Sixties rebels strut to stuff their coffers

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The Rolling Stones have gone from being the anarchic, controversy-courting rebels of the 1960s to a group of extremely wealthy middle-aged men sitting astride a multi-million pound modern entertainment empire. Already mega- rich, their latest world tour, which began its British leg in Sheffield last night, will simply add to their coffers.

They are now said to be worth about pounds 200m, although this is only an estimate, since like all the best private fortunes, theirs is controlled through obscure holding companies, in this case registered in secretive Liechtenstein. Since the late 1960s their affairs have been managed by Prince Rupert Lowenstein, after Mick Jagger, a graduate of the London School of Economics, asked him to sort out debt problems and to bring order to the group's chaotic finances. Little is known about Lowenstein other than that he has a reputation as a financial guru for the jet-set.

What is clear is that the Stones have now learnt to exploit their massive earning potential. One of the few truly global bands, able to sell out massive stadiums from Los Angeles to Tokyo, the Stones leave nothing to chance, offering the punter every opportunity - tickets, T-shirts, compact discs, leather jackets and baseball caps - to part with his or her money.

The Stones get a steady income from their lucrative recording deal with Virgin, as well as royalties from their songs released since the 1970s - the 1960s back-catalogue is owned by Adko, a recording rights company. But it is the tours that provide the cream.

The Stones will play 118 dates across Europe, with audiences averaging about 60,000 a time. Tickets sell for pounds 25 to pounds 30 each, while the sale of T-shirts and other merchandise at the stadium can gross pounds 30,000 to pounds 40,000 a night. If they sell out the entire tour, the group stands to take in a whopping pounds 150m from ticket sales alone and perhaps another pounds 10m from merchandise sales at the stadiums and in shops. Sales of cassettes, videos and CDs reap additional profits, although these come under the recording deal with Virgin.

In order to simplify matters, the Stones have signed a global agreement with Michael Cohl, the Canadian "T-shirt king", granting his company, Brockum, the concession for merchandising. Mr Cohl is also the tour promoter in every country, guaranteeing the Stones a minimum return in exchange for a fee. He, in turn, arranges details with tour promoters like Harvey Goldsmith, the local partner for the Wembley shows. Cohl, backed by Canadian brewer Labatt, takes the risk, paying production costs, salaries and rents up front.

The Stones have also signed a pounds 3m sponsorship deal with Volkswagen. The car company has contracted to take out advertising to promote the tour and its logo will be prominently displayed at gigs and on posters.

A tour of this size is expensive. One hundred staff move with the show, building and then striking the enormous set. Equipment ranging from instruments, speakers, lighting boards and 22 inflatable dolls fill 72 containers.

Just how much of the pounds 150m the Stones get a sensitive issue. Informed sources say the tour is likely to break even after 60 gigs. Once Mr Cohl gets his cut, that could mean another pounds 70m for the ageing rockers. While the Stones may no longer spend much on the sex and drugs side of rock and roll, acquiring works of art and property can be just as demanding on the pocket.