In 2020 the Black Promoters Collective came together, beginning with weekly phone calls to discuss COVID-19’s impact on touring, especially for Black and independent promoters. After the killing of George Floyd that May, the BPC’s mission took on even more urgency as the group sought to prove that its more than 100 years of collective experience and success should not be disregarded and ignored by agents, artists and venues.
Two years later, the BPC is making good on its pledge. During the first quarter of 2022, the collective helmed New Edition’s 30-city The Culture Tour with Charlie Wilson and Jodeci, Maxwell’s 25-city The Night Tour with Anthony Hamilton and Joe, as well as six dates for Patti LaBelle. According to Billboard Boxscore figures, together those three runs grossed over $60 million.
Now, the BPC is promoting Mary J. Blige’s 23-city Good Morning Gorgeous arena tour, which kicks off this fall featuring support from Ella Mai and Queen Naija. “We’re now getting pitched by the big-box agencies on tours,” says BPC CEO Gary Guidry. “Any time someone is putting up $50 million to $60 million in a quarter, there are commissions and artist fees to be made. So the agencies have two choices: ‘Hey, can we be a part of this business model?’ Or, ‘Can we keep doing what we’ve been doing and miss market share?’ No one who’s looking for growth wants to be left out of market share.”
Operating as a company for more than a year now, the BPC is working together to collectively buy tours. According to Guidry, each member brings expertise in its respective market: New York/New Jersey; Philadelphia; Detroit; Atlanta; Houston; Raleigh, N.C.; and Oakland, Calif. In turn, the BPC’s combined economic weight gives it the ability to compete for entire tours instead of select local dates — to promote on a level much like giant rivals Live Nation and AEG.
This isn’t the first time that Black promoters have united to confront systemic bias in the predominantly white live industry. In 1998, four Black promoters calling themselves the Black Promoters Association filed a $700 million lawsuit against numerous booking agencies and promoters, alleging antitrust and civil rights violations. That case was subsequently lost in 2005.
But the eight members of the BPC are making progress. “The [BPC’s] mindset pivoted to ‘Hey, we need to take advantage of our collective economics and business know-how across the board,’ ” says BPC chief marketing officer Troy Brown. “It’s time for us, as the culture, to buy back the culture. We need to go to these artists and say, ‘Here’s what we can do for you that some of these other big corporate entities can’t.’”
BPC president Shelby Joyner agrees, noting: “It’s strange that [artists and their teams] are so surprised at how professional we are.”
Of his own experience working with BPC on its first major tour — New Edition’s The Culture — P Music Group president/CEO Michael Paran, manager of the tour’s featured acts Charlie Wilson and Jodeci, says that he and his clients “saw the big picture. There was incentive for everyone to make this an epic win for the culture.”
Paran already had a successful working relationship with several members of the BPC, having booked Wilson’s tours with them over the last 20 years. That camaraderie was an advantage in pulling off The Culture Tour, planning for which began last December with routing launched in mid-February.
“This tour literally could have imploded at any moment because of the speed in putting it together and the logistics of dealing with COVID-19,” say Paran. “And while the BPC may not own the venues like others do, they make up for it in other ways. They know their territories very well in addition to understanding the music, the culture and how to promote to its fans. That’s why I like working with them. It wasn’t about being greedy; there were compromises that were made financially to make this work, trying to help everybody and their brands. And the grosses that were made … that tells you something.”
As it did to Maxwell, whose team at his label, Musze/BMG, collaborated with the BPC on the first leg of his The Night Tour, which launched March 2 and ended May 8. “They put on an amazing, well-produced arena show and experience in one of the first tours back on this level that really energized venues across the country,” says Tim Reid, senior vp of repertoire and marketing at BMG Recorded Music.
The BPC’s successes opened the doors to its latest coup: Blige’s Good Morning Gorgeous tour. “None of their competitors could see what Team Mary and BPC knew to be true,” says Keith Naisbitt, a member of Blige’s agent team at APA Agency. “That Mary could sell arenas at a commensurate ticket price. They make assumptions that certain genres have a built-in price resistance.”
The BPC’s inclusion mission encompasses working with artists in other genres and bringing more Black-owned businesses and people of color into the live industry mix from caterers, bus drivers and lighting/stage techs to vendor partners. “That doesn’t happen in other, bigger corporate outfits,” says BPC’s Brown.
Naisbitt believes the BPC is on the right trajectory to continue branching out and achieving those goals. “There’s absolutely no reason why they can’t work in different genres. At the end of the day, there’s an artist and artists have fans. Then it’s understanding how to reach the fans. The live industry needs more than just Live Nation and AEG. They fulfill a role, but strong independent promoters are vital to the touring sector’s ecosystem. As agents, we need to support them.”