Above, the Leeds Arena in West Yorkshire, England
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
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."
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.