Best Seats In the House: Nation’s Largest Markets Lead the Way In Venue Renovation Boom

Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

In the decade that Billboard has devoted an annual special touring feature to new and renovated venues, never before have the nation’s two biggest concert markets, New York and Los Angeles, demanded the spotlight as they do now -- largely due to the initiatives of one company.

In recent months, MSG Entertainment, a division of the Madison Square Garden Co., has completed both a $1 billion “transformation” of its namesake arena in Manhattan and a $100 million makeover of the Forum in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood. The Garden, which had continued operating with reduced availabilities during the three-year project, returned to full speed with three Ed Sheeran shows in late October. The Forum renovation, which began just ahead of the announcement of a new $300 million partnership between MSGC and Irving Azoff’s Azoff Music Management, was unveiled with a multiple-night stand in January by longtime Azoff client the Eagles. For the occasion the roof of the Forum was bedecked with a massive replica of the Eagles’ Hotel California vinyl album.

The Garden project was completed “on time and virtually on budget, and with spectacular results,” MSGE president Melissa Ormond told Billboard last fall. “New York City and the music industry welcome the return of the Garden and the Theater at the Garden for 12 months a year. We’re going to return to doing 400-plus events annually [and] having over 4 million fans coming into the building.”

MSGE’s investment will see a payback, in part, through long-term sponsorship and marketing deals with companies including “marquee” partner Chase and “signature” partners Anheuser--Busch, Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Kia Motors, Lexus and SAP, in addition to the Madison Club presented by Foxwoods.

The new Azoff MSG Entertainment joint venture will, for Azoff, combine interests in management, publishing, multimedia and digital with live entertainment.

When the Forum plans were announced last July, MSGC executive chairman James Dolan described it as the largest arena in the United States dedicated to music and live entertainment. “No suites, no scoreboards,” Dolan told Billboard. “It’s a room where all the attention is focused on listening. It’s different than a sports arena. There are no compromises here [for sporting events]. It’s purely music.”

On both coasts, the renovations of these major halls take place against the backdrop of new competition.

In the New York metropolitan arena during 2013, with the Garden renovation still under way, Barclays Center in Brooklyn ranked as the top arena in the United States of 15,000-plus capacity, according to year-end Billboard Boxscore data.

“Our highlights over the past year [included] Jay Z and Coldplay on New Year’s Eve, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Justin Bieber and Mumford & Sons selling out two shows before and after their [2013] Grammy win for album of the year,” Barclays Center/Brooklyn Nets CEO Brett Yormark told Billboard late last year. He added that two sellouts by Pearl Jam broke attendance records at the venue. The 2013 MTV Video Music Awards and the upcoming Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony and concert will further secure the venue’s status.

To the east of New York, the past year brought news of plans to redevelop the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum with the winning bid submitted by the Nassau Events Center, a group of investors led by the Forest City Ratner Group, developer of the Barclays Center.

To the west of Manhattan, MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., not only hosted Super Bowl XLVIII earlier this month but also ranked as the No. 1 stadium in the year-end Boxscore rankings, thanks to shows by Bon Jovi, Taylor Swift and Kenny Chesney.

The Izod Center and Prudential Center—both of which are also in New Jersey—have successfully competed against their New York counterparts. Among the winners during the past year at the Izod Center were bookings by Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, P!nk, Maroon 5 and One Direction, while the Prudential Center scored with Swift, Justin Bieber, Andrea Bocelli, Romeo Santos and Bruno Mars.

In Los Angeles, the opening of the Forum started talk of how the renovated building could draw bookings from the Staples Center in downtown L.A. “There was a need for a venue like this because many of the good dates at Staples are eaten up by the sports teams and Grammys,” Azoff told Billboard sister publication the Hollywood Reporter during the Eagles’ January run. He noted that Live Nation would be the building’s “preferred” promoter but it would run as an open building for all promoters. “The Forum is the place for music, and Staples is the place for sports,” he said.

Yet the Staples Center ranked just behind the Barclays Center as the No. 2 U.S. concert venue of 15,000-plus capacity in -Billboard’s year-end 2013 Boxscore rankings. And as Staples Center hosted the Grammy Awards on Jan. 26 for the 14th year, senior VP/GM Lee Zeidman emphasized the surrounding amenities of AEG’s Los Angeles entertainment complex. “You don’t need wheels,” says Zeidman, who oversees L.A. Live. “We’ve got two hotels and 22 restaurants that would be more than happy to take meetings, lunches and dinners. They take those during Grammy week. It’s the center of the music universe.”

In Southern California, as in the New York, the competition for concert bookings is regional, with such buildings as the Honda Center in Anaheim also undergoing renovations to strengthen business. 
Billboard recently conducted an online survey to gather information on selected new and renovated venues. Below are highlights of the survey.
Allen County War Memorial Coliseum
Fort Wayne, Ind.
Concert capacity: 13,000
One of the few venues in the country with two arenas under one roof, the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum offers touring shows the option of its main arena with a capacity of 13,000 or its Expo Center with telescopic seating and a capacity of 8,000. The 870,000-square-foot complex also has 30,000 square feet of meeting room space. Coliseum executive VP/GM Randy L. Brown reports that during the summer of 2013 the venue expanded the arena’s 200 level. The concourse was widened from 25 feet to more than 100 feet. Food courts were added, along with a fresh, made-to-order menu. The new food court areas feature 18-foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling glass walls, offering more natural light during the day and dramatic views at night.
BancorpSouth Arena
Tupelo, Miss.
Concert capacity: 10,000
The selling point of the BancorpSouth Arena is clear: “first-class service in the birthplace of Elvis. That’s what we’ve offered the entertainment industry since our grand opening in 1993,” BancorpSouth Arena and Conference Center executive director Todd Hunt says. While the venue has hosted such top-tier acts as Elton John, Kenny Chesney, the Eagles, Rascal Flatts, Aerosmith, George Strait, Rod Stewart and Jason Aldean, the building’s proximity to Nashville also has allowed it to be used as a rehearsal hall for major tours. “Over the past year,” Hunt notes, “we have invested in new blackout curtains for our north wall and a completely new look for the venue exterior. Updating our color scheme and creating a new look for our entryways has completely changed the character of [the building]. Future plans include an atrium connecting our conference center with the arena as well as installation of a theater rigging grid.”
Bon Secours Wellness Arena
Greenville, S.C.
Concert capacity: 15,538
The Bon Secours Wellness Arena is the largest building it its market, located midway between Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., for advantageous tour routing. Roger Newton is president/GM of the venue. “In October, we finished phase one of a $14.5 million, three-year renovation plan,” arena marketing manager Lisa Crawford says. “The first phase included installation of digital menu boards and concourse signage, a high-definition video scoreboard and a 360-degree ribbon board, an upgrade of the suites, new risers, a new curtaining system, Ecoglo aisle treads and parking lot improvements.” Future development will include new outdoor marquees, upgrades to the concourse and ticket office, and renovations to the backstage area.
Cross Insurance Center
Bangor, Maine
Concert capacity: 7,500
Since opening in September 2013, the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Maine, has drawn some 80,000 patrons to an impressive inaugural run of more than 100 events including 11 family shows, a Broadway series and concerts by Hank Williams Jr., Michael W. Smith, Chicago, Il Divo, Jeff Dunham and Mannheim Steamroller. The arena also is home to the University of Maine men’s and women’s basketball teams. The building is managed by Global Spectrum, and Mike Dyer is director of the venue. The $68 million center , which features a striking clock tower,
was designed by the architecture firm of Sink Combs Dethlefs and is located on the historic riverfront in Bangor. Aside from the 7,500-capacity arena, the complex houses 18 meeting rooms and a grand ballroom that can accommodate 1,000 (or be divided into rooms for smaller events).
DCU Center
Worcester, Mass.
Concert capacity: 13,840
For more than 30 years, the building today known as the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass., has built a rich history within Central New England and the touring industry nationwide. The SMG-managed arena opened Sept. 2, 1982, as the Worcester Centrum with a performance by Frank Sinatra; hosted U2’s first arena show in the United States on June 28, 1983; saw the opening of Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love Express tour on Feb. 25, 1988; and has housed a record-setting 16 sold-out shows by Phish.  With a capacity that’s scalable from 5,500 to 13,840, the DCU Center concluded the latest phase of a multiyear capital-improvement project in October 2013. The work included upgrades to both the interior and exterior of the facility, a new façade and digital marquee, a landscaped promenade and entrance, a redesigned box-office pavilion, an expanded concourse, indoor and outdoor retail space, four new luxury suites, a new concourse-level bar and club area, and a 60%-plus increase in restroom fixtures. During the month it reopened, the venue hosted sold-out shows by Pearl Jam and Phish, and the adjacent convention center hosted 33 events, giving the combined facility its strongest month in 15 years.
Denny Sanford Premier Center
Sioux Falls, S.D.
Opening: fall 2014
Concert capacity: 13,000
When it opens this fall, the Denny Sanford Premier Center will be the largest arena available for tours traveling between Minneapolis and Denver, and between Omaha, Neb., and Fargo, N.D. With Sioux Falls situated at the junction of Interstates 29 and 90, the city is ideally situated for tour routing. The building will have a concert capacity of 13,000. The center features 22 suites and 16 loge boxes, and is home to the Sioux Falls Stampede of the U.S. Hockey League and the Sioux Falls Storm of the Indoor Football League. The facility is named after T. Denny Sanford, founder of First Premier Bank and Premier Bankcard. The title sponsorship agreement—which is shared among First Premier Bank, Premier Bankcard and Sanford Health of Sioux Falls—amounts to $750,000 a year for 25 years. The arena opens in a robust market; Sioux Falls has the nation’s second-lowest unemployment rate.
Erie Insurance Arena
Erie, Pa.
Concert capacity: 9,000
A recent $47 million renovation of the Erie Insurance Arena has transformed the 31-year-old building into a state-of-the-art facility, serving as a premier sports and entertainment venue for Northwestern Pennsylvania. Reopening last fall with shows by Rascal Flatts, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Elton John, the arena in downtown Erie is part of a four-facility entertainment complex managed by the Erie County Convention Center Authority. (The Warner Theater, Bayfront Convention Center and Jerry Uht Park are also part of the cultural district.) The arena now offers luxury suites, a new club level, expanded concourses, new seats with cup holders, 50 TV monitors, indoor load-in capability, new show offices and star dressing rooms. “To have an iconic artist like Sir Elton John to be part of our opening-year events is just thrilling,” ECCCA executive director Casey Wells says. “It’s very clear he would not have come to Erie without the reinvestment in our arena.”
First Direct Arena
Leeds, England
Concert capacity: 13,000
Opened in 2013 with a distinctive fan-shaped seating configuration, the 13,000-capacity First Direct Arena in Leeds provides significantly improved sightlines and acoustics for end-staged concerts. The capacity of the SMG-managed building is scalable from 4,500 to 13,000 for concerts. Design elements include an indoor loading bay with a capacity for three trucks and five-star-quality dressing rooms. The venue is centrally booked by an SMG team that controls 55,000 arena seats at the First Direct Arena, the Phones4u Arena in Manchester, the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle and Northern Ireland’s Odyssey Arena in Belfast. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band christened First Direct Arena in July 2013, declaring, “This is a beautiful building . . . it’s a great place to play.”
Honda Center
Anaheim, Calif.
Concert capacity: 18,900
While the Honda Center in Anaheim competes with Los Angeles venues to the north, ongoing improvements are but one way the 18,900-capacity venue keeps its competitive edge. The Grand Terrace project at Honda Center, which opened last fall, is the largest single upgrade in the building’s 20-year history. A 15,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor entertainment space, the Grand Terrace offers 100 feet of bar space, upscale décor, unique menu options, outdoor fire pits and top-notch service. Below the terrace is a new entry plaza flanked by two state-of-the-art, 15-feet-by-25-feet Daktronic screens, which can display high-definition-quality video to fans entering the arena. As part of the project, the retail location known as the Anaheim Ducks Team Store Powered by Reebok underwent a threefold increase in size. In addition, a new 250-seat restaurant, Pucks Tavern, featuring dishes from celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, opened late last year. The installation of more than 600 flat-panel TVs through the arena concourses, using Cisco’s StadiumVision technology, is an additional part of Honda Center’s latest upgrades, among the $80 million-plus in improvements during the past six years.
Meridian Centre
St. Catharines, Ontario
Concert capacity: 6,700
Due to open in September 2014, the Meridian Centre is the first new venue to open in the Southern Ontario region known as the “golden horseshoe” since the Copps Coliseum was built 30 years earlier.  Home to the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League, the new building will serve a region with a population of a half-million.  General manager Ken Noakes is the booking contact for the venue which will have a concert capacity of 6,700.   The new building replaces the Jack Gatecliff Arena, which was built in 1938.   The Meridian Centre will be managed and operated by SMG, the venue management company’s third facility in Canada.
Pinnacle Bank Arena
Lincoln, Neb.
Concert capacity: 14,000
The city of Lincoln has a population of about 258,000, including 25,000-30,000 college students in the area from the University of Nebraska, Concordia University, Nebraska Wesleyan University and other schools. No wonder, then, that Pinnacle Bank Arena has proved to be a strong draw since opening last September, landing 10 concerts in its first 80 days. The SMG facility is home to the men’s and women’s basketball teams from the University of Nebraska and has a concert capacity of 14,000. GM Tom Lorenz is the booking contact. “The upper concourse is split into two levels, one stacked on the other, to bring more people closer to the floor, unlike many arenas where the seats gradually go up and out,” says Lynn Higginbotham, the venue’s director of sales and marketing. Other distinctive features of the new building include an elaborate curtain system that provides greater flexibility to scale down the size of the venue.
SAP Center at San Jose
San Jose, Calif.
Concert capacity: 19,000
In July 2013, the longtime home of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks was rebranded as the SAP Center at San Jose. The move came with the news that software giant SAP would use the venue as a showcase for cutting-edge technology for the sports and live entertainment industry. SAP surveyed Sharks fans to create new tech solutions, adaptable to the live concert business, that will increase fan engagement with news alerts, player and team analysis, and social sharing of photos and videos. New technology also will allow fans to purchase concessions and merchandise from mobile devices, and drive targeted promotions and loyalty rewards for fans. “The SAP Center is the sports, cultural and entertainment center for the entire San Jose community,” SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott said in a statement announcing the arena relationship. “Together, we plan to create an innovative ‘think tank’ using technology to enhance the fan experience.”
Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena
Spokane, Wash.
Concert capacity: 11,500
In the Inland Northwest, the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena is the sole venue in a 300-mile radius to host year-round concerts and other entertainment and sports events. “Our metro population is 300,000 and they are hungry for live events,” says GM Matt Gibson, the booking contact for the building. “We have state-of-the-art sound and video capacity, the ability to load five trucks at once with another two roll-up doors, multiple-capacity configurations and enough power to light up the biggest shows.” Gibson praises his marketing department as “second to none.” In September 2013, the arena completed a seating renovation that replaced hard plastic chairs with padded seats in its 100 level and “ergonomic chairs” in its 200 level. “They are awesome,” Gibson says. Reflecting the increased willingness of venues to self-promote shows as needed, the Spokane arena took the financial risk to book Bon Jovi’s Because We Can tour in late 2013. “It was a success for the artist, the venue and the people of Spokane,” Gibson says. “We proved that if the right shows come to town, Spokane will respond. [It] was a magic night.”
Tacoma Dome
Tacoma, Wash.
Concert capacity: 22,000
“Since the Tacoma Dome can fit up to 22,000 people for [an indoor] concert, if there is an artist who can sell that many tickets on their arena tour, more times than not, our date in Tacoma will be the highest-grossing date of their tour,” says the Dome’s booking manager, Tom Alexander. “Our arena competition in Seattle has a capacity of 15,000.” Artists who can fill the Dome have “the potential of grossing a quarter of a million dollars,” Alexander says. “We’ve hosted David Bowie, U2, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, the Who, Taylor Swift, George Strait, Lady Gaga, the Police and on and on.” In 2013 the 30-year-old building underwent a complete retrofit of restrooms, ramps and viewing platforms to meet standards set by the Americans With Disabilities Act. Alexander adds: “We are currently studying seating replacement as a capital project.”
TD Place
Ottawa, Ontario
Concert capacity: 10,000 (arena), 34,000 -(stadium)
Due to open this summer, TD Place will bring both a 10,000-seat arena and a 34,000-capacity stadium to downtown Ontario, the capital city of Canada. The stadium is a renovation of the former Frank Clair Stadium in the Landsdowne Park fairgrounds. The arena and stadium together “form the centerpiece of a brand-new sports and entertainment district, with a variety of on-site bars, restaurants and shops,” says Kathy O’Donnell, who is the booking contact for the facility. “Minutes from Parliament Hill and within walking distance of Ottawa’s major universities, TD Place can be scaled to accommodate major international stadium shows or intimate theater-style gatherings.” The stadium, set against the backdrop of the scenic Rideau Canal, is paired with the arena, offering amenities including spacious concourses, padded seating and high-density wireless Internet connections.
The Capitol Theatre
Port Chester, New York
Concert capacity: 2,000 (approx.)
Located 22 miles outside of New York City, the renovated Capitol Theatre, which reopened in September 2012, is both an architectural and musical landmark.  Designed by noted architect Thomas Lamb and built in 1926, the hall is on the National Register of Historic Places.   During the late 1960s and early 1970s, it hosted shows by Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead.  After an extensive renovation, the theater reopened in September 2012 with a performance by Bob Dylan.  Booked by Anthony Makes of The Bowery Presents, the Capitol Theatre boasts a 65-foot domed ceiling, a floor for reserved seating or general admission configuration, and an elegant lobby.  “Garcia’s at the Capitol Theatre” is a 250-capacity lobby bar that hosts its own shows and is dedicated to the memory of the late Jerry Garcia.  The main hall features a balcony seats with a VIP area, separate suites and a side-stage VIP platform.  New technology includes state-of-the-art lighting, sound and video equipment including HD projectors that cover the walls and domed ceiling with sophisticated projections.  “The energy” in the theater, says Phil Lesh, “is dripping off the walls.”
Verizon Center
Washington, D.C.
Concert capacity: 18,500
In the heart of the nation’s capitol, the Verizon Center hosts concerts, family shows, trade shows and is home to three professional sports teams—the Washington Capitals, Washington Mystics and Washington Wizards—as well as the men’s basketball team of Georgetown University.   Served directly by a Metro station (used by 65 percent of fans) , the building is booked by Michele Montague.  During the past year, the arena installed new flooring on the event level, club level and suite level—custom mixed with red, white and blue coloring and sprayed down.  In addition, new carpeting was installed in the arena’s suite level.