SBJ/March 28-April 3, 2011/Facilities

Lineup of shows grows for minor league parks

The marketing of minor league ballparks as multipurpose facilities has grown to the point where one promoter is booking three events in about 30 buildings this summer.

Last month, ESI Concerts, part of Entertainment and Sports International, announced that the Boston Pops orchestra with special guest Kenny Loggins will perform its Hollywood Hits Tour at 10 minor league parks in August.

MITCH MAZZEROLE
The Boston Pops and Kenny Loggins will perform at 10 minor league ballparks in August.
Separately, ESI is organizing a 10-city country music tour for July and August with four to five artists on the bill. As of last week, the acts and dates could not be announced because contracts were not signed, said Joe Owens, co-president of ESI and based in Raleigh.

In addition, ESI is scheduling the Big Apple Circus for five minor league parks in mid-July. The circus will perform on a platform set up on the infield, the first time it has performed outside its signature tent setup.

For the concerts, ESI rented a 73-foot semi-trailer that opens up into a 2,500-square-foot stage with a roof and trusses to hold lights and sound, Owens said.

ESI’s ventures continue the trend for booking special events at minor league parks. In the past decade, Jam Productions of Chicago has promoted exclusive tours of those venues with Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, Bryan Adams, Def Leppard, Counting Crows and Collective Soul.

Since 2004, ESI has produced the Family Fun Fest, a parking lot carnival that has made 350 appearances at minor league parks and attracted 1.6 million fans. This season marks ESI’s first venture into concert promotion, and the company’s goal is to double the number of dates to 60 next year and do more than 100 shows by 2013, said Owens, a veteran concert promoter who has worked with The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and Aerosmith.

ESI promoted the Boston Pops/Kenny Loggins show last September at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I. Despite a one-week delay due to Hurricane Earl, the event was successful enough to persuade Owens and his ESI partner, Bert Gould, to set up a small tour of minor league parks.

“There are 200 minor league parks and probably 40 to 50 of them are in markets where there is no summer amphitheater,” Owens said. “The parks provide a whole new set of venues for artists to play.”

The deals ESI makes with the acts distributes a small portion of ticket sales revenue to the teams besides income they collect from concessions and parking, Owens said. For major concert tours in bigger buildings, the artists and promoters typically keep 100 percent of ticket receipts.

The acts and their agents recognize that being flexible up front on sharing ticket revenue will pay dividends in the future with more opportunities to perform at minor league parks, Owens said.

In Buffalo, one of the 10 stops for the Boston Pops tour, the date fits with the Class AAA Bisons’ strategy to supplement baseball with several special events, said Mike Buczkowski, the club’s vice president and general manager.

Six years ago, the Bisons took over operation of Coca-Cola Field, and they are responsible for its upkeep. The team books two annual concerts tied to local radio stations, in addition to the National Buffalo Wing Festival, which attracts up to 50,000 people every Labor Day weekend.

Every year, the Bisons’ front office aggressively pursues non-game-day events to help pay for ballpark upgrades such as the park’s new $2.5 million Daktronics high-definition video board, the largest in the minor leagues, Buczkowski said.

The same is true at AutoZone Park in Memphis. Global Spectrum has managed the building since August 2009 on behalf of the nonprofit group that owns the stadium and the Class AAA Redbirds.

This will be the first concert at the park since Dave Matthews Band in 2007. Global Spectrum is also negotiating to bring TNA Wrestling to the stadium, but as of last week no deal was signed, said Ben Weiss, the facility’s general manager. The park is also part of the St. Jude Memphis Marathon.

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