House of Blues Sees U.S. Northeast Corridor as Template for National Strategy

An organizational retooling and surge in venue growth for House of Blues Entertainment (HOBE) in the Northeast corridor is serving as a microcosm for a national synchronized marketing and club/theater touring strategy that is selling tickets and developing acts.

Already unofficially the most trafficked region in the world for small-venue touring, the Northeast has been a "good template" for House of Blues' national efforts, division COO Ben Weeden says. "In that corridor--[Washington] D.C. to Philadelphia, through New Jersey to New York City into Long Island--we've probably experienced the largest growth in our portfolio the last couple of years, but it's certainly not limited to that area," says Weeden, who just completed a "road show" with other HOB executives to showcase their strategy to agents, labels and managers.

In 2011, HOB programmed seven venues in the Northeast corridor, a number that has now grown to 22 rooms, most all of them owned and operated by Live Nation. Nationally, Weeden and HOBE CEO Ron Bension run a division that since 2010 has grown from 32 venues owned (primarily House of Blues and Fillmore clubs) and another 10 exclusively booked, to 40 owned and some 30 more booked. Among those 70-odd rooms, some 45 buyers promote about 6,000 shows annually.

"In the past 18-24 months, the focus has been on making sure we have the best possible promoters and structuring around them locally, and making sure we build a business that can help bands at the small-cap level--500- to 4,000-cap venues--at which point [the team of Live Nation co-presidents of North American concerts Mark Campana and Bob Roux] takes over at the amphitheaters and arenas," Weeden says.

While Weeden asserts that promotion at the club level is a "local business," there has been increased focus for House of Blues in tapping into the rich marketing assets provided by Live Nation and especially Ticketmaster. "The majority of the markets we're in now have a venue graduation process, but on top of that we also have the marketing capability similar to what the artists in the past got from the labels," Weeden says. "When you have something like 100 million names in the U.S. database, with a reach of over 5 million people in our social assets, you start to get into how you can effectively market to fans. We can help not only sell tickets, but expose new bands."

That's particularly true in the Northeast, where "obviously there is a large amount of ticket buyer affinity data," Weeden says. "That is one where we believe if we're able to work with 300- or 3,000-cap artists, we can help you there as a microcosm for the entire country."

Case in point: Blackberry Smoke. The Southern rock/country band was slotted into House of Blues' Ones to Watch program for 18 shows this year, and as part of that matched with a data algorithm that pinpointed likely ticket buyers. Based on Ticketmaster and Live Nation data, the promoters separately targeted 1 million fans each of the Zac Brown Band and of edgy country-rock acts like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Church and Jason Aldean. Email blasts to those affinity groups, plus a control group of 800,000 names, yielded promising results.

"The control group performed on average what our normal emails generate in terms of click-throughs and conversions, but the Zac Brown and Southern rock fans had five times the conversions on these emails," Weeden says. "We've averaged close to 1,000 tickets across these 18 markets. Before, our data shows that New York, for instance, did 450 [tickets] last time, and over 900 this time. The incredible part is 90% of purchasers were first-time buyers."

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