Swedish ABBA stirs b.o. storm in Down Under tour

By Mike Harris - Variety (New York) 9 March 1977

Sydney, 8th March 1977

One facet of the success of the Swedish pop group ABBA has been the shrewd merchandising program that has progressed step-by-step with their increasing record sales.

Australia, the first English-speaking country really to latch on to the quartet, could well be considered a proving ground. Stig Anderson, the group’s manager and co-producer, may be using this four city, 11 concert tour as a pilot for their eventual tour of the U.S.

In all, this tour will result in a cash turnover of about $3,700,000 in Australia; of that, ticket sales amount to slightly less than half. Paul Dainty, the promoter bringing ABBA back to Australia, put tickets on sale six months ago for the concert series. They were a quick sellout at $9.80.

Says Stig Anderson: “That’s a hell of a lot of money to be invested. It is held by the venues.” Among them, the operators of the Sydney Showground, The Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne, Adelaide’s Westlake Stadium and Perth’s Entertainment Centre banked the money. A conservative estimate of the gross on the 11-concert tour puts it at $1,765,000. Even if the overheads reach an expected $710,000 that leaves a tidy profit, counting the potential half-year’s interest on the ticket money which range from 9% to 10%.

Increased sales

Increased record sales also spin off from a tour like this. Sales of ABBA disks and tapes already stand at a phenomenal 5,000,000 units in Australia in a population of 13,000,000.

RCA, which distributes the group Down Under, had to establish a special ABBA warehouse for product. As it was, following the March 1976 showing of a TV special, the company had to throw over its entire pressing line to keep pace with the sales demand.

Since the group writes nearly all of its own material, royalties stick close to the various ABBA-owned companies. The agreement with RCA (Australia) is a lease-tape deal which involves an up-front fee plus a percentage of sales 

Between them, Anderson and ABBA own Polar Music which is the key among the five or so companies owned by the group. Essex Music of Australia, which publishes their material, says it pays royalties to five ABBA-owned companies including Union Songs. All of these companies are registered in Sweden. The 85% tax bracket there takes a big bite out of what they earn.

Add the $50,000 fee for advertising National, the Japanese electronics giant whose current campaign has been budgeted at $1,650,000. ABBA’s TV commercials for them (which ran between September and the end of last year) resulted in a 30% sales boost.

More tie-ins 

Reg Grundy Productions, the TV and film packaging house, has mounted a film loosely based on the group’s current tour. Incidentally, Grundy also has bought the merchandising rights to ABBA, and from the plethora of ABBA-embossed product in local shops, both parties are doing all right from the deal; ABBA particularly well since one of their companies gets some 80% of the royalty fees paid in. About 500,000 T-shirts have been sold. Additionally, there are ABBA jackets, ABBA pantsuits, ABBA pillow-covers, schoolbooks, caps, kites, stationery, towels, mirrors, belts, socks, wall hangings and carpets.

That’s only a partial list: there’s a gold-plated medallion at $4.35, various other jewelry, cushions and even heavy glass mugs. But Anderson turned thumbs down on plastic mugs, underwear, cosmetics, and a range of dolls – along with 60 other attempts by Aussie manufacturers to cash in on ABBA’s impact. Unlicensed makers of schlock and spurious ABBA items are slapped with a writ as soon as their presence is known. ABBAloney will not be tolerated.

Regarding the film, the budget is undisclosed, but with a double crew, five Swedes covering the four singers a la cinema-verite, 20 Aussie technicians filming the concerts and the extra plot-required appearances – all in Panavision – the figure is seen near $550,000.

According to producer Ray Newell, the film will include new songs and will require considerable post-production. It’s expected to run about 95 minutes. The director is a Swede, Lasse Halström who is mainly noted for documentary work, and working on previous ABBA-oriented pix for TV 

The media coverage of the quartet rivals that set to cover the upcoming royal tour of Australia, which in many ways it resembles in terms of interest and public fascination.

© 1977 Variety. Thanks to Samuel Inglles