Venue managers, talent bookers and operations pros have made their travel arrangements for VenueConnect, the 88th annual conference and trade show for the International Assn. of Venue Managers, set for July 27-30 at the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. IAVM meets in the summer for a reason: IAVM members and VenueConnect attendees are largely made up of reps from indoor venues, specifically arenas, auditoriums and theaters/performing arts centers. And summertime is outdoor concert time, especially since the late-’80s/early-’90s shed-development boom, and even more so since the growth of the North American festivals business.
?Conventional wisdom is that about 70%-75% of annual touring activity takes place between April and September, a natural situation that quickly grew following the promoter consolidation that led to the creation of Live Nation Entertainment, which owns the majority of North American sheds. After an industrywide slump in 2009-10 that hit the amphitheater business particularly hard, not only is the live business fully recovered, but Live Nation says that amphitheater ticket sales are up more than 25% over this same time period in 2012, which in itself was up double digits from the previous year. Add to that the growth of festivals, which draw from 10,000 to 80,000-plus per event, and the wealth of talent those fests showcase, and one might assume that at least some of this gain in outdoor business comes at the expense of the indoor business.?
One would be wrong, or at least not completely correct. Based on numbers reported to Billboard Boxscore April 1-June 30, gross ticket revenue for U.S. arenas is up more than 21% from the same period last year. On the other hand, attendance is down almost 11%, and the show count is down nearly 30%. This means at least two things: Quantity may be down, but quality (acts that command higher ticket prices) is up. It also means that Boxscore reports, as usual, are skewed toward later in the year for inclusion in Billboard’s year-end tallies.
?Those shows that are playing indoors in the first half of the year (and, for some, all summer) in large part represent high quality in terms of price or demand, or both. Making the arena rounds so far this year are the Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Beyonce, Justin Bieber, One Direction, Fleetwood Mac, Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift, George Strait, Carrie Underwood, Maroon 5 (which is now in the sheds after an arena run earlier this year), Rascal Flatts and others.
?Most of those shows stick to primary markets, but a Fleetwood Mac show at the Global Spectrum-managed Wells Fargo Center in Des Moines, Iowa, topped $1 million at the box office. “They crushed it, dude,” says Brock Jones, VP of booking for facility management firm Global Spectrum. Fleetwood Mac, like several others playing indoors this summer, has a fan base demo that often prefers reserved seating and the air conditioning that arenas provide.
?Jim McCue, senior VP at facility management firm SMG, has some strong outlooks from SMG buildings in secondary markets. McCue says tours like Kenny Chesney, Beyoncé, Fleetwood Mac and others are indeed visiting some SMG buildings in such secondaries as Albany, N.Y.; Wichita, Kan.; and Oklahoma City. Country music is always hot in secondary markets, and this year is no exception.
?So, in a nutshell, the arena business is doing fine this summer, even in the smaller markets. “In the secondaries, if you’re willing to hustle, there are some strong acts that you can pick up that will do very well, because a lot of those markets are underserved right now,” Jones says. “Gary Allan is doing some great business in the secondaries. He’s one of those acts that is a very reasonable risk in a secondary or tertiary market; you have the potential of doing very well.”
?Both McCue and Jones say the fall and first-quarter 2014 are shaping up nicely.