Come this summer's concert season, Toronto's 22-year-old amphitheatre on the lakefront Ontario Place grounds will be known as Budweiser Stage. Owned and operated by Live Nation Canada, the 16,000-capacity venue had been the Molson Amphitheatre since it opened in May 1995 with a concert by Bryan Adams. Now, Live Nation Canada has signed a multi-year partnership with Budweiser (owned by Belgium's Anheuser-Busch InBev) that will see its name involved with venues and festivals across the country — to the tune of 1200 shows a year.
Budweiser has been increasing its presence and investment in music events in Canada the past five years, namely with Toronto's North by Northeast (NXNE) and the Calgary Stampede. Aside from a new marquee, the venue will implement a number of other on-site changes designed to improve the experience for fans. Live Nation also owns and operates Vancouver's 1000-capacity Commodore Ballroom, which will see Budweiser as its new lead beer brand.
Billboard spoke with Live Nation Canada's John May, president, media and corporate partnerships, about the partnership and what it will mean for both companies — and for fans.
How long was the original deal with Molson and how many times was it renewed?
I don't recall offhand the specifics about the deal. It was originally part of their House of Blues ownership — before Live Nation was involved — then when Live Nation bought House of Blues internationally, we took over the ownership of the venue and now it's the Budweiser Stage.
Do you know when the deal with Molson ended or if you tried to renegotiate?
There were some discussions, but primarily it's been a positive direction in moving forward with Budweiser Canada.
What was appealing about the terms of the deal with Budweiser?
Primarily our objectives are to make the consumer experience the best it can be and driving consumer options, as far as food and beverage are concerned. So one of the key elements is certainly Budweiser Canada's portfolio (Budweiser, Mill Street, Corona, etc.). The fact that Budweiser is the No. 1 Canadian brand is a very positive move for the consumer experience. In addition to that, it's exciting to be working with a global partner of this scale, certainly the No. 1 global brand in the world, and because we're a global company, it's great to be working with an international leader like that.
Live Nation has partnerships with liquor company Smirnoff, in the US, UK, and Europe, particularly for EDM events and festivals. Not sure if Budweiser was the only company Live Nation was looking at for rebranding and a new partnership, but does the fact that the amphitheatre puts on shows of many genres matter in terms of going with a beer company versus hard liquor?
I don't think so to be honest with you. The consideration with respect to the Budweiser Stage is it's a multi-genre venue. Bud Light has been a long-term partner of ours with our Digital Dreams festival; Labatt, as a company [which brews Budweiser in Canada], is not new to the music industry and the Budweiser brand itself has international relationships across the board. They work in the EDM space with Tomorrowland, and they've had that major event in the US called Made in America. So it's not that it prohibits in any way the genre; it fits in with the multiple offerings and different products lines very well.
Many Torontonians still call Rogers Centre by its former name The SkyDome. Do you have any fun things planned to try and get people to stop calling Budweiser Stage the Molson Amphitheatre?
It's not the first time we've been asked the question. We don't really see the relevance in the other venue necessarily. The name change, we respect that there are going to be fans [with experiences] that took place at the venue over the years, but [I see] how excited Budweiser Canada is about the music business and about a partnership with our company. Our business, you know the importance of connecting the fans with the artist they love, and the memories that creates; the venues, to a certain extent, are an aside. So we're going to continue with our mission of connecting fan to the artists that they love, and through that passion I'm sure we're going to create many memories that will last forever at the Budweiser Stage.
What will be some of the improvements made for the fans?
We have a mission tag: faster, better, longer. The mission behind that is just to enable things to move faster from all aspects: increasing the number of concession outlets so that the consumer can get back to their seats and enjoy the music; the technology integration into payment methods will help speed up the service — all focused on customer service. 'Better' is we're broadening the breadth of products that are available, and, certainly, the entire venue is going to have what we're calling a refresh, a refurbishment, of signage. And 'longer,' there's a couple of key programs. One is Bud & Burgers. We're going to try and get people down early to share a bud and a burger; it's a perfect combination to get people down to the venue earlier, enjoy some hospitality. And by getting people in earlier, it will stagger the entrance time, enabling us to keep crowds at a minimal and then as part of that early entrance we're looking at some local artists performances because we want to involve the industry and up-and-coming artists out of Toronto.
On the mainstage?
It's going to be on the Riverwalk, which is the area outside. It walks around the river there. It's a really great spot and it will be a great spot to introduce some new artists as part of the Budweiser Stage experience.
Live Nation also owns the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver. What is Budweiser's involvement in a 1000-capacity venue?
The partnership with Budweiser Canada and Live Nation is national in scope and I would call it all-encompassing. We do 1200 shows a year that Budweiser will have the marketing rights to, always subject to artists approval and working closely with our artists' management and the promotions of the shows. But at the Commodore itself, specifically, it's part of our portfolio and Budweiser and will be a partner of ours to help promote shows there and deliver the consumer options in our product mix, as far as beverage and hospitality goes.
All the venues across the country, big and small, as our chairman Riley O'Connor often quotes, they are the cathedral of our business. We have relationships with venues of all sizes right across the country. We're doing 1200 shows, but our cornerstone to our business in Canada is certainly the Budweiser Stage and the Commodore being a small club, but we have relationships with venues across the country.