The Academy of Country Music is eyeing the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for its 2012 awards show, which would make it the first trophy ceremony presented in a venue of that magnitude.
The stadium, which is able to accommodate as many as 100,000 fans for some events, would solve ticket-demand issues, ACM executive director Bob Romeo says, and would give the country music industry a gigantic stage on which to showcase its product.
“It’s not about that we can have the largest awards show,” Romeo says. “The reason I’m wanting to go to Dallas is to create an ultimate experience for fans-to be able to touch even more fans.”
The West Coast-based ACM held its annual ceremony in Southern California for its first 37 years, moving in 2003 to Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay, which was configured to seat 7,000 people. In 2006, the awards shifted to the MGM Grand Garden Arena, which allowed more than 10,000 fans and industry members to attend the CBS telecast.
The move to Vegas has been accompanied by more aggressive marketing campaigns and an increased demand for tickets. Beyond this year’s sold-out show, the ACM could have easily sold at least 5,000 more tickets, Romeo says.
“Here we are [eight] years into it-we’re the largest event on Fremont Street at 35,000 people down there for [a] Lady Antebellum [concert] and for Miranda [Lambert],” he says.
“We were completely sold out. The All-Star Jam, I don’t think we even put tickets on sale. That was all just bought internally with sponsors and MGM property. I mean, it’s just crazy.” The Dallas venue could accommodate more fans, more ACM members and more sponsor-affiliated seating. But it would also give Romeo an opportunity to better serve country radio. Some radio executives bemoaned publicly this year that radio award winners were used for voiceovers on the show but weren’t pictured or identified in the telecast.
The ACM developed a special off-camera event in Vegas to honor radio winners, and it also made a point of having radio executives present a couple of trophies to winning artists at that same ceremony.
Cowboys Stadium would increase the ACM’s ability to involve more country stations in the broadcast. Romeo’s ideal scenario would include giving a pair of ACM tickets to every radio outlet that wanted them for a local giveaway.
“That’s my ultimate dream to do that,” he says. “I think that creates a scenario of brand awareness, not just for the academy, but for country music. A week in front of our show, I want to be in every grocery store being promoted on Dr Pepper 12-packs. I want to see every Dodge dealer with a promotion about it. I want to see every radio station, I don’t care how big or how small, talking about the ACMs.”
That doesn’t increase the likelihood that winning radio personalities will get face time on CBS. Romeo has to fight each year to maximize exposure for new recording acts that have some kind of national presence. Most of the radio winners are stars only in their local markets, and their lack of familiarity to a national audience would have a negative effect on ratings.
“What the network wants is a three-hour TV show that holds viewers to watch the show,” Romeo says. “The minute you put stuff on TV that people don’t know, boom, you’re falling off the charts on the minute-by-minute [ratings], and that’s when they get upset.
“In radio now, it’s all about familiarity and ‘we got to play things that they’re familiar with. It’s tough to take a chance on new acts.’ Well, why do they think that familiarity [on radio] is any different than what I have to deal with on the network?”
One other thing not likely to change is fan voting for the entertainer and new artist of the year awards. Romeo acknowledges that the decision to change the ACM’s top award from an industry-exclusive ballot has brought some criticism from within the industry. But he points out that the eight finalists are determined by music professionals, and that the ACM should be comfortable with any of those acts winning the trophy.
John Rich played a big role in the current arrangement, Romeo says. The board had considered creating a fan award in addition to the industry-voted entertainer of the year honor. Rich suggested that millions of fans’ opinions should matter more than the votes of approximately 2,200 industry executives, most of whom have a financial interest in seeing a specific artist win. The majority of the board ultimately sided with Rich.
The ACM and the Country Music Assn. have been beset with bloc-voting accusations since their inception. May 1 marked 30 years since the most egregious example, when nine ACM trophies went to two CBS labels, Columbia and Epic.
Sensitive to questions about the integrity of the vote, the ACM balloting process allows fans only one vote per e-mail and/or IP address, making it difficult for anyone to make repeated votes for their favorite artists.
Romeo declines to discuss bloc voting, but he does say that fan voting may be more reliable than the industry’s balloting, despite any pressure from detractors.
In fact, he would like to increase the fans’ role and have consumers determine winners in every ACM category. He concedes, however, that the board is unlikely to expand fan voting