Arenas are challenged to have skin in the game in a competitve booking climate.
If there's one primary objective for the modern-day arena manager, it's to keep the lights on.
Dark nights are a bummer. Content is king, and, frankly, there are more markets with first-rate arenas than there are quality tours to fill them. Today's booking environment is competitive, and arenas have to be proactive these days to book ticket-selling events, particularly outside of the top 40 markets.
Some acts play everywhere, but when Bruce Springsteen or Madonna or Bon Jovi or other top-tier acts are looking at North America, they're often working within a limited time frame and have to make choices in certain regions of the country.
Today, arenas often have to show that they're willing to have some skin in the game to get a date. For arenas to find a place on the route, they must "be more open to participating in the economics," says John Meglen, co-president/CEO of Concerts West/AEG Live, producers of some of the top-grossing arena tours each year. Meglen says that many venues are "risk-averse, and that compromises them."
Bon Jovi manager Paul Korzilius has a similar, if broader, view, in how arenas can partner with the tour. Given the buildings are in the market year-round and are the closest touch point with fans of all stripes, they need to use the assets in their toolbox.
"They need to be a partner in the show and open all aspects of their skill sets-marketing, promotion, publicity, sponsors, media partners, et cetera-so that the show can be more successful, have a lasting impact, and keep costs to a minimum," Korzilius says, adding that buildings that can affect a tour's success aren't limited to majors.
"Midsize and small-size markets can provide important shows for an artist," he says.
The importance of openness to this sort of economic model isn't lost on arena managers.
"Venues need to become more aggressive and willing to take risk," says Brock Jones, who, as VP of bookings for Philadelphia-based Global Spectrum, is tasked with helping the company's 30-plus arenas in the portfolio-many in secondary or tertiary markets-bring in more content. According to Jones, Global "recognizes this paradigm as the primary tenant of venues in non-major markets, and subsequently features self-promoting as a primary component of our strategy for venues we manage and entities we have booking agreements with."
Asked what arena managers can do to draw more content, Dave Brown, VP/GM of the American Airlines Center in Dallas, narrows it down to one thing: big grosses. "We do everything possible to promote shows playing the AAC, and if the money is good, more shows will come."
Brenda Tinnen, senior VP/GM of the AEG-run Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., also believes success at the box office is the primary driver in filling the calendar. "The one thing that Sprint Center does to drive content is sell tickets," Tinnen says. "Ticket sales are the lifeblood of every live event."
Some tours are going to sell tickets wherever they go, and others need extra juice or proactive managers. That's when the relationships between buildings and agents, and promoters and managers play a huge role in getting a date. "Relationship building and nurturing is key," says Trey Feazell, senior VP/GM of the Philips Arena in Atlanta. "This allows for open dialogue with the appropriate individuals so that you can stay on top of what is going on in the entertainment world."
Ever the diplomat, Ed Rubinstein, executive director of the Arena Network consortium of arenas, says the one thing arenas can do to book more content is "read Billboard." But Rubinstein adds, "If that doesn't work, the best thing to do is make sure the phone works both ways-i.e., make sure outgoing calls to agents, promoters and event producers greatly exceed the calls you receive from those who might want to bring content to you."
But don't call blind, Rubinstein advises. "When you make those calls, make sure you have in hand some good local marketing data about the proposed content, that you have some viable promotional ideas to activate and that you know exactly what, if any, competing content may be playing your market in close proximity to the dates you are contemplating," he says. "Being aggressive and prepared translates into being successful."
And when the agent or promoter calls you? "Respond quickly to requests and inquiries and do what we say we're going to do," says Xen Riggs, who has managed Ohio State University's Schottenstein Center in Columbus since it opened in 1998.
Perhaps the most important quality arena managers can have in acquiring content is to be on their game and ready to show what they can bring to the party.
"The best thing arenas can do is to show agents, managers, promoters, producers and content providers of every kind that they really do get it," Venue Coalition president Jeff Apregan says. "Be responsive. Provide accurate avails, building specs, tech packets, seating diagrams for multiple configurations and photos showing draping systems. Have a working knowledge of the market, competition and traffic. Be able to provide additional marketing resources to help ensure successful events."
And it never hurts to press the flesh and venture out to agent hubs like Los Angeles, Nashville and New York, particularly for smaller-market venues. Several arena managers, including Michael Marion, GM at the Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, Ark., and Roger Newton, GM at the BI-LO Center in Greenville, S.C., make annual treks to Nashville and Los Angeles to visit with agents, and they see the New York agents at the Billboard Touring Conference in New York, scheduled for Nov. 7-8.
"Maintaining long-held relationships and friendships is important in the competitive environment secondary-market buildings find themselves in," Marion says. "Also, the changing landscape of agencies makes establishing new relationships an ongoing part of being a building manager."