Kenny Chesney’s No. 1 Album Reopens Debate Over Ticket Bundles

Kenny Chesney’s No. 1 Album Reopens Debate Over Ticket Bundles

Kenny Chesney’s No. 1 Album Reopens Debate Over Ticket Bundles

Kenny Chesney’s No. 1 Album Reopens Debate Over Ticket Bundles

Last year, Billboard magazine came under intense criticism over how its charts accounted for sales bundles — when artists give fans a copy of their new album as a bonus for buying a T-shirt or other merchandise, or a concert ticket. Long a useful marketing tool, bundles have run rampant in the streaming age, leading to concerns about chart manipulation.

Billboard tweaked its rules in January. But complaints have flared up again over albums given away with concert tickets during the coronavirus pandemic, when touring has been halted. Is it fair to count an album tacked on to a ticket for a show that may be delayed for months — or might not happen at all?

The contest on this week’s album chart is a case in point, as the country star Kenny Chesney beat out the hip-hop giant Drake by a narrow margin that largely came down to bundles versus streams.

Chesney’s new album, “Here and Now,” had the equivalent of 233,000 sales in the United States, and was credited with moving 222,000 copies as a complete package, according to Nielsen Music. The album had just 13 million streams — the lowest for a No. 1 album since Celine Dion’s “Courage” late last year, which reached the top with 3.8 million streams (and a ticket bundle).

Drake’s latest mixtape, “Dark Lane Demo Tapes,” was held to No. 2 with the equivalent of 223,000 sales, which included 269 million streams but just 19,000 copies sold as a full package.

Chesney offered his fans copies of “Here and Now” on CD with tickets to his latest tour, which has been delayed. Billboard does not disclose how many of his album sales came through this bundle. But for Chesney’s “Live in No Shoes Nation,” in 2017, such deals accounted for the vast majority of his first-week sales.

Should album sales count if they come as part of postponed shows? And what would happen if a tour is canceled and a customer’s money is refunded — effectively making the album a giveaway?

Ben Kline, the general manager of Warner Music Nashville, Chesney’s label, noted that Chesney’s fans want the physical copy of his album and elected to get it through the ticket deal.

“Fans don’t necessarily buy a ticket to get a CD,” Kline said. “However, once they were told the cost included the price of a CD and they opted in, they were well within their rights to expect that on release day they would get what they rightfully paid for.”

In a statement, Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard’s senior vice president of charts and data development, said even if a show is postponed, bundles should count on the magazine’s chart.

“If the show is ultimately postponed or canceled following the album release, the consumer is still in possession of the album originally purchased,” Pietroluongo said. “Therefore, we have decided to account for those units as a historical sale and part of the respective chart week, regardless of any refund provided due to these cancellations.”

The rest of this week’s Top 5 is held by young rappers who have landed high spots on the chart in recent weeks: Lil Baby is No. 3 with “My Turn”; DaBaby’s “Blame It on Baby” is No. 4; and Lil Uzi Vert is No. 5 with “Eternal Atake.”


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