Ethan Miller / Getty Images – Allegiant Stadium
The new home of the Raiders under construction March 17 and scheduled to open this summer.
NFL officials said this week that they expect the 2020 season to start on time despite the COVID-19 pandemic, according to multiple reports. For a large group of NFL venues, though, the coronavirus has put a huge dent in the stadium concert business as events have been pushed to 2021.
The Gridiron Stadium Network, founded in 2005 to help NFL teams book more concerts in their buildings, celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. But the milestone has been marked by promoters Live Nation and AEG Presents postponing national tours because of the new coronavirus.
Stadium concerts are important to teams because they don’t have to share that income from concessions and parking, among other revenue streams, with other NFL teams. Network members pay a fee to Apregan Entertainment Group, headed by consultant and former promoter Jeff Apregan, to help put them in a greater position to secure shows.
Some teams fill the role of co-promoter by taking financial risk to be guaranteed a show.
This year, the network has grown to 16 venues, its largest number to date. The newest members include NFL stadiums under construction in Inglewood, Calif., and Las Vegas. Both facilities have concerts among their opening events: Taylor Swift (July 25-26) at SoFi Stadium and Garth Brooks (Aug. 22) at Allegiant Stadium.
As of early April, those three concerts held firm, although in the uncertainty surrounding the crisis, things can change by the hour, Apregan said. Overall, roughly 35 shows booked at member venues are being rescheduled, and that number doesn’t cover dates that may be postponed in the coming weeks, he said.
Some concerts that the network helped secure for its members run into September during the NFL season.
“A lot of stuff has been rescheduled already,” Apregan said in his third week of working from his California home. “Some of the earliest shows we had were in April. I don’t have all the dates committed to memory. I usually have a giant dry erase board with everything in front of me.”
He said, “It’s evolving, and we’re doing the best we can. For the NFL guys, we’ve got this limited window of time. The preseason starts in August and we don’t have the luxury of a (full calendar year), so it really becomes the conversation about next year at some point.”
Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, home of the Carolina Panthers, is another new network member. David Tepper acquired the Panthers in 2018 and has been aggressive in his quest to book more concerts at the building, which scheduled just two shows in 23 years under former team owner Jerry Richardson.
Before he bought the Panthers, Tepper owned a small piece of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Heinz Field, the Steelers’ home under the leadership of executive director Jimmie Sacco, is a founding member of the Gridiron Stadium Network. After seeing the Steelers capitalize on summer concerts, Tepper brought that same mentality to the Panthers, but two of the four concerts booked at Bank of America Stadium for 2020 had already come off this year’s calendar as of early April.
The Garth Brooks concert, originally set for May 2, was rebooked for June 13. The classic rock package of Motley Crue, Def Leppard, Poison and Joan Jett, scheduled for July 11, was still holding firm.
Billy Joel was rescheduled for April 17, 2021. The Rolling Stones show has been postponed, and though no new dates have been officially announced, it appears their run of NFL stadiums will be pushed to next year, Apregan said.
“They’ve done such a good job of getting quality shows, and they were all doing very well,” Apregan said of the Panthers. “That market definitely showed that it has an appetite for stadium-size events. It’s unfortunate.”
Apregan wasn’t involved in the decision to reschedule Garth Brooks in Charlotte five weeks after the initial date. (Ben Farrell, president of Lon Varnell Enterprises, is Brooks’ longtime promoter). Considering the rapid spread of the virus, some question whether mid-June is too soon for a sold-out crowd of about 75,000 to congregate.
If it takes place, it would be the largest paid attendance since Bank of America Stadium opened in 1996, as noted on Brooks’ website. As of this week, Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte is situated, had 465 positive cases of coronavirus, twice that of any other county in North Carolina. Charlotte is the state’s most populated city.
“That might be a decision that gets reevaluated as time goes on,” Apregan said.
“When all this started swirling around, the immediate reaction was figuring out how to postpone and reschedule shows,” he said. “But also, it was not the time to put new shows on sale. But they put Garth on sale in Las Vegas (on March 13) and it (sold out). People want to see him.”
Next year, the key issue is whether demand remains intact for live entertainment in an economy wracked by the virus.
“That’s the big question,” Apregan said. “It could go in a few directions. People could be so anxious and happy to be socially engaged and go to major events. That’s certainly what we would love to see happen. At the same time … discretionary spending is going to be scrutinized.”