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The land of opportunity has lived up to its name in 2022, with the US arena business shaking off the Covid cobwebs and roaring back to full-strength – eventually.
From the legendary Madison Square Garden (cap.18,600) and Barclays Center (19,000) in New York, to The Kia Forum (17,500) in Inglewood and the former Staples Center (20,000) in LA – the US is home to some of the most famous indoor venues in the world. AEG recently announced plans for a significant revamp of the latter, which was renamed the Crypto.com Arena in late 2021 as part of a new 20-year naming rights deal. The nine-figure upgrade will reimagine nearly all aspects of the venue.
“Crypto.com Arena is part of the fabric of Los Angeles,” says AEG president and CEO Dan Beckerman. “Since its opening, we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure that the venue remains state-of-the-art while consistently creating a world-class event and fan experience.”
“Since its opening, we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure that the venue remains state-of-the-art while consistently creating a world-class event and fan experience”
Alongside the established players, the market has been flooded with cutting-edge new entrants, such as San Francisco’s Chase Center (19,500); Oak View Group’s UBS Arena (19,000) in Belmont Park, New York; Moody Center (15,000) in Austin, Texas; Enmarket Arena (9.500) in Savannah, Georgia; and the 18,100-seat Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle – the world’s first carbon-neutral certified arena.
“Seattle, New York, Savannah, Austin; those are the brand-new buildings opened within the last ten months,” says Brian Kabatznick, OVG’s EVP facilities development. “They are doing incredibly well because they’re all great markets with great buildings.
“And then, when you add on renovated arenas in Baltimore; renovated arena in Hamilton, Ontario; a new arena in Las Vegas; and new arena in Palm Springs, all opening in the next few years, it’s pretty exciting. We’ll certainly have a few more markets that we’re focused on in North America, with announcements coming soon.”
Oak View Group, which launched OVG Canada in June, acquired Philadelphia-based venue management firm Spectra last November and recently grew its hospitality division with the acquisition of Spectrum Catering, Concessions & Event Services.
“When you look at what we’re doing, and South America, North America, Europe, and our focus on other major markets outside of those, it’s really a moment in time for Oak View Group”
“When you look at what we’re doing, and South America, North America, Europe, and our focus on other major markets outside of those, it’s really a moment in time for Oak View Group,” adds Kabatznick. “With the support of our partners – and Tim [Leiweke] and Irving [Azoff] from the ownership side, and our partner Silverlake, it’s just been incredible that they were patient.
“During the pandemic, they allowed us to open all of those buildings and they continue to support us as we look at new venues, building new venues, and acquiring existing venues globally.”
This feeling of optimism seems to be felt across the nation. “People want to get out of their homes, be social, and have fun again,” reports Jay Cooper, general manager of T-Mobile Center in Kansas City. “We have seen increasing demand for live events and ticket sales back that up.
“We started 2022 with a collection of constantly changing Covid health guidelines. As Covid-related mandates have subsided in recent months, people are more willing to venture out and attend an event. I believe the live entertainment industry, both for domestic and international artists, is coming back stronger than ever.”
The Missouri arena, which can be configured for capacities of between 5,000 and 19,800, has upcoming shows with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Roger Waters, the Eagles, Lizzo, and (rescheduled for 2023) Rage Against The Machine.
“People want to get out of their homes, be social, and have fun again”
“We anticipate a strong year in terms of the concert business, with growth across the board from major country, rock, and pop artists touring in 2023,” notes Cooper. “One thing the pandemic taught us is to be nimble when it comes to doing things differently. We are investing heavily in new technology to improve the guest and artist experience. We upgraded our point-of-sale system in late 2022 allowing us to go fully cashless at our events.
“We are also focused on new technology to accelerate guests through the concessions so they spend less time in line and more time watching their favourite artist on stage.”
T-Mobile Center is part of the vast portfolio of global facility management and venue services company ASM Global. Los Angeles-headquartered ASM launched in 2019 following the merger of AEG Facilities and SMG.
For Bryan Crowe, VP and general manager of ASM’s 4,000 to 19,000-cap BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, business is booming. “With our recent run of sold-out shows in March setting the record for busiest two weeks in venue history, the Eagles setting a new venue record for highest-grossing single-night concert in venue history, and our Bruce Springsteen show going clean in a matter of hours, it’s safe to say the US entertainment market is healthy,” he says.
“We have seen increasing demand for live events and ticket sales back that up”
The venue has a stacked programme moving forward, with acts such as Michael Bublé, Iron Maiden, Post Malone, and Carrie Underwood lined up.
“The next 12 to 18 months at the BOK Center look strong, with record-pacing content numbers,” adds Crowe. “There is a substantial amount of touring content in the next year, and we are seeing the result of that with a busy announce calendar slated for the end of this year. We are seeing early-purchase success with the must-see A-list artists but a shift to late purchases for the casual concert fan.”
He continues: “We are currently working on renovating and improving our event-level production offices and other tour-used spaces while also celebrating some of the long- standing local music histories that Tulsa has.
“We are also focused on the guest experience by adding food and beverage options with a new point-of-sale system, and the implementation of more self-service (grab-and-go) locations.”
“There is a substantial amount of touring content in the next year, and we are seeing the result of that with a busy announce calendar slated for the end of this year”
Elsewhere, the City of Phoenix-owned Footprint Center (cap. 8,000-17,000) in Arizona is fresh from welcoming Machine Gun Kelly, Avril Lavigne, and James Taylor, with artists including Duran Duran, Kid Cudi, and Keith Urban set to
follow before the end of the year.
“Coming out of the pandemic, we’ve seen increased demand for tickets across the board,” offers SVP, general manager, Ralph Marchetta. “I think people just had a lot of pent-up demand, and now they’re anxious to get back to live music in particular. It’s been interesting because you have a huge number of artists who haven’t toured, who basically didn’t work for two years. You have a lot of traffic and a lot of demand. It’s the perfect storm in the demand.”
Having just completed its $250m renovation, the venue is well placed to capitalise.
“One of our focuses going forward is sustainability, and our naming rights, Footprint Center, reflect that,” says Marchetta. “Our focus in the next few years is going to be towards eliminating single-use plastics, which is great but daunting. We’re going to have refillable water stations, plus Footprint makes biodegradable compostable packaging and we’ll utilise some of their products.”
“One of our focuses going forward is sustainability, and our naming rights, Footprint Center, reflect that”
And with Kendrick Lamar, Gorillaz, Michael Bublé, and Rod Stewart among acts due to visit next year, Marchetta is cautiously optimistic about the road ahead.
“We’re projecting next year to be better than this year, just in terms of the number of events and the number of shows,” he concludes. “The great unknown is what happens to the economy. Does a recession inhibit that discretionary spending? Between inflation and that type of thing, that’s the big unknown.
“We’re hopeful that next year is going to be great. We have certainly more to come next year. The challenge has been finding staff. It feels like that’s got a little bit better, but it’s still an issue finding employees. Where did everybody go?”