SBJ/February 13-19, 2012/Facilities

Soccer venues look to fill concert calendar

The effort by a group of pro soccer teams to book more concerts at their stadiums has paid off with several summer tours targeting those nontraditional music venues.

Crew Stadium is part of the Soccer Stadium Alliance, formed to lobby the concert industry for more shows.
GREG BARTRAM / COLUMBUS CREW
The Soccer Stadium Alliance, a network of seven MLS clubs and the North American Soccer League’s Rochester Rhinos, formed in August to lobby the concert industry for more shows after the Columbus Crew felt the sting of losing a Taylor Swift date to Nationwide Arena.

Together, the clubs hired veteran Arkansas promoter Donnie Frizzell as a consultant to spread the word to tour producers, booking agents and band managers of their willingness to take financial risk to buy shows and serve as the promoter. The soccer stadiums offer a capacity of 18,000 to 27,000 people, larger than many arenas and amphitheaters but not as big as football stadiums and ballparks.

By buying the shows and promoting them themselves, MLS teams taking risk could generate up to $250,000 in revenue for a concert with 90 percent to 100 percent of tickets sold, Frizzell said. Conversely, taking risk also means the team could potentially lose more money if the show does poorly at the box office. For a straight rental, a safer course in which a team typically keeps 100 percent of concessions and parking revenue plus a small percentage of merchandise sales, the team’s portion of revenue could drop as low as $20,000.

Six months after the alliance’s formation, seven to 10 concerts have been confirmed for soccer stadiums as a result, Frizzell said. Although most of the individual shows had yet to be announced last week, country artist Jason Aldean has booked Crew Stadium for early August.

Booking agents for one alternative rock package went directly to the alliance to map its 2012 route. “Linkin Park and Incubus came to us for a soccer stadium tour, and we are working through all the details,” Frizzell said.

All told, the alliance has submitted 20-plus offers to more than a dozen mainstream artists and tours, covering Kiss/Motley Crue, Def Leppard/Poison, Aerosmith and Journey. The decision is up to the individual members of the alliance whether they want to put in an offer on a tour or pass.

Responses will be coming soon, as touring acts set their itinerary of arenas, stadiums and amphitheaters for the lucrative summer concert season.

This year’s bigger tours are hitting more than two dozen MLB parks and NFL facilities. Roger Waters is taking “The Wall” tour to eight stadiums, including six MLB venues. The Kenny Chesney/Tim McGraw tour will hit 19 NFL stadiums, seven years after the Gridiron Stadium Network was formed using Chesney as a test for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions and a few others to buy shows for their buildings.

Among the Soccer Stadium Alliance members, the Crew has offers for three more tours through the alliance beyond the Aldean show. “Donnie’s out there flushing out great opportunities for us,” said Ryan Smith, the team’s senior director of business development.

PPL Park has about a dozen offers on the table through the alliance and its partnership with Global Spectrum, the stadium’s management firm. The MLS facility opened in June 2010 and can fit up to 25,000 for a show, but has yet to have a concert on the field.

“We have a lot in the pipeline and hopefully some [deals] will close,” said Nick Sakiewicz, the Philadelphia Union’s CEO. “Concert activity has turned up quite a bit more than this time last year. We will see what the season brings.”

Livestrong Park in Kansas City could schedule four to five concerts in 2012 after opening last year with Farm Aid and an alternative rock fest headlined by Incubus. Both dates were booked before the alliance was formed. This year, the stadium could get two concerts through the alliance.

“If we get one show out of this, it’s a success,” said Phil Laws, Global Spectrum’s general manager at Livestrong Park.

For agents and promoters, one sticking point with stadium concert deals are the expenses tied to protecting the field that can run six figures. In Columbus, the cost to install floor cover alone is $80,000. The Crew builds that expense into their rent deal, Smith said.

“Sports teams can be real picky about what they want on the field,” said Buddy Lee Attractions’ Kevin Neal, responsible agent for Jason Aldean. “We look at all the factors when determining where to play, including the cost of doing a show.”

Aldean, a rising country star, played Nationwide Arena last year, a show that drew 14,000 to the home of the Columbus Blue Jackets. For his Aug. 5 performance at Crew Stadium, the seating map is set for 27,000, almost double the capacity of the NHL facility. Playing the larger venue coincides with Aldean’s steady development to where he can now headline MLS stadiums, Neal said.

Last year, the Crew lost out on Taylor Swift because the team could not reach an agreement with tour officials on the artist guarantee. Swift’s June 7 concert at Nationwide Arena produced $955,000 in gross ticket sales. Crew Stadium, with more seats, had a gross potential of $1.4 million to $1.5 million in ticket sales for that show, and team officials believe the tour could have walked away with more money in its pocket.

“That’s the history behind the alliance. It all started here,” Smith said. “Nobody was really fighting for us … nobody could see the value in playing Crew Stadium. We’re not trying to steal these shows … but if it’s a better venue, why not?”

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