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Volume 22 No. 34
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Blockbuster tours to fill stadiums

This summer is shaping up to be one of the busiest for stadium concerts in 20 years, providing greater opportunities for teams to capture special-event income not subject to league revenue-sharing deals.

As of last week, 95 concert dates had been confirmed at big league and major college stadiums across North America, according to SportsBusiness Journal research. The number is on par with last year’s total, even before dates for stadium tours by the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney are announced.

One Direction and Taylor Swift are among shows booked by Gridiron Stadium Network.
Photo by: GEORGIA DOME / ROBB COHEN
The summer of 1994 remains the benchmark for stadium concerts. That year, tours by the Stones, the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, the Eagles and Billy Joel/Elton John produced 214 shows, packing 9 million fans into North American stadiums, according to Billboard magazine.

But this year isn’t too shabby. Touring consultant Jeff Apregan says it’s the highest number of headliners playing stadiums in his 30-plus years as a promoter and facility manager.

Photo by: COURTESY OF APREGAN ENTERTAINMENT GROUP

Apregan consults for the Gridiron Stadium Network, 10 NFL stadiums that work together to book concerts and other nonfootball events at their facilities. This year, network members have booked more than 30 concerts among One Direction, Taylor Swift and Kenny Chesney. It’s the most shows for GSN as a whole since the group was formed in 2005 to secure Chesney dates.

All told, 11 acts are headlining multiple stadiums in 2015, extending from AC/DC’s first tour of North America stadiums to the Zac Brown Band performing at seven MLB ballparks, including Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. This year, country artist Luke Bryan steps up to play NFL stadiums. Even the Foo Fighters, formed amid the ashes of Nirvana in the mid-1990s, is dipping its toe into the stadium market, including two mid-July performances at Citi Field.

“It’s remarkable,” Apregan said. “It’s not every year you get this kind of volume in stadiums. This year is unusually robust for stadium tours. Some years, there are virtually none.”

On their own, the Rolling Stones are targeting 12 stadiums, said Jay Marciano, AEG Live’s president and CEO. AEG Live is the promoter for the Stones and McCartney, plus Chesney and Swift, both of whom will play 17 stadiums this year.

One Direction, whose tour promoter is Live Nation, also has 17 stadiums booked after completing a run of 19 stadiums in 2014.

“The last couple years we’ve seen a lot more artists eager to play before 35,000 to 50,000 people a night,” said David Zedeck, Live Nation’s president of global talent and artist development, who works closely with One Direction. “We’ve booked more than 100 stadium dates over 2014 and 2015.”

What’s driving the spate of stadium shows? The national promoters say it’s a combination of a few things, including the normal touring cycle recording artists go through as their careers grow and they move on to play bigger venues.

In other cases, the stars have aligned for older groups such as AC/DC, the Dead and the Stones, they said. Those three acts don’t tour every year, and for the Dead, the four core members say the handful of 50th anniversary shows mark their final live performances together.

The huge demand for tickets to the Dead’s three concerts at Soldier Field, initially the only shows scheduled, resulted in tour promoter Peter Shapiro adding June 27 and 28 shows at Levi’s Stadium, sources said. To date, the 49ers have scheduled seven concerts at their 7-month-old facility.

“My rule of thumb is, to sell out a stadium, the demand has to be twice that large,” Marciano said. “You have to be really hot to do that. Then you have the Stones and McCartney. Both have a 50-year history of delivering great shows.”

In addition, more MLB teams continue to jump into the concert game to generate revenue outside of their core business, despite the scheduling restrictions and the concerns they have over the damage those special events inflict on grass fields.

“The groundskeepers are locked and sedated,” joked Mike Dee, the San Diego Padres’ president and CEO, who 12 years ago launched concerts at Fenway Park during his Boston Red Sox tenure. “They used to dictate what’s set up on the field, but that era has ended.”

For some clubs, this summer marks the first time their stadiums will host a concert aside from postgame live music. The Colorado Rockies are one example. They booked the Zac Brown Band, the first stand-alone concert at Coors Field since the ballpark opened 20 years ago in 1995.

The Rockies struck a rental agreement with AEG Live, and will generate revenue from concessions, parking and ticket sales tied to the park’s 60 suites, said Greg Feasel, the team’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

“We’ve been talking to them for some time to find something that fits,” Feasel said. “This year, it all worked out with the dates. You still put the field at risk.”

At Petco Park, the Padres booked Swift and were “circling the airport” on two more potential concerts that had not been confirmed, Dee said. The park’s large number of group hospitality spaces presents revenue-sharing opportunities with promoters that other teams may not have, which make those events even more attractive for both parties, he said.

In Indianapolis, Lucas Oil Stadium has greater flexibility for concerts at a retractable-roof facility with artificial turf and a larger window of opportunity before football season The NFL venue was fortunate enough to land Chesney and One Direction, stadium director Mike Fox said.

“We’re a pretty small market, and to get two shows in the summer is a big deal for us,” he said.

Unlike stadiums run by teams, Lucas Oil Stadium is owned and operated by the Capital Improvement Board, a public entity, and it does not share concert-related revenue with the Indianapolis Colts, the building’s primary tenant, Fox said.