To book stadiums for one-third of the shows announced by the Rolling Stones for the band’s U.S. No Filter Tour 2019, promoters Concerts West/AEG Presents needed to call only one venue operator—SMG.
Among the 15 shows now on sale for the tour, five performances will take place at four stadiums operated by SMG, the global venue-management company, SMG operates more than 245 facilities in eight countries, including a half-dozen U.S. stadiums that are home to teams of the NFL. It seeks to maximize revenue for those stadiums through concert bookings outside the football season.
After the Stones U.S. tour opens April 20 at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami (run by a subsidiary of the Miami Dolphins), the next three dates take place April 24 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., April 28 at NRG Stadium in Houston and May 7 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. All three of those facilities are managed by SMG, as is Soldier Field in Chicago, which will host the final two shows of the Stones’ tour June 21 and June 28.
"The Stones play wherever they want to play; we’re just grateful they chose a good number of SMG buildings,” says Jim McCue, senior VP of SMG, who led discussions with Concerts West/AEG Presents. “We always want to earn that.”
But that modest statement doesn’t do justice to SMG’s booking coup, which took shape amid an already busy 2018 stadium concert season for the company.
To allow Stones tickets to go on sale to the general public Nov. 30 for 13 cities on the spring tour, McCue says his conversations began back in July with Concerts West senior vp Craig Sneiderman who, in turn, was working alongside Concerts West co-CEOs John Meglen and Paul Gongaware. That timing “for me,is about right," says McCue, "to be in the in the midst of a busy summer season in stadiums and [to] start working on the next one."
Artists whose 2018 summer tours played SMG-managed stadiums include Beyonce and JAY-Z, Kenny Chesney, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and, in a homecoming show, Lynyrd Skynyrd in Jacksonville. The latter booking, in fact, helped convince Concerts West to route the Stones through that north Florida city.
“I said to Craig, when we first started talking, that we had Lynyrd Skynyrd on sale and had sold 33,000 tickets,” recalls McCue. According to Billboard Boxscore, the band’s Sept. 2 concert ultimately drew 40,000 fans to TIAA Bank Field, where SMG’s local team is led by GM William McConnell. The success of the Lynyrd Skynyrd show helped sell Concerts West on Jacksonville, says McCue.
Jacksonville is the smallest market on the Stones’ spring tour but one in which they have some history. The band’s Steel Wheels tour played what was then Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl Stadium in 1989.
Likewise, the Stones have a rich history at Chicago’s iconic Soldier Field, having played the stadium on five previous tours -- in 1978, 1994, 1997, 2005 and 2006. SMG’s team at Soldier Field is lead by GM Tim Levour and has earned a "spectacular" reputation, says McCue.
While promoters work directly with SMG's head office outside Philadelphia, each SMG-operated facility has experienced hands on site. For the Stones’ venues, they also include SMG GM Marc Miller at Houston’s NRG Stadium, SMG GM Andy Gorchov at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Before the U.S. No Filter Tour 2019 was announced on Nov. 19, says McCue, “we had multiple iterations of multiple holds in a number of these buildings." When was the itinerary fully confirmed? About 11:30 p.m. the night before the Nov. 30 on-sale, joked McCue. “That’s kind of the way we look at things now.”
Of the six stadiums that SMG manages in the U.S., only two miss out on Stones dates. One is U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The other is the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. So the Rolling Stones also will not play that city.
Or will they?
Andy Gensler, executive editor of the Oak View Group, noted in Pollstar that when Mick Jagger promoted the band’s spring tour in a video posted to Facebook and Twitter, he sang:
“I just found out today/that we’re going to the U.S.A
Where they hell we gonna live/Where the hell we gonna be
"Miami, Florida, Jacksonville and Houston, New Orleans and Glendale, Pasadena ...”
AEG is the promoter of the New Orleans Jazz Fest which marks its 50th anniversary this year, running between April 25 and May 6. The Stones tour has a break between its Houston show April 28 and its Glendale, Ariz. date on May 8.
But neither AEG nor SMG has confirmed any plans for a Stones date at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome or elsewhere in New Orleans during Jazz Fest.
Given the limited number of both stadiums nationwide and acts that can fill those venues, it might seem an easy play for SMG to draw dates for an outing like the Stones’ U.S. No Filter Tour. But competition, even at the stadium level, was evident in late November when Dead & Co. also announced a 2019 tour, mixing amphitheater and stadium dates.
For their Chicago shows in June, Dead & Co. opted for Wrigley Field rather than Soldier Field. For the New York area (where SMG does not manage a stadium venue), Dead & Co. will play Citifield on June 23 while the Stones play Metlife Stadium ten days earlier.
As it looks toward the stadium concert season of 2019, SMG is not coasting. Already, in addition to the Rolling Stones dates, the company has announced Garth Brooks will play U.S. Bank Stadium on May 4, 2019 with tickets going on sale Dec. 14.
Competition for stadium shows is always top of mind at SMG, says McCue.
"A band like the Rolling Stones can play anywhere in the world,” he notes. “So you're competing with other worldwide markets and then other markets in North America. Then other choices, say, within the state of Florida or the state of Illinois.
“The minute any of us start taking things for granted is the minute when we’ve lost our edge,” says McCue. “We get up hungry every day. We work hard for for everything that these buildings get and we never take it for granted.”