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The World’s 10 Top-Grossing Concert Venues and the Execs Who Run Them

Live Booking At Its Best: Executives at the world's top venues are masters of selling out superstar concerts.

The O2

Rebecca Kane Burton, 40, GM

Since early 2012, Kane Burton has run the world’s top-grossing arena ($97.7 million year to date, according to Billboard Boxscore) with “exactly the right team that propels the b­uilding forward.” Kane Burton says hiring that crew is her proudest accomplishment of the past year — although sellouts by Paul McCartney, Michael Buble and Queen with Adam Lambert must come close. In-house bookings at the AEG-managed venue have included the annual C2C: Country to Country festival and a sold-out A.R. Rahman Bollywood concert. “We’re not going to sit and wait for content; if we see an opportunity, we will go out and grab it,” says Kane Burton, who lives in London with her husband and two stepsons.

Greatest Career Achievement: “It was a real career high to be involved with the 2012 London Olympics. For it to come to the O2 was fantastic.”



Kane Burton concratulated Taylor Swift
Kane Burton concratulated Taylor Swift on her O2 sellouts in 2014. Sam Mellish


Madison Square Garden

New York
Dana Dufine, 49, senior vp/head of West Coast operations, Madison Square Garden Company
Alex Diaz, 42, senior vp/GM, Madison Square Garden Arena

The Garden, which welcomed some 4 million fans through its doors in the past 12 months, benefits from the logistical skills of Diaz, an arena management veteran, and the booking savvy of Dufine, a longtime artist manager. Diaz, a father of three, saw the Garden host an NBA All-Star Game in February (its first since 1998), then pull off an overnight setup for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. His team will prep the Garden for Pope Francis‘ mass on Sept. 25. Dufine, a mother of two, cross-books the Madison Square Garden Company’s venues in New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles — and plans for other artists to stage upcoming residencies similar to Billy Joel’s run of monthly shows at the Garden.

Whereabouts During Shows (Diaz): “I spend all my time walking the venue, monitoring the fans’ experience from all areas of the arena.”


Manchester Arena

Manchester, England
James Allen, 42, GM

During allen’s two-year tenure at the SMG-operated Manchester Arena, the 21,000-capacity venue in Northern England marked its 20th ­anniversary and sold its 21 millionth ticket. The father of two has been in venue management since answering a Guardian newspaper ad in 1998 for a job at London’s Docklands Arena. “I can’t sing, I can’t dance, and I can’t play an instrument, so my only option was to get into the concert business from an operational perspective.”

First Job: “I worked in a bike shop on weekends, and I still love riding bikes today. That’s my thing when I’m not in the office.”


The Forum

Los Angeles
Dana Dufine, 49, senior vp/head of West Coast operations, Madison Square Garden Company
Nick Spampanato, 47, vp/GM

Dufine, who books both The Forum and Madison Square Garden, recalls that she snuck out of the house to see U2 with her boyfriend in Los Angeles in the early ’80s. Fast-forward, and in 2015 Dufine worked with Live Nation’s Arthur Fogel to present U2 for a combined 13 shows at the Garden and The Forum, grossing $29 million. Spampanato joined Dufine, Irving and Shelli Azoff, and MSG executive chairman James Dolan to reopen The Forum in January 2014 in order to bring it “back to where it was, as one of the storied rock’n’roll houses in the country,” he says.

Big Break (Define): “Working at Front Line Management with Irving Azoff. I started in 2003, managing Velvet Revolver, Stone Temple Pilots and others. Twelve years later, it brought me here.”


Rod Laver Arena

Melbourne, Australia
Brian Morris, 59, chief executive, Melbourne and Olympic Parks

Morris’ role as head of Melbourne and Olympic Parks gives him responsibility for the Rod Laver Arena, one of Australia’s biggest and most versatile venues. (It hosts the annual Australian Open tennis tournament, as well as numerous concerts.) Pink set a venue record when she played 18 shows at the building in 2013. Morris, who emigrated from South Africa to Australia in 2000 and is the father of three grown sons, now is overseeing a $200 million renovation of the 30-year-old venue — without closing the building to events. “It’s like rebuilding a 747 while it’s in flight,” he says.

Hardest Business Lesson Learned: “I can’t do it all myself. I’ve only learned in the last 10 years how important it is to hire people better than you.”


Guy Ngata feted One Direction
Guy Ngata feted One Direction in 2013 for 26 shows at Sydney's Allphones Arena. PK Productions (Glenn Pokorny)


Allphones Arena

Guy Ngata, 41, GM

Managing concert halls from Auckland, in his native New Zealand, to Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz Arena prepped Ngata in 2012 to take on Australia’s largest indoor venue: the 21,000-seat Allphones Arena, which has hosted 5 Seconds of Summer, Drake and The Eagles in 2015. The father of two notes how computer upgrades at the building benefit customers, with suite ticketholders now ordering food and drinks online, “which has been tremendous for us in terms of efficiency. We initiated some great new systems with our team.”

Most Memorable Venue Moment: “One Direction did seven shows here in 2013. Seeing the volume of young girls outside the backstage area, it was almost as though the show was in the loading dock.”


American Airlines Center

Dave Brown, 55, executive vp/GM

At the American Airlines Center, the past year was “our busiest since we opened the building with The Eagles in 2001,” says Houston native Brown, citing 39 shows in 2014. His venue’s winning streak continued in 2015 with Paul McCartney, Katy Perry, Fleetwood Mac and seven shows due in September by Garth Brooks. Brown has managed facilities in Dallas for more than 25 years. “I’ve got every backstage pass I’ve ever worn. I probably have over 1,000.”

Whereabouts During Shows: “During Shania Twain‘s concert, I walked up on a spill in a ­restroom. I knew where the mop was, and I grabbed it and mopped it up. I think it sends a ­message. I want my team to know there’s not one thing in the building I won’t do.”


Wells Fargo Center

John Page, 50, president, Wells Fargo Complex

The Democratic National Convention will take place in summer 2016 at the Wells Fargo Center due, in part, to the work of Page. The father of three is a 25-year veteran of the arena’s parent company, Comcast Spectacor, whose facility management arm oversees 138 arenas, stadiums and ­convention centers in North America. For Wells Fargo Center, he says, a highlight of the past year was hosting a 28-show run of Frozen on Ice ($10 million gross, according to Billboard Boxscore) for a young, very enthusiastic crowd. “It was like having The Beatles in the building.”

Most Important Business Lesson: “We’re not in the banking business; we’re in the ­entertainment business. That’s the one thing I preach to ­everyone. You don’t want to have to cancel an event because [a promoter] owes you money.”


Brian Morris congratulated Pink
Brian Morris congratulated Pink on her record-setting run of 18 concerts at Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena in 2013. Courtesy Photo


Barclays Center

Brett Yormark, 49, CEO, Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets

Since opening three years ago, Barclays Center under Yormark has achieved not only top 10 grosses but clout within the music and sports business. That status comes from Yormark’s creation of a venue advisory board of 35 top executives (Scott Borchetta, Scooter Braun and Monte Lipman among them) “to reinforce the big-event business” of the venue. “We want them to be able to pick up the phone or send an email regarding a ‘what if’ idea,” he says. Yormark also has extended Barclays Center’s reach by hiring arena booking veteran Paola Palazzo as venue vice president, based in Los Angeles.

Most Memorable Venue Moment: “Opening night with Jay Z in 2012. We married sports to ­entertainment. Jay wore the Brooklyn Nets NBA jersey onstage that night, and it all came together.”


Staples Center

Los Angeles
Lee Zeidman, 60, president, Staples Center, Microsoft Theater and L.A. Live

Zeidman, who was hired AS the first full-time employee of Staples Center in 1998, was promoted in 2014 to oversee AEG’s entire $2.5 billion L.A. Live sports and entertainment district, which includes venues, hotels, a bowling alley, movie theater and ­restaurants. Drawing on the synergies of the complex “and making it a one-stop shopping campus was probably the biggest accomplishment I’ve had over the year,” says Zeidman, a resident of beachfront town Venice who has hosted 15 Grammy Awards at the arena. Now underway: a three-year renovation of Staples Center.

Most Important Business Lesson: “This is a 24/7 business. There are no weekends or holidays. I tell [my staff] to balance work with their family and outside interests — and never try to work as much as I do.”

This article was originally published in the Sept. 26 issue of Billboard.