New York’s Madison Square Garden, which bills itself as “the world’s most famous arena,” has now positioned itself to return to its former status as “the world’s highest-grossing arena,” as the iconic venue gets back to year-round operation in the wake of a three-year renovation project.
The $1 billion “transformation” was unveiled Oct. 29, with Ed Sheeran’s first of three shows at the Garden serving as the first artist to play in the newly revamped arena. Going forward, the Garden will be open full time, after being closed for as much as 45% of the year during the previous three years to accommodate construction.
The project was completed “on time and virtually on budget, and with spectacular results,” Madison Square Garden Entertainment president Melissa Ormond says. “New York City and the music industry welcome the return of the Garden and the Theater at the Garden, for 12 months a year.”
For the past three years, while still a top 10 arena, the Garden has relinquished its top spot among Billboard Boxscore’s highest-grossing venues to London’s O2, and some of the Big Apple spotlight to the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which opened last year. The Garden owned the top arena designation at the Billboard Touring Awards for five straight years, but for the first time isn’t even a finalist in 2013, while Barclays is.
That will likely change. “We’re going to return to doing 400-plus events annually [and] having over 4 million fans coming into the building,” Ormond says.
The transformation was largely driven by financials, and the return on investment will come from sponsorships, suite sales and improved concessions numbers. The Garden has inked multiple long-term marketing partnerships with brand integration into the arena, including “marquee” partner Chase (in a deal Sports Business Journal reports as valued at $30 million annually, the most ever for an arena), and “signature” partners Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Kia Motors, Lexus and SAP, in addition to the Madison Club presented by Foxwoods. Concession points of sale have increased by 26%, which will boost per capita spending at events significantly.
Building reps say the arena has sold out its 20 “event level” suites and 58 “Madison level” suites, and sales are “going well” for its 18 “signature level” suites.
Perhaps the biggest relief for Garden stakeholders is the use of a full calendar. “It has been extremely hard for us not to have date availability in the summer months, which for us turned out to be five or six months a year,” Ormond says.
Touring acts that wish to play the Garden will now be able to book without adjusting tour routes or struggling to find avails, outside the historic challenges of fitting into the schedule of one of the busiest buildings in the world. “We’re all really excited about the building being back online,” says Marty Diamond, agent for Sheeran and head of music in New York for Paradigm Talent, who adds that even with the down periods certain artists insist on playing the Garden.
“Sometimes it has required more creative routing ideas, but any time we had someone who wanted to play there, whether it was Interpol, Sigur Rós or Coldplay, we’ve always been able to finesse our way through,” Diamond says. “Certainly the clients I’ve had play it view it as they’re ‘playing Madison Square Garden,’ this incredibly famous arena. It’s something you put on your list.”
Ormond says the Garden’s schedule is “incredibly full” going forward, with the three Sheeran dates followed by three shows by the Eagles and two appearances by Elton John.