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The USA offers a bewildering range of venues catering to all types of entertainment from college sports to superstar music acts
By Hanna Ellington on 19 Sep 2023
The United States is rife with arena sizes and configurations, with consumer-focused convertible spaces being used for everything from live music and entertainment events to collegiate and professional sports. From coast to coast — with a chunk of viable land and markets in between — the US contains the vast majority of arenas worldwide, including freshly established, historically iconic, and athletically tied venues.
“The health of the arena businesses is really good,” says John Boyle, global chief content officer for multinational venue company ASM Global. “Aside from the frontline concert business, there’s a lot of family content, motorsports, and more.”
In addition, having flexibility of configuration is key for arenas – being able to change capacity from 20,000 to 6,000, for example. “Curtaining off the upper half of the arena means you can put an act in there, and the show still feels good. So all these things together is what’s making the arena business really healthy. There’s a lot of content, and there’s a lot of thoughtfulness in how the supply chain is presenting the content.”
The US has seen a huge growth in Latin acts, as well as a regional Mexican movement – and he notes this trend has expanded out of the US to the rest of the world. Genres such as K-pop and J-pop are also seeing huge global success. Meanwhile, staffing “continues to be a challenge across the board,” and economic headwinds mean consumer behaviour and buying habits are changing, with tickets selling later.
Nonetheless, there’s a huge variety of new content coming through, especially in the family entertainment segment and in immersive exhibitions, which are showing “huge growth.”
“The K-pop shows are hugely successful. The second they go on presale, they sell out immediately.”
On the west coast, California features a range of old and new, including LA’s AEG-owned Crypto.com Arena (20,000-capacity), currently undergoing property-wide upgrades set to be completed in autumn 2024, and Inglewood’s iconic Kia Forum (17,500). The Forum, which can seat as few as 2,500, has hosted ground-breaking residencies, with 15 sold-out nights for Harry Styles and 12 shows for Maná. Multiple show runs are planned for the upcoming year, with Rauw Alejandro, Dead & Company, Drake, and Depeche Mode set to play many nights at the venue.
“As we transition out of the pandemic era, we see that fans are more excited to attend live events than ever before, so it’s our priority to keep the shows coming,” says Becky Colwell, Kia Forum’s general manager.
The Intuit Dome (18,000), the Forum’s new neighbour in Inglewood, is expected to open in autumn 2024 and is set to become the new home of the Los Angeles Clippers, along with hosting live events.
Oak View Group (OVG) recently broke into the arid Coachella Valley region, launching a nearly $300m arena in Palm Springs. Opening in December 2022, the Live Nation-operated Acrisure Arena (11,000) has hosted Maroon 5, Journey, and The Doobie Brothers in its first year, with Paramore and Bryan Adams shows on the horizon.
In the Bay Area, the LEED Silver-certified Oakland Arena, which can be customised anywhere from 1,500-19,500 capacity, has shifted focus from being the home of the Golden State Warriors basketball team to being ‘K-pop central.’ They’re set to host Suga, Twice, and MAMAMOO soon.
“The K-pop shows are hugely successful. The second they go on presale, they sell out immediately. And we continue to prove how amazing it is to have a show here by selling out shows and hosting an amazing experience for fans,” says general manager Nicole Strange.
“I’m not sure in the 33 years I’ve been in the industry, I’ve seen it stronger”
With over 500,000 guests welcomed in 2022 and a 12% increase in ticket sales from 2019, Strange says the venue is focusing on new opportunities and revenue arms that weren’t previously possible with a sports residency.
Further up the west coast, Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena has transformed after OVG’s $1.2bn investment wholly renovated the 1960s venue. Reopened in October 2021, the 17,000-capacity arena is set to become the world’s first venue with net-zero carbon emissions as certified by the International Living Future Institute – all while welcoming 2.5m attendees in the 19 months since reopening.
Amazon acquired naming rights to the former KeyArena in 2020, vowing to make all operations carbon-neutral as part of its Climate Pledge pact in partnership with the Global Optimism advocacy group. With these ambitions, the venue is operating at a higher cost in order to “be at the forefront of these efforts to raise the bar in sustainability throughout the sports and entertainment industry,” says general manager Steve Mattson.
The OVG-operated space has eliminated fossil fuels, installed onsite renewable energy sources, and retained the arena’s historic roof from the ’60s. Mattson says they’ll continue to track external natural gas emissions — such as those from artists and fans travelling to the venue — recycle rainwater in soaked Seattle, source 75% of food from a 300-mile radius, and work towards banning all single-use plastics by the end of 2024.
Artists including Stevie Nicks, Phish, Muse, and NCT Dream have graced the Climate Pledge stage in recent months, and while the venue hosts primarily sports-related events, the future for live music in the US market looks brighter than ever.
“I’m not sure in the 33 years I’ve been in the industry, I’ve seen it stronger,” says Mattson. “I think part of it is the pandemic pause that prevented artists from touring, and now they’re all out working.”
“Last year was the most successful year that the building has ever had”
With more content comes the desire for new venues, and Madison Square Garden Entertainment is focussed on the Las Vegas market, with the eye-popping MSG Sphere at The Venetian. The dome-shaped auditorium with a projected 17,500-capacity is set to open with a U2 residency in September 2023. It will boast the world’s largest and first 16K LED screen — which wraps up, around, and behind audience members — while immersing them in 4D and pitch-perfect sound technology.
The new venue will bring increased competition to an already busy market in the western portion of the US. The ASM Global-operated Desert Diamond Arena (18,000) in Arizona is familiar with the competition, with Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Coachella being short distances away – though pivoting away from being a sports tenant-held building has led to more opportunities in the live music space.
“If you don’t have that tenant, it’s one less player in the middle. Without them, in this case, it’s a really good thing. And it supports the whole growth of this area right here,” says Dale Adams, general manager of the Glendale arena.
“Last year was the most successful year that the building has ever had. This year, we’ve already confirmed more events than we had last year, so we’re just getting better.” Along with a boom in ticket sales as people return to live performances, Adams says the Latin genre has taken both his venue and the US market by storm, becoming one of the hottest genres in the market today.
The South & Midwest
The Latin fever gripping the US is primarily led by the culturally proximal southern states. In Texas, the newly opened Moody Center (15,000) in Austin is set to host Billy Strings, Ricardo Arjona, Chris Stapleton, and Luis Miguel in the upcoming year, which is only its second in operation.
“We’re seeing really strong indicators that international business will continue to grow here, particularly with Latin and regional Mexican acts,” says Michael Owens, Moody Center’s VP of programming. “Not only is the overall show count increasing, but we’re beginning to cycle into second plays with many of these artists. There is a massive underserved audience in this region, with zip reports showing both regional ticket purchases and cross-border traffic into Austin for these shows.”
“When we think about sustainability, we like to call it our ‘forever journey’ because it’s continuous”
Opening in April 2022, the Moody Center has surpassed expectations to become the world’s highest-grossing venue of its size, according to Billboard. Backed by OVG, Live Nation, and C3 Presents, nearly 50% of its more than 140 events have sold out, with 1.5m fans entering during the inaugural year of business — and Owens says they’re “just getting started.”
“Over the past few decades, many nationally touring acts have skipped the Austin market, opting for pro-sports buildings in major markets like Dallas and Houston,” says Owens. “With the recent addition of this world-class arena in the heart of the city, we’re realising a lot of pent-up demand from those fans who no longer have to travel outside the market to see their favourite artists. Factor in the strong local economy in Austin and the record number of people moving to the region every day, and you have the recipe for an explosive inaugural year.”
Local economies, cultures, and markets are important considerations for venues in the US. In Atlanta, which lies in the south-eastern region, the State Farm Arena (17,000) is striving to be the leading arena in its area, according to general manager and EVP Brett Stefansson.
“Atlanta is a melting pot of different cultures; you can book any genre in our building, and it’s going to be successful,” he says. “Covid caused so much isolation and took away the human-to-human interaction that people crave. We now see fans prioritising and appreciating live entertainment more than ever before.”
Home to the Atlanta Hawks NBA team, which operates the arena, the southern arena hosts both live entertainment and sports and is balancing its recent successes with reshaping the venue for the future. In 2022, it became the world’s first venue to earn Platinum TRUE Zero Waste certification, and it was a founding and equity member in the launch of the OVG-partnered Green Operations & Advanced Leadership (GOAL) platform.
“When we think about sustainability, we like to call it our ‘forever journey’ because it’s continuous. We feel it’s our duty to the community as stewards of a world-class arena and an NBA franchise to do the right thing and to set an example,” says Stefansson.
“In terms of technical labour, a stagehand, for example, there are simply fewer of them around”
Up the eastern coast sits one of the US’s largest arenas by capacity, the Greensboro Coliseum. Configurable between 13,000 to 22,000, the North Carolina arena has hosted The Eagles, Los Temerarios, and New Edition recently.
“The past 12 months were exceptional, and we reached, if not surpassed, how busy we were before the pandemic started,” says deputy director Scott E. Johnson. “Going into the next 12 to 18 months, we are forecasting much of the same. More shows, high sales at high prices.”
Yet Johnson adds the space has struggled to retain part-time and skilled technical labourers, even with significant pay increases. As the American labour force reels from pandemic disruption, the hospitality and leisure sector has the highest quit rate of the US industries, up to 5.6% in February 2023, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“Our industry is predominantly supported by part-time workers, who were drastically affected by the pandemic,” says Johnson. “Our industry carries part-time workers as ‘second jobs’ for ancillary income, not a primary job. People are slow to return to secondary employment.”
“In terms of technical labour, a stagehand, for example, there are simply fewer of them around. We have lost quite a few who changed careers during the pandemic. Travelling stagehands took local jobs to survive, and they are only returning to the road if [they receive] significant pay increases,” adds Johnson.
In addition to challenges with labour, inflation in the US market is also a pressing issue for venues and attendees alike. The Consumer Price Index, which measures the average cost of goods and services, peaked in June 2022 at 9.1%, up from 2.3% in December 2019, and has trended downwards to 5% in March 2023.
“Slowdowns in the overall economy related to inflation and a reduction in individuals’ discretionary income could affect our industry as a whole”
Inflation remains an ongoing issue for venues like the university-owned Colonial Life Arena (18,000) in South Carolina, where general manager Sid Kenyon says, “slowdowns in the overall economy related to inflation and a reduction in individuals’ discretionary income could affect our industry as a whole.”
Nonetheless, Kenyon reports that this year is projected to match the full fiscal year before the pandemic. The venue is unique in its ties to collegiate affairs but still competes in the broader market against neighbouring venues.
“There are no differences for a collegiate arena than that of any arena that has a primary tenant, such as a professional sports team who receives priority scheduling,” says Kenyon. “I would also say we may also have some advantages with a large infrastructure already in place supporting the entire university, in areas such as legal services, procurement, law enforcement, and security, among others. Another advantage is having thousands of college students in our market.”
Over in the midwestern market, Ohio’s Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse (19,432) also keeps its significant potential audience in mind when booking shows, with EVP of venue operations Antony Bonavita saying, “we’re not just flyover country.” The Cleveland venue has recently seen an explosion in Latin, K-pop, J-pop, and C-pop performances and is set to host Pink, Madonna, Greta Van Fleet, and Peter Gabriel later this year.
Across the Midwest, other notable venues include Tulsa’s BOK Center (19,200), Kansas City’s T-Mobile Center (19,250), St. Louis’s Enterprise Center (22,000), Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena (21,000), and Chicago’s United Center (23,500).
The northeast sector of the US is home to renowned venues including New York City’s Madison Square Garden (18,600), Radio City Music Hall (6,000), and Barclays Arena (19,000). NYC lands in between Boston’s TD Garden (19,500) to the north and Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center (21,000) to the south.
“Within this competitive marketplace, it is extremely important that everyone who sets foot inside UBS Arena has a fun, easy, and memorable experience”
Between Philadelphia and the US capital, Washington, D.C., lies the CFG Bank Arena (14,000), which reopened in April 2023 after an OVG-funded $250m renovation. Instead of demolishing and rebuilding, the decision to renovate the historic Baltimore venue kept concrete and rebar out of landfills, shortened the construction timeline from 18 to 11 months, and reduced overall costs, says general manager Frank Remesch.
Originally known as the Baltimore Civic Center, CFG Bank Arena will go from 105 events per year to a projected 130 – with concerts roughly doubling in their line up. With 38 brand-new suites; an in-venue kitchen; expanded bathroom access; better sightlines; improved lighting, rigging, and sound systems; and a doubling of staff, the venue plans to welcome 1m visitors this year, up from 560,000 per year pre-renovation.
“I’ve got a new building with an experienced staff,” says Remesch. “Some nuances with the building we had to learn, but for the most part, we understand the market. We understand what the patrons expect. It’s really worked out well. And we’ve hit the ground running; we’ve had five sold-out shows already.”
The venue opened its doors with a sold-out performance from Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band, followed the next night by The Eagles. CFG Bank Arena will welcome SZA, Andrea Bocelli, Janet Jackson, and KISS in the next year.
Up the east coast, the newest entrant to the NYC territory is UBS Arena (19,000), which opened in November 2021 directly adjacent to city limits in Elmont. While it entered a market faced with staffing and supply chain challenges, venue management has “hit our stride and refined our operation. Our focus now is on delivering the best possible experience for our guests and clients,” says general manager Michael Sciortino.
“Within this competitive marketplace, it is extremely important that everyone who sets foot inside UBS Arena has a fun, easy, and memorable experience, to ensure they come back soon,” he adds.
“All you have to do is stand in the crowd and feel the energy of one of our recent sold-out concerts to know the industry is very much alive and well”
The new space is outfitted with modern luxuries, including premier dressing rooms, a state-of-the-art sound system, a back-of-house designed with advice from Live Nation, and is the first New York venue to feature Amazon’s Just Walk Out self-service shop. The LEED-certified venue’s goals for future development centre on sustainability measures, aiming to become a zero-waste venue by the end of 2023 and to continue exploring onsite solar energy possibilities.
While the New York market is potentially the most competitive in the nation, UBS is carving its own path, having hosted Kendrick Lamar, Billie Eilish, and Post Malone since opening, with Aerosmith and John Mayer to play before the year is out.
The US market is fresh with new developments hosting numerous global tours for eager fans around the nation. With overarching goals of improving sustainability measures, combating market inflation, and maintaining staffing levels, the US sector has its work cut out for it. But from coast to coast, live music is bringing Americans back together again.
“All you have to do is stand in the crowd and feel the energy of one of our recent sold-out Bruce Springsteen or Suga concerts to know the industry is very much alive and well,” says Sciortino.
Population: 329.5 million
Currency: US dollar (USD)
GDP per capita: $63,543
Internet users: 307.2 million
Active smartphones: 294.2 million
The 2023 edition of the Global Arena Guide is out now. Find out more on the dedicated year-round mini-site.
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