Mike Lawrence / Barclays – From The White House To The Hardwood:
Former First Lady Michelle Obama is drawing sell-out arena crowds across the country for her “Becoming: An Intimate Conversation.” Here at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Dec. 1.
Big league arenas enjoyed a banner year for live entertainment in 2018, according to several facility managers. For concerts, Latin pop was especially hot, electronic music saw a resurgence and in some markets, the speaker series emerged as a strong piece of new content.
But in a bit of a surprise, the event that sold the most tickets in Brooklyn this year was Becoming, An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama, said Keith Sheldon, executive vice president of programming for BSE Global, the arena’s management firm.
Live Nation booked the First Lady and wife of former President Barack Obama on a 10-city arena tour to discuss “Becoming,” her best-selling memoir. Michelle Obama drew a sellout crowd at Barclays Center on Dec. 1 and at press time was scheduled for a return appearance on Dec. 19.
The tour is a Q&A format, with Obama interviewed by high-profile personalities. Brooklyn is one of the few markets where she’s returning for a second show, Sheldon said.
Ticket prices ran from a high end of $500 to $30 on the low end.
Sheldon said, “As you look around the country, there’s been an emergence of the live podcast and a variety of speakers at smaller venues. For Michelle Obama to do this kind of business in Brooklyn, it opened our eyes to a whole new category to help us grow the live event pie.”
Amway Center, which opened in 2010, had its best year ever for concerts, with 43 shows at the Orlando arena over the course of the building’s fiscal year, running Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, said Allen Johnson, chief venues officer for the city-owned facility. The total compares with 35 concerts at the venue in 2017.
“I’ve been doing this for 40 years now and I love having a great year, but at the same time, I dread it because this business runs in cycles,” Johnson said. “This year was most likely an aberration, but we’ve stayed steady in the mid-30s in terms of number of shows.”
Amway Center’s two biggest shows were Justin Timberlake and Pink. This year’s “sleepers” – shows that did better than expected – included Latin pop acts Bad Bunny and Ozuna, Johnson said. All told, 11 of the 43 concerts fell under the Latin category.
Food and beverage per caps ran from $25 for Justin Timberlake and $20 for Bad Bunny to $18 for Carlos Vives and $17 for Paul Simon. That mostly matches the average of $15 to $20 for Orlando Magic games, Johnson said. Levy operates the arena’s food service.
Johnson also oversees Camping World Stadium, which has booked at least one concert a year since 2014, when the building finished a $207 million renovation. For 2018, Eagles/Jimmy Buffett and Beyoncé played the stadium.
Next door, the Electric Daisy Carnival drew 50,000 to Tinker Field, the site of an old minor league ballpark. It was the sixth year for EDC in Orlando and officials are negotiating a contract for 2019 with promoter Insomniac to reconfigure the site with a fourth stage for up to 70,000 attendees, Johnson said.
In Detroit, typically a strong market for rock shows, Little Caesars Arena’s 52 concerts ranked 11th on Pollstar’s worldwide arena chart, with 776,068 tickets reported.
The building opened in the fall of 2017, essentially replacing two older venues, Joe Louis Arena and The Palace of Auburn Hills.
Little Caesars Arena drew 3 million patrons over its 14 months of operation, which includes concerts, said Chris Granger, group president of sports and entertainment for Ilitch Holdings, the holding company for Olympia Entertainment, the Detroit Red Wings and multiple venues.
Last year, the organization launched 313 Presents, a group tied to booking events at eight facilities across Greater Detroit, encompassing the arena, Comerica Park, three amphitheaters, the Fox Theatre, City Theatre and Soundboard, which is part of the Motor City Casino.
It was a particular strong year for the amphitheaters, all three of which saw double digit growth in show count and attendance, Granger said.
“We probably went from 600,000 [in 2017] to 700,000 over the summer for those attending events outdoors, which is a big jump and indicates the success across all three amphitheaters,” he said. “It’s all hot right now. Live is where it’s at and people want those experiences.”
At Toyota Center, the Houston Rockets face competition from NBA arenas in Dallas and San Antonio, plus Frank Erwin Center, a college arena in Austin. As a result, Clutch City Sports and Entertainment, the team’s parent firm, pushes for multiple dates at a time for artists to maximize their presence in the market, said Hillary Thomas, Toyota Center’s senior director of booking and event operations.
The strategy has paid off, as the arena has played host to about 50 shows annually over the past few years. For 2018, Toyota Center ranked 37th in Pollstar’s list with 447,681 tickets reported.
Pink, for example, played two shows at Toyota Center in April, and arena officials were able to “roll” over to a third performance in March 2019, she said.
One trend she’s noticed is agents and promoters are asking her more about half-house setups tied to capacity of 7,000 to 8,000 seats. Some acts are slowly taking the next step up from 5,000-seat facilities and would like to play a major league building in an intimate setting.
“We have a smaller arena in the market [in Sugarland] and it’s interesting to see the acts playing there and where they may be headed to next,” Thomas said.