Q&A: Ron Bension, HoB CEO

Live Nation named Ron Bension the CEO of the House of Blues and Live Nation’s club division in November.

Bension took the helm after running Ticketmaster’s TicketsNow operation. He came with an impeccable résumé that includes 40 years in the live music business, including CEO of Tickets.com where, among other achievements, he oversaw its 2005 sale to Major League Baseball.

Prior, Bension was CEO of Sega GameWorks and CEO of Universal Studios Recreation Group.

In his first interview since the announcement, Bension tells Pollstar of HoB’s plans for the future.


What are some of the strategies moving forward to ensure business is solid?

We have a solid business. Last year we did about 4,500 concerts at our venues for almost 5.5 million people. Our restaurant served about 1.5 million guests. That’s a pretty solid business.

We’re the largest portfolio of clubs in the country, if not the world, and we think we’re on target to exceed those numbers this year. Our focus is fairly simple: to provide a great fan experience. I think our venues are very cool. They’re very hip. They probably have the best sound or lights in the business for a portfolio this size.

We’re very active in the emerging artist area and we were at SXSW with about 15 young bands at our showcase. We continue to make inroads into the emerging artist area. We want people to play their first real live gig at the House of Blues.

In that regard, what’s coming up this summer?

We’ve announced the “Revolt Tour” and the “Uranium Tour” [headlined by Hollywood Undead and Black Label Society, respectively]. We have the “LG Ones To Watch” concert series that has done about 120 concerts around the country.

Both tours are doing fantastic. We’ve had three LG shows [this year] and all sold out. We’re really excited about the ability to talk to bands and say, look, come work with us and we’ll work with you.

Because we book our own venues as well as own and operate them, we have a greater control over how the fans and bands are treated. And I think that’s what we’re doing more of first and foremost.

Considering your background includes some dot-coms, will there be any emphasis on online presence?

Ultimately our business is about bringing fans and bands together, running really great clubs and theatres, and providing great service to our bands and to our fans. And putting on great live performances – that’s our core business.

Now, that said, I think there’s a huge opportunity to engage much better than we have in the past. In fact, we’re about to release 19 new websites for all of our non-House of Blues clubs and theatres, specifically to really get the bands and the fans closer together online. I think we have some work to do there.

Will you continue to have weekend daytime events?

We still have the Gospel Brunch and I think that’s something we want to focus on going forward and get it a little more contemporary, although I think it is still a great thing. I was talking to some people the other day and they said, “We’re out-of-town guests and we came to the Gospel Brunch. It was a great time, a load of fun.”   We do some younger-based entertainment but it’s not our core focus on the weekends at all.

We’ve heard rumblings someone is trying to organize a group of investors to buy the HoB chain. Have you heard anything?

Sounds like I haven’t been to your office! I haven’t heard it. I think the evidence of that is we’ve got a dedicated team of people that have been put in place to run the 34 clubs and theatres in our portfolio. Look: 4,500 shows and 5.5 million people is a nice volume and we think we can do much better.

I think this is a business that continues to thrive. If you talked to the theatre and club operators around the country, I think you’ll find last year, despite all the bad news, the club and theatre business did OK. And I think that’s because there’s so much entertainment out there. And I can say the experience is affordable, it’s relevant, easily accessible and it’s fun. That’s what we do and if we continue to, we win.

What about expanding the brand?

We recently announced a joint venture in Toronto. We’re in the process of building a new Fillmore in Silver Spring, Md., just outside D.C., we have two on the drawing board, one opening in six months.

We are actively looking at either construction of new facilities, working with developers on programs that are out there or looking at venues that are currently in the marketplace that need better operators, better promoters. We’re a family with Live Nation and we’ve got the best promoters in the country.

Again we are open to new developments or venues that were heretofore not managed properly or looking for a leg up over the competition in the marketplace. For that particular part of the business we think we’re absolutely the best one-stop shops with the best promoters. And I’ll pat our guys on the back and say we’re the best club operators in the country.

Anything else?

I think the club and theatre business is alive and well. As you look at people having less and less disposable income and trying to find things to do and can’t afford gas in their cars, we’re right down the street. And it’s a five-hour night. You come in, you get a meal, you go see a show and it’s a great evening.

I think we’re uniquely focused on trying to do more than just sell tickets. We think we do the best job of providing great fan and customer service. We do the best job of helping the bands with marketing and promoting. We want to be the partner the bands can come to. And as you look at the tours we have out there, including the onsite promotion behind them, it’s quite valuable. Add to it our ability to sell tickets, I think it says you should give us a look.