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Execs talk investment opportunities in live music

A trio of leading live music executives have shared their views on the areas of the business most ripe for investment.

With the market bouncing back internationally following the Covid shutdown, Mumford & Sons musician and venue boss Ben Lovett, Oak View Group (OVG) International’s Jessica Koravos and Jarred Arfa, COO of Artist Group International, weighed in on the biggest opportunities for the industry.

Speaking during the Industry Investment: Field notes panel at the recent ILMC in London, US-based Arfa suggested the concept of Live Nation’s upcoming “emo nostalgia” festival When We Were Young in Las Vegas, which has expanded to three days due to demand, pointed a way forward for the industry.

“There are obviously so many festivals out there, but we’re seeing a lot of success where they’re focusing on specific niches,” he said. “People want to be part of that moment in time and relive that, as opposed to, ‘Let’s give everyone a little flavour of everything.’ Those that are focusing on specific genres, or overfeeding one time period, are seeing some success and a point of distinction.”

“The pandemic has made people really appreciate those coming together moments that maybe they took for granted before”

Koravos, who is also president of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, which oversees some of the world’s biggest theatrical titles, said Covid-19 has prompted a change of mindset in the public when it comes to live shows.

“One thing that pandemic has absolutely done is made people really appreciate those coming together moments that maybe they took for granted before,” she said. “Flipping hats and talking about the West End and theatre for a second, what’s very interesting to me is that what’s very successful in the West End right now is the shows that have been there the longest.

“I see it with Phantom of the Opera, which has flipped its age demographic down by 10 years over the course of the pandemic, and I think it’s because of exactly that – you take for granted that something that’s always been there will keep being there. But I don’t think that’s the assumption anymore.

“People want to go see Billy Joel at [Madison Square] Garden. They want to go see Phantom of the Opera. They want to make sure they are appreciating the things that might not always be there.”

“There are just not enough good venues. It’s really that simple”

TVG Hospitality co-founder Lovett urged would-be investors to put their faith (and finances) in the independent sector.

“I would back indie promoters,” he said. “Everything’s getting so algorithmic, we could end up with pretty watered down creative inputs into our lives unless those indie promoters go and stick their neck out. So I would say, invest money into those indie promoters… If we can get some great promoters coming through, it’s going to be good for everyone.”

Earlier this year, TVG Hospitality announced the closing of $50 million in new funding to expand its team and venue portfolio in the UK and US, backed by a heavyweight list of investors including OVG, founded by Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff.

TVG is bidding to create the next generation of music venues alongside elevated hospitality offerings in order to enhance the artist and fan experience and create gathering spaces as community assets. The company’s current portfolio includes London music venues, Omeara, Lafayette and the Social, and broader hospitality offerings at Flat Iron Square and Goods Way.

“This is going to be the most exciting few years”

“Across the board, I think what Tim and Irving saw – and the same issue that we were trying to solve – is there are just not enough good venues. It’s really that simple,” said Lovett, whose latest project – the 8,000-cap Orion Amphitheater in Huntsville, Alabama – opened earlier this month.

“For the last couple of decades there just hasn’t been enough investment into truly inspiring places,” continued Lovett. “There are people buying incredible bars and restaurants and hotels, and there’s lots of other things that are being constantly being reimagined and the envelope is being pushed. But when it comes to music venues it’s just stagnated. And this is going to be the most exciting few years where all of these new venues are going to [launch].”

OVG has already opened the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, Moody Center in Austin and the UBS Arena in Long Island, New York, with schemes also on their way in Manchester, Baltimore, Coachella Valley and Cardiff.

“Venues are very expensive,” added Koravos. “The 2,000 seaters are expensive, the 20,000 seaters are super-expensive, so investment is a crucial part of getting those off the ground. But the whole point of Oak View Group is really just looking around at the fact that, around the world, the big music venues are actually all buildings that were built 20 years ago or more, for the most part.

“They were built for sports for the most part, not by anybody who knew anything about the content about what needed to go in them and what the fan needed to experience. So at Oak View, our whole reason for being is to build the best experience in the best markets.”


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Plans submitted for new Cardiff arena

A hybrid planning application has been submitted for the proposed new 17,000-capacity arena in Cardiff.

Operated by Live Nation and Oak View Group (OVG), the venue will form part of a wider multi-million-pound regeneration of Butetown, Cardiff. Determination of the planning decision is expected in spring 2022, with the arena set to open in 2025.

Set to create 1,000 jobs, the venue is being developed by Robertson Group with a view to cementing Cardiff Bay’s position as a “top-tier” visitor attraction and bring “the world’s best events” to the city. If planning is granted, it is anticipated that work will start in autumn 2022.

“As a leader in live entertainment, our aim is to deliver a new kind of arena in partnership with Cardiff City Council that will place the local community and the city at the heart of our ambition” says Live Nation UK venues chief operating officer Graham Walters.

“With a globally recognised arena as a focal point for entertainment and culture, we aspire to strengthen Cardiff’s position as a major touring destination, that is capable of hosting outstanding local, national and international events and continue Cardiff’s growth as a leading music city.”

We see a huge opportunity to bring a genuinely world-class arena to Cardiff

Live Nation already runs the existing 7,500-cap Motorpoint Arena Cardiff, as well as converted warehouse venue Titan Warehouse. OVG, meanwhile, is currently constructing the UK’s first all-electric arena, Co-op Live, in Manchester.

Jessica Koravos, chair, OVG International, adds: “We see a huge opportunity to bring a genuinely world-class arena to Cardiff – a venue that will host the best in live entertainment, creating thousands of jobs and attracting millions of visitors to the city.

“We look forward to working with the council and the community to deliver this exciting and ambitious scheme.”

The development of the arena and the wider masterplan takes into consideration the 2030 climate neutral aspirations of Cardiff Council, with the energy strategy designed to achieve an operational climate neutral position by 2030.



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OVG: “We’ve been on a different ride to our peers”

While many live entertainment businesses have spent the pandemic stopping and starting, Oak View Group continued to fire on all cylinders. The global sports and entertainment company has forged ahead with constructing its new arenas and making the most of its unique position to respond to the ‘new normal’ in real-time…

What has the pandemic looked like so far for Oak View Group (OVG)?
JK: OVG is the largest sports and entertainment venue company in the world but none of our venues are open yet. So, we’ve been on a really different ride to our peers in the industry. They’ve been in batten-down-the-hatches mode whereas we’ve been in full-on construction mode on six buildings throughout this whole thing, and those processes haven’t stopped at all.

Has that put OVG in a unique position to respond to the pandemic in the design and build phase?
JK: Yes. We have been able to do a lot of thinking about what we need to change as a result of the pandemic. For example, speeding up the road to paperless. We were looking at it much more from an environmental standpoint but then we saw it from a sort of sanitation standpoint – customer touchpoints are really necessary now. We also looked at all of the catering and how we could minimise touch – and make food more grab and go.

“We’ve had the luxury of being able to react in real-time to [the pandemic]”

Also, readjusting the airflow and ventilation and making sure that our metrics are all in line with the new research that is coming out on airborne transmission. Making sure the materials are anti-bacterial, that doors that might have opened and shut maybe just stay open. We’ve had the luxury of being able to react in real-time to these things.

How has OVG supported its employees during this tumultuous time?
AJ: I’m really proud of the way OVG has decided to support the employees throughout the pandemic, not laying people off, letting them keep their benefits, bringing people back as things opened up and it became safe to do that. From an onboarding perspective, we’ve been trying to make employees in remote places feel like a part of it by, say, sending them swag because they’re just sat at their dining-room table, and not at an OVG office.

We’re hoping that we’re going to have 100% of employees back in the office by the fall, based on what’s going on with the pandemic. We want to make it a very festive environment that says we’re glad that we can spend time in each other’s real presence, but at the same time there’ll be protocols in place, not to prohibit or make anyone’s job more difficult, just to keep them safe.

“OVG is lightyears ahead of our competitors in terms of gender diversity”

As OVG expands internationally, what’s your strategy for creating diverse teams?
AJ: We’re making sure that we go about hiring with intention. Whether that’s reaching out to HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities) or diverse professional organisations to ensure that we have a larger slate of people that we can consider for the roles that we’re looking to fill. For example, we’re supporting diverse students to do an MBA in Sports and Entertainment Management at Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics. So we can start building that pipeline to venues like our Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle and get people back into this industry to get a more diverse interview.

Why is making diverse hires good for business?
JK: OVG is lightyears ahead of our competitors in terms of gender diversity. One of the reasons it’s so important is to do with the fan experience. If there aren’t people designing a fan experience with everybody in mind, then it’s going to fall short for big chunks of the population and people aren’t going to feel welcome. It’s just as important from a customer service point of view too; if fans are being greeted by a wall of people who are different from them.

Just look at the UK’s events research programme that our almost completely white male government is putting forward. They’ve picked cricket, football, Formula One racing, Wimbledon and the snooker championships. There are virtually no women and virtually no people who aren’t white in any of the event research programmes and that kind of gender and racial data gap is what creates a crap experience for most of the population.


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OVG International launches in London

Oak View Group (OVG), the US-based venue development, advisory and investment company co-founded by former AEG CEO Tim Leiweke and ex-Live Nation chairman Irving Azoff, today launched its new international business at the International Live Music Conference in London.

OVG International, based in London and led by notables from the European venues world, is tasked with building arena and stadium development and partnership opportunities in the UK, Europe and the Middle East and Asia. According to OVG CEO Leiweke, OVG International is already in “advanced discussions” on a number of projects in those territories.

Jessica Koravos, president of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, and formerly MD of AEG Live and COO of AEG Europe, will serve as co-chair of OVG International alongside Leiweke.

Other appointments include:

“Oak View Group is growing rapidly, and we’re delighted to welcome seven exceptional executives to our team as we launch OVG International,” says Leiweke.

“We look forward to extending the Arena and Stadium Alliance to like-minded venues outside North America”

“Our aim is to create a new generation of state-of-the-art entertainment facilities. Our venues will be an elite class in terms of fan experience, artist experience and technology, and will provide an unparalleled platform for the activation of global brands.”

Oak View Group was founded in 2015. In addition to its major arena development projects at the Key Arena in Seattle, Belmont in New York and the University of Texas in Austin, OVG runs the Arena and Stadium Alliance, an invitation-only partnership of 28 arenas in North America that seeks to help independent venues attract global sponsorship opportunities, additional events and content.

It also has a venue-management outfit, OVG Facilities, launched last October following the acquisition of Pinnacle Venue Services, and a security arm, Prevent Advisors, and owns industry trade titles Venues Today and Pollstar, the latter which it bought last summer.

“The live events market has grown significantly in the United States since Oak View Group launched three years ago, and we see a huge opportunity to drive similar growth internationally by creating world-class experiences in world-class arenas,” continues Leiweke.

“We look forward to extending the Arena and Stadium Alliance to like-minded venues outside North America and to announcing more about OVG International’s plans soon.”


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