Q’s With Ron Bension: From Met Philly To HoB Anaheim, Live Nation Ups Its Clubs & Theatres Game

Ron Bension
– Ron Bension
Live Nation Clubs & Theatres
Live Nation’s somewhat newly named Clubs & Theatres division has seen rapid growth over the past decade, going from 35 venues and being known as the House of Blues division to now including more than 78 venues exclusively owned and operated, with another 50 venues booked exclusively by the company. Its portfolio includes everything from the multiple Fillmore and HoB rooms coast to coast to the Tabernacle in Atlanta.
“To give you some perspective, in the last year alone, we’ve added 10 venues, which is just an incredible number,” Ron Bension, President of Live Nation Clubs & Theatres, told Pollstar
“Those venues represent various sizes in major markets and secondary markets, both seated and non-seated, historic and non-historic. It’s been a fun bit of business but we’re also very focused on establishing ourselves as No. 1 and continuing to grow our portfolio.”
Just some of the recently announced projects include a brand-new Fillmore New Orleans in the heart of downtown that Bension says he is confident will be the best room of its kind in the region, the $50 million-plus Met Philly theatre restoration and the company’s recent takeover of The Masonic in Cleveland, which after a little extra love now has a full slate of shows.
Bension took the time to discuss the company’s rapid growth in this space, as well as Live Nation’s commitment to artist amenities, its marketing prowess and co-existing with indies. 

Pollstar: Now, you aren’t just acquiring and buying rooms. What happens when Live Nation takes on a new venue?
Ron Bension: I think we’ve kind of reinvented the service aspect of this business. We really have focused our energies on not only building the best-in-class venues but providing the best-in-class fan and band service. I think that’s a really important element of what we’ve set out to do, which I don’t know if everybody does. 
We really focus on – when the band gets off the bus to the time they get back on – ensuring they have a great experience and that their fans are well taken care of and treated properly. It’s not just about the four walls. 
We are clearly the best marketers in the country for these bands, provide them with more tools and exposure than other people can. Having a national footprint allows us to do that. 
Is there a particular growth opportunity in secondary or tertiary markets in the U.S.? You’ve made announcements in Portland, Ore., Cleveland and New Orleans among others.
We’re all over that. We opened up in Delaware, we opened an incredible venue in Phoenix called The Van Buren, took over The Depot in Salt Lake City, took over two venues and spent over $2 million refurbishing The Summit and Marquee in Denver.  We look at those as key markets. We’re looking in Albuquerque, Greensboro, anywhere where there’s a good, sound music scene, that’s where we’re going to go.
Do you try to route tours solely through Live Nation buildings?
We work with the bands and do a lot of touring, probably 150-160 tours a year for bands. 
I would say 70 percent of the shows on those tours run through our buildings, but when we work with bands, it’s not just about our buildings but putting them in the right room and helping them, promoting them in the cities they want to play.
We don’t say you can’t go to building X because it’s a tour with us. When we’re in a market where we don’t have the right building, we work with them to promote their shows and do our best to sell their tickets.
How would you address any criticism that Live Nation is cutting out competition in this space? 

The Met Philly
– The Met Philly

Every time we go into a market, we really do think that a rising tide raises all boats. Recently we built a very successful club in Grand Rapids called 20 Monroe Live. 
The Intersection is right down the street and doing well. We’ve got in Silver Spring, Md., probably one of the best clubs in the region with The Fillmore and Seth Hurwitz (9:30 Club, The Anthem in Washington, D.C.) is doing just fine.
We bring more volume into those markets, and we allow for more guests to see more live music. The reality is, we’ve seen it. 
Sometimes we partner. Our venue in Phoenix, The Van Buren – which is just crazy successful – local promoter Charlie Levy is our partner there. Live Nation as a whole is known for partnering with the local experts, whether a festival or a club.
One thing we do when we do go into the market, a perfect example is the Summit and Marquee in Denver. Once we were approached by the owner to take the buildings over, we put $2 million into them. 
We took the Summit from a dark, poor visibility, club into – I’m pretty confident to say – the best club of its size in the marketplace. We put our money where our mouth is and did that with both.
No one spends the kind of money we do in these buildings to make it right for the bands and the fans.

– FillmoreNewOrleans

Can you touch on some of the division’s other projects?

We built a new House of Blues club in Anaheim. It’s been just off the charts. Last year it opened and we did 40 sellout shows in 40 days. 
It’s 2,000 capacity, a beautiful club right in the heart of Orange County. We’re really proud of that. 
It’s got a small room, a 350-capacity Parish that does about 250 shows a year. We got the Fillmore Minneapolis opening at about this time next year. And we continue to seek out opportunities in primary, secondary and tertiary markets that fit in our portfolio and fit what we believe to be the touring needs of the bands. 
We’re looking forward to another big year of expansion in 2019.