and entertainment management at the University of South Carolina, told CNN.
No other company leader in recent memory has generated so much goodwill among customers, so much international enthusiasm or such business acumen.
That’s why Swift is CNN’s Business Person of the Year — yet another recognition of the iconic singer’s enormous influence on the world’s richest capitalist society.
The Eras Tour has been the centerpiece of Swift’s phenomenal year and will run until the end of 2024. StubHub said Swift’s tour “is the biggest” in the ticket company’s two-decade history, surpassing other successful acts in terms of ticket sales.
“Taylor Swift didn’t just perform; she rewrote the book, leaving a trail of glamour, economic incentives and friendship bracelets wherever she went,” the company said in its year-end report.
Swift herself has not released official sales figures, but some estimates suggest the tour is already in the 10s. 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 predicted that Swift’s shows in North America alone could bring in more than $2 billion in revenue, making it the highest-grossing tour in history.
Swift’s gravitational pull was so strong that fans aggressively bid up ticket prices on the resale market. SeatGeek previously told CNN that the average resale price of an “Eras” ticket was $1,607, a 741 percent increase over her 2018 “Reputation” tour, which the average resale ticket price was $191.
She’s also a generous boss, sharing $100,000 in bonuses with Eras Tour truckers over the summer.
The sensational tour itself was like a traveling ball of economic activity criss-crossing major American cities as fans descended with cash in their wallets.
Hotel rooms in Eras concert cities filled up quickly, retailers said they got a boost from concertgoers looking for clothes to match the tour’s theme, and a Federal Reserve report even noted how the tour has increased revenue for Philadelphia hotels, according to one business in the study.
What really highlights Swift’s business acumen is how the singer leverages that burning enthusiasm to drive even more sales. Electrified fans opened their wallets to snap up shirts, sweaters, hats, posters and other merchandise showcasing the singer in all her glory.
This 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 the fans to bring home some of that experience because it’s all about the memories,” said Shaomian of the University of South Carolina.
“Fans were lining up hours before the arena even opened because the merchandise was placed in a different area and they wanted to be the first to make a purchase. Even if only a quarter of those people bought something, that’s at least a million dollars a night,” he said.
This is on the goods available online. From guitar picks to nail gems, Swift gave her die-hard fans yet another reason to spend more, and spend they did.
Swift’s business strategy has gone beyond the concert stage to the big screen, once again capitalizing on the already frenzied publicity for the singer and her landmark tour.
The singer-songwriter released a film of this year’s concerts in mid-October, titled Taylor Swift: The Tour of Ages. The film earned a staggering $96 million in its opening weekend in the United States and Canada, according to theater chain AMC. This made it the highest-grossing concert film in the country for its opening weekend.
“It took less than 24 hours for Taylor Swift’s concert film The Eras Tour to break AMC’s US record for highest single-day ticket sales in AMC’s 103-year history,” AMC said at the time .
And what business leader doesn’t benefit from good publicity?
In addition to countless other news, Swift was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year, an undeniably prestigious honor usually reserved for changemakers like Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and Pope Francis.
“It feels like a breakthrough moment in my career, happening at 33,” Swift told Time. “And for the first time in my life, I was mentally strong enough to bear what came with it.”