Staples Center GM Lee Zeidman had a moment of panic January 25th as he prepared to open the venue’s doors at 7:30 p.m. for the second of five Garth Brooks charity concerts to take place in a 30-hour marathon. Nobody was lined up.
"It was kind of scary at one point, because it was like, where are they all? There’s got to be people out there somewhere," Zeidman told Pollstar.
He needn’t have worried – an all-out information blitz to ticketholders by Staples Center staff was heeded by Garth fans, who followed instructions to not line up early in a successful effort to ease ingress and egress to the 18,000-capacity arena between shows.
It was one of many successes for Zeidman, Staples Center and AEG Live, as well as for the semi-retired Brooks, who proposed doing five concerts in two days, including a live network television broadcast, to raise funds for California wildfire relief.
The Los Angeles concerts, the first local series for the legendary performer since a three-show run at the Forum in 1996, sold out in 59 minutes.
What could have been a logistical nightmare ran like clockwork by all accounts, considering arena staff moved almost 98,000 fans in and out of the Staples Center’s doors, 18,000 at a time.
Traffic and parking problems didn’t materialize, as about 75 percent of fans pre-purchased parking in the Staples Center’s lots, which can handle 20,000 cars, according to Zeidman. Merch and concessions were restocked and the venue cleaned and swept in one-hour windows before the doors opened for each show.
"We did a press conference that was streamed to GarthBrooks.com where a lot of people saw it," Zeidman said of the Staples Center’s outreach effort. "Virtually all of the tickets were bought online, and we collected the data from that and sent e-mails explaining the procedures for these shows. Not one, not two but three e-mails, telling people not to get here early and line up.
"We notified them that merch would be sold outside because we can’t have people jamming the concourse while we’re clearing out between shows. We notified them that concessions would be closed after the first 90 minutes of each show so they could be restocked for the next. Our staff here did a fantastic job educating the general public, and the public listened."
Another complication for Zeidman and his staff was that of managing the approximately 160 luxury suites that are held by L.A. Lakers and Kings fans, corporations and other season ticket holders.
"One of the things we had to talk about early on was the suites," Zeidman explained. "Could we allow suite owners, if they had multiple tickets to these shows, to stay in their suites? And we determined there was no way we could physically go back and check all of those tickets and do what we needed to do."
So even though suite owners received tickets to all five shows, they had to leave and reenter the building with everyone else.
Likely the most important factor in keeping the whole operation humming was that Brooks kept his word that the first, third and fourth shows of the series could not surpass two hours. The schedule had to run like clockwork, lest 36,000 people be caught at the doors coming and going.
"I was on a conference call with [AEG President] Tim Leiweke and Garth, and we sat there and told Garth ‘You can not go over,’" Zeidman said. "If you go two hours and 15 minutes, or two and a half hours, none of this works. We’re going to have 18,000 people at the front door while 18,000 are trying to get out.
"Garth said, ‘I understand that there’s three shows out of the five I’m concerned with. But for that 10 p.m. show Friday and the 9 p.m. show Saturday night, the sky’s the limit.’
"We had no complaints whatsoever about parking, about ingress or egress, and we estimated that we could clear 18,000 people out of this building in 12 minutes, and we did that after every show. The building was emptied."
Reviews for the late shows Friday and Saturday nights – where the pressure was off to get people in and out in an hour between shows – were glowing for what may (or may not) be Brooks’ final career concerts.
But even during the earlier concerts, including a 6 p.m. Friday show that was televised live on CBS and a 1 p.m. Saturday matinee, fans reportedly got Brooks’ full attention. No set was duplicated, no show started or ended with the same song, and Brooks’ ability to read a room and tailor his onstage banter to it has not diminished with seven years of retirement, according to the Los Angeles Times.
"It was a grueling experience for Garth, too, but he’s such a phenomenal performer," Zeidman said. "But for us to have him for 30 straight hours and to do what he did here for the firefighter fund, it was pretty amazing to me to be part of the whole thing."
The statistics for such an unprecedented undertaking are pretty staggering. The money raised for the FIRE fund was still being tallied at press time, but in two days Brooks and the Staples Center moved 97,940 fans through the doors, at $45 per ticket for a boxoffice gross of $3,848,000.
AEG Live donated rental of the Staples Center and all associated costs for the show to the FIRE effort, a campaign of the McCormick Tribute Foundation co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times and American Express.
"It was a phenomenal feeling and I was never more proud of the staff here than that they were able to pull off those five shows in those 30 hours," Zeidman said.
And the facility veteran was just as effusive about the fans who proved that such an unprecedented feat could indeed be pulled off by a mega-star in an arena rock setting.
"It was one of those things where we could lead them to water, but would they drink it? We didn’t know. Well, we led them to the water and they drank it. It was fantastic."