Coalition Entertainment: Filling A Talent Buying Niche For Air + Style, PACs, International Expansion

Timothy Norris/Getty Images)
– Phoenix
headlines Air + Style in Los Angeles March 4.

Coalition Entertainment has been quietly growing, offering standalone talent buying services for venues across the country as well as events like Air + Style festival in Los Angeles, which is owned by American Olympic Gold Medal-winning snowboarder Shaun White and featured Phoenix, Zedd and Gucci Mane March 3-4 alongside snowboarding and skateboarding competitions.

See: The Power Of Gold: Team Shaun White Takes Air + Style To Another Level

Coalition’s core business is talent buying, as exclusive buyer for festivals – such as Imagine Festival in Atlanta which featured Above & Beyond, Deamau5, Tiesto and Datsik Sept. 22-24 – as well as venues including Empire Control Room + Garage in Austin, Texas, where Coalition is buying for roughly 50 percent of the shows at the active 1,300-capacity club.

“Instead of hiring a new in-house guy, I decided to partner with coalition as I expanded my operations in Austin and into multiple markets around Texas,” Empire Control Room + Garage managing partner Stephen Sternschein told Pollstar. “It’s been a great decision. They came in with buying power from their fests around the country, knowledge of my market and they have been able to increase the volume and quality of shows in our rooms. “

While other companies offer these services, it is notable that a small independent company – led by partner Robert Tobolowsky and talent buyer Pete Gross – is doing it in multiple markets and sizes.

“Our thought was that, if a talent buyer for a festival or venue is getting paid $20,000 or $100,000 or whatever it may be, we could build a business by aggregating those services,” Tobolowsky told Pollstar.  “The way we think about it is that that role does not have to be internal.”

“I think it’s an outside service you can provide,” said Pete Gross who leads Coalition’s talent buying and previously worked as an executive assistant at WME under Peter Grosslight and later Joel Zimmerman, as well as promoted his own shows.

“We handle talent buying but with all of our clients we try to give them the full package. Of course we come in and we’ll do the buying, but we have expertise in terms of producing and organizing and operationally being able to put together an event. On top of the service we provide of buying the talent, we also kind of lend our information on the marketing side and operational side.” Some examples of that range from providing artist relation services for Electric Zoo to full production and operation for Imagine Festival.

Some of their venue clients are under-utilized performing arts centers, convention centers and other buildings that may not have a traditional concert background.

“What makes us unique or different in some sense, especially within the last 12 to 24 months, is it’s a very diversified company. We’re now working on projects that are really spread across the whole horizon,” Gross said. He mentioned events like the Summit Series private entrepreneurial conference that includes performances as part of its weekend retreat at Powder Mountain Resort in Utah, as well as electronic-leaning events such as Euphoria festival in Austin, which had Pretty Lights, Alesso, Young Thug, Wiz Khalifa and many others on its 2017 bill.

Snow in DTLA?
Timothy Norris/Getty Images
– Snow in DTLA?
Snowboarder Dylan Alito competes during Air + Style Los Angeles 2018 at Exposition Park on March 4, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.

Tobolowsky says indies are an integral part of the business.

“The more talent we buy, the more we can help our clients not only land the shows in a tough global market, but not get gouged on prices. Independent promoters are in a unique position because they often ‘pay more’ for artists to land shows,” he said, “The top dogs, like Live Nation, have developed a dominance in some ways to get more commodity prices than the variable prices independents pay. Independents are a big part of the artist guarantee’s growth cycle and we play a calculated role in valuing these artists and identifying growing talent.”

Coalition offers other advantages, according to Gross.

“We’re also, you know, younger and more entrepreneurial in spirit (than some),” Gross said. “We work with a lot of independent operators. You see it often, a lot of creative people can create a brand and really imagine and build that out, but operationally and logistically on the back end sometimes they may not be the best. “

Coalition Entertainment
– Coalition Entertainment
some of the team’s core members including Austin Lucas, Robert Tobolowsky, Peter Gross and John Bowden.

Changing demographics, including a millennial generation that is coming into its own and looking to spend discretionary income, also provides an opportunity.

Wente Vineyard has traditionally done adult contemporary concerts,” Gross said of the Livermore, Calif., property that has a regular concert season. “Yet on the marketing side they’re trying to engage the younger demographic.  Because of that they smartly recognize their expertise is not in booking and producing events more toward millennial demo, and realizing they need some help in that area.”

Coalition, with a core team of just six or seven on the entertainment side, is also expanding to other countries, including the Storm electronic music festival in China and with Lower Level in Canada, which just announced the Royal Mountain at Rasberry Farm Sept. 2 in Hamilton, Ontario, with Mac DeMarco, U.S. Girls, Calpurnia and others.

Lower Level’s Ryan Howes told Pollstar the venue, Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, is an underutilized green space and will host “a pretty cool eclectic three-show series that will attract a wide audience.” Capacity is capped at 5,000 this year, with plans to grow up to the max capacity of 10,000 in future seasons.

“You don’t see too many independent promoters with that kind of reach,” Howes said of Coalition, which is talent buying for Lower Level’s shows. “They’re all well-rounded individuals who have really good backgrounds in the industry so collectively it all works.”

Tobolowsky says international expansion is a focus.

“This year, we’ve really taken an aggressive approach to our base business,” Tobolowsky said, also focusing on production services and experiential marketing initiatives. “We’re very interested in the international market. Who wouldn’t be?”

On China, “It’s extremely tough to get there, and tough to work with all the different nuances of international businesses. It’s about finding the right clients and helping great clients increase their presence in the States.”

Air + Style just wrapped up Sunday night at Exposition Park in Los Angeles, with other artists including Cashmere Cat, Phantogram, GrIZ, Cut Copy and others.