Above, the Leeds Arena in West Yorkshire, England
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The strength of the live music industry can be measured in many ways, from the year-end reports of talent buyers and sellers, to the keen interest in the proposed sale of AEG Live, to the rapid sellouts of one's favorite act at the local concert venue. To add to those indicators, Billboard offers another way to judge the bullish outlook for the live business: the millions of dollars being invested in the buildings to host events. For existing venues to remain financially solid and attract talent, they must stay up to par in fan amenities, production capabilities and methods to drive ancillary revenue with concessions, sponsorships and premium seating. For a marketplace to be competitive in drawing top-tier content, it must have a competitive venue-even if it has to build a new one. Clearly, plenty of markets and venues want to stay in the game at the highest level, as evidenced by Billboard's annual state-of-the-market look at new and renovated venues.
1) Leeds Arena
Leeds, West Yorkshire, England
Set to open in September, Leeds Arena will be the first of its kind in the United Kingdom's arena marketplace. Unlike a traditional horseshoe arena, the innovative design that venue management group SMG specified for Leeds means that every seat faces the stage in a "super theater" shape. This also has the effect of bringing the back row nearly 100 feet closer to the stage than a typical venue of its size, creating a more intimate atmosphere for both performers and patrons. The arena fills a need: Leeds has been the largest city in the United Kingdom without a major venue to hold music or indoor sporting events. SMG Europe regional VP John Knight says the new arena will solidify his company's position in the United Kingdom. "When Leeds opens, SMG Europe will control 55,000 seats in its four U.K. arenas: Belfast [Northern Ireland], Newcastle, Manchester and Leeds," he says. "We are in a powerful position to offer the backbone of a U.K. tour. "The strength of SMG's position as the biggest arena operator in the United Kingdom means that we are in daily touch with all the major promoters and agents," he adds. Venue management has a "'yes we can' attitude, and creates an environment where artists and crew are untroubled, comfortable and able to get on with their work," Knight says. "Oh-and we sell tickets." Elton John, Kaiser Chiefs, Andrea Bocelli, Cirque du Soleil and British comedian Micky Flanagan are among the venue's initial bookings for September and October.
2) Barclays Center
One of the most anticipated arena openings in years, Barclays Center debuted with much fanfare on Sept. 28, 2012, as hometown superstar Jay-Z performed the first of eight sold-out concerts and Brooklyn native Barbra Streisand graced the Barclays stage a few days later. In December, it was one of only three venues to host the Rolling Stones' 50th-anniversary shows. Barclays is a state-of-the-art facility with many features that are the most advanced of any arena worldwide. The venue also offers first-class customer service, unparalleled sightlines and a unique culinary experience called Brooklyn Taste that features dishes from top Brooklyn restaurants and vendors. Barclays Center director of booking Tyler Bates says that despite a strong opening-1 million-plus fans have already attended events at the venue with grosses reaching $52.4 million, according to reports to Billboard Boxscore-educating the industry about the venue continues. "Any new facility in a new market has to educate agents, managers and promoters about the marketplace and the assets of the facility," he says. "Our programming staff has worked hard to be clear on differentiating Brooklyn from New York City while at the same time including it in the New York market conversation. Educating and informing agents about the Brooklyn market has been crucial in establishing the unique position Barclays Center has that no other arena has to offer." Once acts are secured, the venue aims to keep them happy. "Barclays Center has a dedicated production and hospitality staff to make sure that the artists' specific needs are met and expectations are exceeded," Bates says. "Our staff does research on artists' personal interests, tastes or hobbies to make an effort to provide them with a back-of-house ambiance, gift or experience to show that we care about the experience and comfort they have behind the scenes."
3) Pinnacle Bank Arena
Set to open in September, Pinnacle Bank Arena is on track to provide Lincoln, Neb., and the surrounding area with an exceptional facility built for the future. In a market that already boasts two competing buildings (the University of Nebraska's Bob Devaney Sports Center, opened in 1976, and Pershing Center, a 50-plus-year-old landmark), Pinnacle aims to be "the premier arena facility," according to SMG Lincoln GM Tom Lorenz. The venue will boast 36 12-person suites and 20 four-person loges. While it's currently configured for 16,000, Pinnacle has the capacity for future expansion that will bring the total to 18,500 by filling in premium-level and upper-bowl seats behind the stage, says Lorenz, who has been busy touting the facility to agents and promoters since voters approved the facility in 2010. "We have participated in Billboard, IEBA, Pollstar and IAVM events to highlight the facility," Lorenz says. "We have made in-person visits to agencies and promoters in Chicago, Nashville and Los Angeles." In addition, staff has keep frequent contact with acts and promoters, both regional and national. Lorenz says the new venue will have state-of-the-art load-in facilities, as well as crew and artist amenities. It will feature promoters' offices, star dressing rooms, a green room, a backstage catering room and media/interview rooms, if needed by touring staff. It will also have five locker room complexes with multiple areas, not counting the locker rooms for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers basketball team.
4) The Capitol Theatre
Port Chester, NY
The landmark Capitol Theatre has an illustrious history, both before and since the birth of rock'n'roll. A one-time vaudeville house, the hall shared its '70s heyday with the Fillmore East in New York's East Village and hosted the Grateful Dead, Joe Cocker, Traffic, Santana, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa and Janis Joplin, who gave one of her final performances in the venue in August 1970. During the '90s, the Capitol welcomed such bands as Phish, and the Rolling Stones filmed an MTV special there in 1997. In September 2012, the theater reopened in grand fashion with a performance by Bob Dylan after a multimillion-dollar renovation with bookings by Peter Shapiro, the entrepreneur behind the Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, in partnership with the Bowery Presents. The venue is 40 minutes from Manhattan by train, and it expects to increase its capacity to 2,200 for general-admission shows. "We are a concert theater; we call the venue 'a rock'n'roll palace' and feature a variety of musical styles," GM Tom Bailey says. "The beautiful 1926 theater was constructed by noted architect Thomas Lamb, and has been newly outfitted with state-of-the-art sound, lights and video projection, and new bars and amenities. "We don't believe there's another theater quite like it," Bailey says. "It is designed around providing the best concert experience possible for our patrons." To reach talent sellers, Bailey says, "we have hosted many of the top agents in the business. Once they have seen the place, we are on their radar. We take good care of visiting artists and management. Our hospitality is a primary focus. We have unique artist guest seating options that we can make available. To date, every artist who has played a multi-night run has expressed a desire to return for an even longer run the next time."
5) New Orleans Arena
New Orleans, LA
The New Orleans Arena, which opened in 1999 and was upgraded in 2002 to prepare for the relocation of the NBA's Charlotte (N.C.) Hornets to New Orleans, is getting ready for a face-lift. Additional upgrades totaling $50 million will begin in April. The 14-year-old arena is the second-largest indoor facility in the Big Easy (behind the Mercedes-Benz Superdome), as well as within a 250-mile radius, and is the premier arena in the region. So why mess with a good thing? "The renovations will provide new revenue opportunities for the anchor tenant via advertising and premium seating upgrades, [as well as] provide new patron amenities and a modernized exterior and grand entry lobby," GM Alan Freeman says. The renovations will take place during two basketball off-seasons in 2013 and 2014. The venue will be closed for approximately six months this year (April 20-Oct. 20), Freeman says, "but we expect to maintain our event schedule during the work in 2014. In broad terms, the work in 2013 will be inside the arena, while in 2014 the work will be primarily on the exterior." When it comes to attracting events, Freeman says his staff does it the old-fashioned way. "Generally we work through phones and email," he says. "We do some industry advertising to recognize major event successes, but that is limited." Visiting artists will find a welcoming atmosphere. "It's all about creature comforts," Freeman says. "Dressing rooms have cable TV and Wi-Fi. When we provide in-house catering services, we strive to overdeliver and provide that little extra effort."
6) North Charleston Coliseum & Performing Arts Center
North Charleston, SC
North Charleston Coliseum & Performing Arts Center, which opened in January 1993, is celebrating 20 years as the premier arena in this metropolitan area of South Carolina. The venue, which underwent renovations starting in August 2010, is the area's only arena and the 58th-busiest performing arts center/theater in the world, according to marketing manager Alan Coker. "We present more major touring shows than any other venue in the market," he says. The renovations provided enhanced production capabilities to facilitate bigger shows, he adds. "Flexibility in added space allows many more types of events, from corporate meetings to weddings." Even with a long history in the market, Coker says communication remains vital. "We are constantly in communication with all of the key agents to make sure they are including us in the potential routing, either through promoters or us directly. We are always prepared to present shows ourselves, if necessary." Artists visiting the arena will find remodeling of their spaces with upgraded lighting, carpet, paint and extensive Wi-Fi capabilities. "We've expanded our secured loading dock area to accommodate more trucks and tour buses, with full shore-power, water and Internet connections," Coker says.
7) BMO Harris Bradley Center
Opening in 1988, the BMO Harris Bradley Center underwent its most recent renovation this past summer and fall. The result: completely renovated suites and theater boxes, dressing room and locker room refurbishing, a new entrance and improved signage. Also new is the South End, a gathering area for fans featuring the Taphouse, which offers more than 30 local brews; the Carvery, which features made-to-order deli sandwiches by locally famous Jakes Deli; more than 20 large flat-panel displays airing live sports and entertainment from around the globe; and a soon-to-open Leinie Lodge featuring craft beers from Wisconsin's Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing. The center hosts some 175 public events annually serving more than 1.5 million people each year, making it the busiest year-round, multipurpose entertainment venue in Wisconsin, according to director of marketing Debbie Gonzalez. In addition to concerts and other events, the arena is home to the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks, the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals and the Marquette University Golden Eagles NCAA men's basketball team. "Our recent improvements are focused on delivering both fans and visiting artists a memorable, friendly and uniquely Milwaukee experience," Gonzalez says. "Led by BMO Harris Bank, these improvements were possible through the support of dozens of leading local companies that pledged $18 million to sustain the center and to support its diverse programming." The center aims to make "every show successful through an incredible in-house marketing team, great local media and corporate partnerships, powerful database and outreach capabilities, in-house promotional assets, NBA, NCAA and AHL home team support and marketing capabilities and more," she says. "We continually stress and demonstrate our ability to be creative, flexible and adaptable from deal structure to venue configuration and everything in between with agents, promoters and artist management." The arena takes pride in providing "the best hospitality in the industry in a friendly and welcoming environment," Gonzalez says. "We believe a tour stop at the BMO Harris Bradley Center is one of the best, most comfortable and most relaxing backstage experiences on tour."
8) DCU Center
The DCU Center, an arena and convention center complex, originally opened in September 1982 and has been undergoing phased renovations since 2009. The latest phase, with an estimated cost of $23 million, is set for completion in October, according to GM Sandy Dunn. The venue is the primary entertainment facility for Worcester, located in central Massachusetts and the center of New England with more than 6.5 million people living within a 50-mile radius. The facility also serves the Greater Boston market as an alternative to Boston's larger TD Garden. The renovation adds four suites, a club lounge and an improved box office and entrance while updating the architecture and finishes. Electrical, heating and cooling, fire and safety upgrades have been accompanied by more efficient energy and lighting systems. Getting on agents' radar is an ongoing process, according to Dunn. "We participate in Billboard's [touring conference] and create relationships through our regional promoters. And, most importantly, we work through our SMG corporate booking office," she says. Facilities aside, Dunn says the human element comes into play when keeping touring artists happy. "Service, service, service," she says. "We try to accommodate all requests in a timely manner, starting with the initial call for avails, to watching the last truck leave the loading bay and everything in between. Depending on the particular artist and length of stay in the facility, we consider the crew and artists our guests. On occasion, we have set up our basketball hoops in the adjacent exhibit hall; pulled together a game room with pool table, videogames, et cetera; and enhanced catering, whether with local fare or custom cakes. But mostly we try to give them their privacy and a positive day while responding to any needs they may have." Home to minor league hockey team the Worchester Sharks, in March the venue will host the Harlem Globetrotters among other events. The arena will close May 1-Oct. 1 for renovation, but the attached convention center will stay open throughout construction. The renovated arena will reopen with the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus.
9) MTS Centre
Capacity: 14,872-plus, 1,099 in suite level
Most 8-year-old venues wouldn't be subject to $10 million in renovations, but when Winnipeg's MTS Centre announced in 2011 that the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers would relocate and take the name of the Winnipeg Jets, the building closed for 100 days to get ready. "We needed to add press-box capacity, concession capacity and enhanced club and suite offerings," says Kevin Donnelly, senior VP/GM for MTS Centre and True North Sports and Entertainment. "We also engaged on a wide range of efforts to improve the fit and finish of the venue." Mission accomplished. "We are the market's only full-size sports and entertainment facility," Donnelly says. "Based on this, plus our ability to accommodate smaller events, we are the top concert facility in the market." Donnelly and his team "are very active in our dialogue with the promoters in our region-Live Nation Canada, all AEG's offices-L.A., New York and Houston-as well as the regional and independent national promoters," he says. "We tend to buy and self-promote about six events per year. So we deal with other buyers and agents directly. I am active with the Arena Network as well as the Venue Coalition, so the awareness of our venue and location, we hope, comes to agents through a variety of channels. I also attend key conferences each year and try to make a visit to Toronto or Vancouver to see some [Canadian] agents annually." Donnelly says he wants to ensure people understand the building is more than a sporting facility. "We try not to be just a team owner, or a venue owner, but really take to heart the notion of being in the entertainment business," he says. "It's not about putting flowers or snacks in an office or dressing room-it is about making sure that everything is done, and that promoters and road crew know that you are there to help them, and for them to know that you appreciate that they are in your venue for the day."
10) The USF Sun Dome
First opened in 1980, the Sun Dome at the University of South Florida started renovations in May 2011. In January 2012, Global Spectrum officially took over management, and in May 2012 the venue reopened. GM Trent Merritt calls the Sun "the best midsize venue in the Greater Tampa area. We provide a great midsize option for fans, promoters, agents and artists to perform. Feedback from fans, media, promoters and artists has all been overwhelmingly positive." Merritt says the year-long renovation resulted in essentially a brand-new building. "The four walls and roof are existing-with some significant improvements made-but everything else is brand-new. We are truly a multipurpose facility designed to host concerts, basketball, family shows, commencement and flat-floor shows. "Using the industry relationships through the Global Spectrum network has allowed us to get off to a fast start this year with Elton John, Florence & the Machine, Wiz Khalifa and several other well-received shows," he continues, noting that the facility also was "very aggressive" in its rebranding campaign. "We also used our vast Global Spectrum network to make agents and promoters aware that we were managing the Sun Dome and were open for business," he says. Merritt hopes artists and their crews take ownership of the arena. "We are working on a mural along the backstage performers' dressing room hallway to showcase all the artists that have performed at the arena," he says. "We also give individualized gifts to artists, promoters and agents. More than anything else though, we are focused on a very smooth, efficient and enjoyable load-in, performance and load-out. Providing great food and beverage and great customer service goes a long way for crews that are constantly on the road."
11) The Sanford Center
At a little more than 2 years old-the Sanford Center opened in October 2010-the arena is home to the Bemidji State University men's and women's hockey programs. "We are the only venue of this sort in this region of Minnesota," says Curtis Webb, executive director of the VenuWorks facility. "Our position in this market is solid in that we are looked upon to host collegiate hockey games and other entertainment events to this region. "We work hard to distinguish ourselves to promoters who bring in acts," Webb continues. "Our goal is to help them sell out their shows and make sure their experience is a good one. Our goal is to create a relationship with a promoter and grow that relationship." Among the facility's upcoming events are the Coors Bull Riding Challenge and the Monster X tour. "I try to build relationships that will showcase our professionalism and build trust," Webb says. "Then we work hard to maintain that level of trust throughout our existence here." One advantage touted by Webb is competitive pricing. "We do pretty much all stagehands, rigging and operational work in-house," he says. "It allows us to stay price-competitive in a ultra-competitive entertainment world. It is our goal to make sure the promoter or agent knows what to expect when they walk in our venue: no hidden costs, no hidden agendas."
12) The Ford Center
Roberts Stadium was a legendary facility in Evansville, Ind., but at age 50 it was ripe for replacement. Enter the Ford Center, which opened Nov. 9, 2011, and quickly became the leading arena in the tri-state area covering portions of Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. The new facility has all the bells and whistles a modern venue should, including a four-sided HD scoreboard, ribbon board, electronic media, suites, loge premium seats, in-seat wait service and upgraded concessions. In addition, there are lots of backstage dressing rooms, separated production rooms and improved loading dock access, according to executive director Scott Schoenike, who adds, "But nothing is better than a great staff that understands how important being responsive is." Evansville's strong reputation among booking agents as a country tour stop has been well-established, Schoenike says. "With other types of talent it's just keeping in front of the agents and promoters to look at the routing possibilities."
13) California University of Pennsylvania Convocation Center
The Convocation Center at California University of Pennsylvania opened in April 2012. Located off Interstate 70, a major east-west route, it's the largest venue between Pittsburgh and Morgantown, W.Va. Ease of access is something that GM Michael Silva emphasizes to prospective tenants. "The Convocation Center has an easy load-in and tons of truck and bus parking," he says. "It also features an executive conferencing wing featuring large ballrooms, 'smart' classrooms equipped with interactive whiteboards and other amenities. "The Convocation Center is fortunate to have beautiful and fully furnished locker rooms and meeting rooms, and we are fortunate to have an experienced and trained staff already in place in this new facility," he adds. As a relatively new building, Silva works to educate agents on what he sees as its strengths. "I highlight the unique features of the facility-sitting on a campus with 10,000 students; overlap into the Pittsburgh, Morgantown and Wheeling media markets; and the facility having very low expenses to work in," he says.
14) Big Sandy Superstore Arena
Opened in 1977, Big Sandy Superstore Arena has been undergoing renovations in stages since October 2010. GM Brian Sipe is proud that the SMG-managed facility has been able to not only continue programming during the renovations but actually increase it. Indeed, within the past 18 months, the venue has hosted Reba McEntire, Barry Manilow, Lady Antebellum, Zac Brown Band, Staind/Godsmack, Eric Church, Gaither Homecoming, Brantley Gilbert, 3 Doors Down/Daughtry, the Harlem Globetrotters, WWE, TNA Wrestling, Sesame Street and other events. On a regional level, the arena competes with the nearby Charleston (W.Va.) Civic Center. The renovated venue has amenities galore. "We have 24 rows of telescopic seating, which lets us have 7,500 for an end-stage concert," Sipe says. "It lets us host a wide variety of attractions giving almost 40,000 square feet of floor space with the seating retracted, or a full-set arena for a concert or family show. We also purchased new spotlights, new carpeting, big-screen TVs, furniture and even an electric fireplace in the dressing rooms. We have also replaced our HVAC system. This spring we will finish with a renovated outdoor plaza and double the amount of box-office windows from four to eight." Sipe and his staff work hard to stay top of mind with agents. "I am talking to agents and promoters [regularly]," he says. "With the help of Jim McCue, Jon Petrunak and Bob Papke at [SMG] corporate, we are consistently on the radar for an easily routable market in the heart of Appalachia. We send Christmas cards, place gifts in gift bags at the IEBA Conference, place offers direct and keep in touch via email or phone calls. We want agents and promoters to know that we are partners in making a successful money-making night for your artist or show."
15) United Wireless Arena
Dodge City, Kan.
The United Wireless Arena opened in Feb. 2011 and is being billed as "the newest venue in Southwest Kansas. "[There are] no other similar venues within a 150 mile radius," according to Ralph Nall, executive director at the VenuWorks-managed facility. Nall says he relies on direct contact with agents to get the word out about the new facility, as well as VenuWorks corporate contacts, APAP and IEBA. The venue's selling points, according to Nall are in-house catering, furnished dressing rooms and star dressing rooms, as well as easy load-in and load-outs.
16) Paramount Theater
Cedar Rapids, IA
The reopening of the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in November 2012 celebrated the determination of the community to rebuild after the flood of 2008, which one newspaper called "Iowa's Katrina." Four years of renovation work took place within the1,699-capacity hall which Paramount general manager Jason Anderson describes as "this historic gem of the city of Cedar Rapids." Some $35 million in work to the 1920s building resulted, says Anderson, in a "historic theater with all the modern technologies of rigging, sound, lights and stage-house size. "Our opening act, Harry Connick, Jr., said it best from the stage during his performance. He commented on how beautiful the theatre is for the public but also called attention to the large effort and funds were also spent back of house to catering to the artist and performers." The theater is a VenuWorks facility and will be marketed jointly with the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, which is due to reopen in June (see below).
17) U.S. Cellular Center
Cedar Rapids, IA
On its website, the soon-to-be-reopened US Cellular Center sports the slogan, "solid past, stronger future," which seems to fit the venue that opened in 1977 and was closed for renovation 18 months ago. The venue-the only indoor arena-scale venue in the area-will be "state of the art" when it reopens in June, according to Gene Felling, executive director of the VenuWorks facility, who adds that the arena will feature "easy load-ins, good stage crews and catering. Felling will use his personal contacts and attend industry conferences to get the word out about the refurbished facility, which will be home to the Indoor Football League's Cedar Rapids Titans when it reopens.