U2 at Chicago’s United Center in 2018.
U2 at Chicago’s United Center in 2018.
Rob Grabowski/Invision/AP

Naming Rights, Inclusion & The $244 Billion Millennial/Gen Z Bubble: Inside The 2019 Event & Arena Marketing Conference

Each year, the Event & Arena Marketing Conference reflects the live-entertainment business’ chief concerns -- from topical panels regarding venue security, naming rights and diversity and inclusion, to educational roundtables and ample networking sessions. The EAMC began in 1980 when 10 arena marketers met in St. Louis. Initially dubbed the Arena Sales & Marketing Conference, the confab, set for June 12-15 at the Toronto Hilton, has since grown to attract over 350 participants from across the country.

Executed entirely by volunteers, the live-entertainment consortium is led by president Sheila Francis, an EAMC mainstay who will exit her post in August when her three-year term wraps. Francis first joined EAMC’s planning committee in 2008 while an employee of host venue MCI Center (now Capital One Arena) in Washington, D.C. She joined the conference’s board of directors in 2010 and the executive committee in 2013 as vp marketing and communications, before rising to president in 2017. “EAMC is an opportunity to see what everyone else is doing and realize you’re not by yourself,” says Francis. “The challenges you’ve come across, someone else has probably gone through it.”

Since its inception, the event has undergone a series of rebrandings: In 1999, it was renamed the Arena Marketing Conference to reflect the full breadth of departments in attendance, which today includes professionals across group sales, publicity, promotions, advertising and marketing. In 2001, the IRS recognized it as a nonprofit; and in 2004, its moniker changed to EAMC to further highlight the ever-shifting live landscape.

A digital scavenger hunt, coordinated with Social Scavenger, will again kick off the festivities. Conferencegoers break off into groups and use a mobile app that takes them through the city, exposing them to local culture and landmarks they might not discover on their own. The team-building exercise breaks the ice each year and fosters an organic IRL connection among the guests. “It’s like meeting with your friends,” says Francis of the peer-produced event, which she describes as “not stuffy,” thanks to the camaraderie of regular attendees.

EAMC’s fifth annual awards luncheon, which is a hallmark of the conference, will take place June 13 at the Toronto Ballroom and honor the year’s best marketing and publicity campaigns that cost under $10,000 and are rooted in philanthropic and community outreach. Among them: Minneapolis-based Vstar Entertainment Group’s 12 Days of Giving for Paw Patrol; Van Andel Arena’s diaper drive for Sugarland’s Still the Same Tour stop there in Grand Rapids, Mich.; and a WWE Easter Egg Hunt at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. The event will also recognize campaigns that cost over $10,000, including the City of McAllen, Texas’ relaunch of its annual PalmFest as Fiesta de Palmas; Scotiabank Arena in Toronto’s newly inked 20-year naming deal; and AEG’s 10th-anniversary bash for L.A. Live celebrated with a special birthday edition of its Downtown Dark Nights series, which included live music, muralists and street performers.

The program also will fete the year’s most creative “artist welcomes” to venues -- a new priority -- where Chicago’s United Center will be honored twice: for its We Appreciate U2/You Too campaign for the Irish rockers and for its Day of Becoming kickoff for former first lady Michelle Obama’s Becoming book tour.

In addition, 2019 EAMC Hall of Fame inductee Glenn Mikkelsen, GM of the CN Centre in Prince George, British Columbia, and Gigi Award for Excellence honoree Linda Deckard, founder of VenuesNow (formerly Venues Today) magazine, will be honored.

Ahead of the summit, Francis discussed her work with the nearly 40-year-old convention and what attendees can expect this year.

Volunteers have put on EAMC since its inception in 1980. Why is that grass-roots support so valuable?

This is one of the most [beneficial] conferences I have gone to over the years. I feel energized and refreshed every time I come. It is put on by your peers. Who better to ask for the latest trends or insight or knowledge to grow professionally?

Why was this year’s keynote speaker, Hamilton chief marketing officer Laura Matalon, selected?

Hamilton is a top-of-mind show. It is in the Broadway realm, which is a little different from concerts or family shows. As the chief marketing officer, she can offer general marketing insights, but she also has created her own marketing agency and has had enough of a varied background in that world that would be of interest to all facets of our industry.

One of your standout sessions is the reoccurring roundtable “Dramatic Readings of Bad Press Releases.” Is this purely for comic relief?

Our professionals are on the receiving end of press releases, so we read bad ones and give advice to PR practitioners on how to better reach them as an audience. It’s always helpful to hear from the other side what works and what doesn’t. Talking to different people who receive these releases and pitches will help you do your job better.

Which returning panel are you most excited about this year?

We are bringing back our WISE [Women in Sports Entertainment] session, which we launched last year. We talk about the topics of the day and how women address different challenges working in a male-dominated industry. How do you grow professionally? How do you have those difficult conversations about getting that promotion or going for that job if you’re up against a bunch of male counterparts? It is for everybody -- women and men -- but offers that other perspective.

Naming-rights deals are not new, but they are more prevalent now. What is expected from that session?

Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena [formerly Air Canada Centre] and Budweiser Stage [previously Molson Canadian Amphitheatre] both just went through naming-rights deals in Canada. That is always a topic of interest because you have venues changing sponsor names pretty regularly. Then you have venues that have never had a sponsor name before and are dealing with that for the first time. You are dealing with long-standing traditions at some venues. You need to go about it in a way that is engaging all the stakeholders.

How is EAMC addressing marketing to Generation Z and millennials, whose markets are worth $44 billion and $200 billion, respectively?

We will have a mini focus group from our host venue Scotiabank Arena, where attendees can directly ask the younger generation questions. We did a similar panel a few years ago, and we thought it was time to revisit it since it is becoming a challenge. How do you market to the younger generations? How are they getting their news? They aren’t opening a newspaper to see what shows are coming.

A new awards category this year is related to artist welcomes. Why?

Many venues and trade publications are talking about artist welcomes. If cities have competing venues, it’s a way to demonstrate to the promoter and manager that this is how we would welcome you to our city. We’ll treat you right.



The Most Creative Artist Gifts

A new EAMC awards category spotlights the eclectic loot that venues are dishing out to attract top-tier artists.

In today’s crowded live-music market, North American venues are leveraging take-home gifts to coax artists (and their teams) into repeat bookings, stretching both their budgets -- and their creativity -- in the process.

This year’s inaugural batch of venue-gifted loot boasts an array of boutique goodies -- from custom dog treats that SMG staff in Grand Rapids, Mich., gave to singer Tony Bennett’s pooch, Happy, to a spooky custom rug that Los Angeles’ Microsoft Theater presented to creators of the true-crime podcast My Favorite Murder during its sold-out live-podcast Halloween event.

Cutting-edge tech is also well represented with items like a custom gold “XXIVk” Game Boy that Scotiabank Arena staff gifted to Bruno Mars — a nod to his ’90s-leaning 24K Magic LP -- that included retro game titles from Super Mario Land to Tetris, as well as a Braille poster from Pechanga Arena San Diego/AEG staff to Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, who became permanently blind at the age of 12.

Fashion makes the cut thanks to more in-vogue items like a custom box set of socks (for Childish Gambino) and bow ties (for Mumford & Sons) from Scotiabank Arena, a series of custom guitar straps and belts from Atlanta’s Fox Theatre to the Tedeschi Trucks Band and one-of-a-kind Nike Air Jordans from the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., for rapper Travis Scott and his daughter, Stormi.

The outlier? SMG Huntington, W.Va., had an actual star named after the band Old Dominion. The celestial nod highlights the power of originality in the category. The band relished the certificate that proclaimed the honor, captioning an Instagram snap: “The venue tonight wanted to make sure we were written in the stars, so they named a star after us!”    -- NICK WILLIAMS

This article originally appeared in the June 1 issue of Billboard.