SBJ/August 29-September 4, 2011/Facilities

Seven MLS teams band together to get more concerts

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Seven Major League Soccer teams have formed the Soccer Stadium Alliance to attract additional business from the music and entertainment industry.

The group is modeled loosely after the group of NFL stadiums called the Gridiron Stadium Network. It comprises Crew Stadium in Columbus; PPL Park in Chester, Pa.; Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.; Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City; Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas; Jeld-Wen Field in Portland and BC Place in Vancouver.

Ryan Smith, senior director of business development for the Columbus Crew, developed the idea after Crew Stadium was snubbed by an artist he declined to name.

“We weren’t getting the number of shows that we feel we would like to have during a given year,” Smith said. “It makes a lot of sense: If we can become our own promoter, we can still work with AEG and Live Nation, but we can also go out and get shows on our own.”

The number of annual concerts varies per stadium. Pizza Hut Park has put on three concerts in 2011 and Dick’s Sporting Goods Park will host three consecutive Phish concerts in September, but PPL Park has yet to host a concert. Sources said gross sales for the one-day concerts can range from $850,000 to $1.6 million, depending on ticket price. Teams do not share the revenue with the league.

Crew Stadium hosted four concerts this year. Ryan said he hopes the alliance will raise that number to six.

Each stadium contributes $15,000 to join the alliance, and the fees pay a retainer to Modern Music Services, an Oklahoma-based music production and marketing company. Run by veteran music promoter Donnie Frizzell, Modern Music Services will book acts to perform at multiple stadiums in the network, and try to book acts for repeat business. Frizzell, who has promoted tours with Styx, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Fleetwood Mac, said he will promote the network at music industry trade shows, such as the International Entertainment Buyers Association meeting in Nashville in October.

Like the Gridiron Stadium Network, teams in the Soccer Stadium Alliance will assume the risk for their own concerts.

For the Gridiron Stadium Network, a group formed in 2005, the key to attracting concerts is the stadium operators’ willingness to assume the financial risk to buy the acts and serve as the promoter, said Jeff Apregan, the group’s consultant and a former promoter. Seven of the 11 Gridiron Stadium Network members have teams managing their buildings. The Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers, both part of the network, have spent millions of dollars on their own over the past several years to get blockbuster acts such as Kenny Chesney and U2.

The payoff can be lucrative. Gridiron Stadium Network members do not have to share their portion of concert revenue with other NFL clubs. This summer, Chesney’s tour grossed $5 million in ticket sales at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles, and $4 million at Heinz Field, where the Steelers play, according to figures compiled by Billboard Boxscore.

Frizzell said creating deeper relationships with the acts will elevate the soccer stadiums in the entertainment industry. He said his initial goal is to educate musical acts on the versatility of soccer-specific stadiums. Depending on its setup, Crew Stadium can hold between 14,000 and 35,000 people for concerts.

“These stadiums can hold 15,000 people and still look really good; it’s not like you have a bunch of empty seats,” Frizzell said. “I just don’t think anyone has been able to connect the dots between the agents and the musical acts to show how good these facilities are for shows.”

Frizzell said the soccer venues’ unique size — smaller than a football or baseball stadium but larger than an arena — make them attractive for bands such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rascal Flatts and Nickelback. Pizza Hut Park, Livestrong Park and Toyota Park have permanent stages at one end that make it easier for acts to set up and tear down their equipment.

Chris Wyche, executive vice president of operations for Sporting Kansas City, said the alliance also could shift some of the overhead costs associated with large concerts. According to sources, renting a stage runs $100,000 to $150,000, personnel costs are an additional $100,000, and stadiums must lay down plastic flooring to protect the field, which adds $80,000.

Sporting Kansas City, which owns its protective cover, could rent it out to partner stadiums at a fraction of the cost, Wyche said.

“I think it has potential to really create some economies of scale,” Wyche said.

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