Q’s With John Valentino, AEG Presents Senior Vice President

Courtesy John Valentino
– Golden AEG
As head of AEG Live’s Southeast regional division since 2008, John Valentino has promoted some of the Tampa Bay market’s biggest shows.

If you’ve seen a show in Florida over the last four decades, there’s a reasonable chance John Valentino had a hand in it.

From 1979 to 2008, Valentino worked alongside Jon Stoll at Fantasma Productions, helping to make Florida’s music market the powerhouse it is today. After Stoll’s untimely death in 2008, Valentino joined AEG Presents (then AEG Live) as senior vice president of its Southeast region, where he’s continued to shape Florida’s varied markets for the last decade.

Today, Valentino and his small team ensure AEG has a presence at venues in the Tampa Bay metro area from Clearwater’s 700-capacity Capitol Theatre all the way up to Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Super Bowl LV.

The veteran promoter connected with Pollstar to discuss the market’s idiosyncrasies, carrying on Fantasma’s spirit and an impressive string of bookings his team pulled off at Amalie Arena.

POLLSTAR: How have you seen the market evolve in recent years?
JOHN VALENTINO: I’ve been in Florida my entire career. The Tampa Bay market is certainly one of the most vibrant and strongest markets in the state. People travel for shows all around the Bay Area. There are some great venues and it’s a great market for most all kinds of music. It’s probably the best rock market in the state – alternative, metal, indie. Country does really well there. Everything from pop music to hip-hop and EDM and comedy. Even Latin music does well in Tampa. Right down to the podcasters and reality-based shows. It’s a very diverse market, but it supports most all types of music and entertainment.

What differentiates it from other Florida markets like your Miamis or your Jacksonvilles?
Florida is very diverse from market to market. Miami is the strongest by far for Latin music in the state. Jacksonville is much more Deep South and country-based and things like that. But all the markets are balanced and can support all styles. Tampa Bay and Central Florida – across the Orlando-Tampa Bay corridor, in the heart of Florida – is a good mix of all of those things, with the north and south as the extremes.

Between the Super Bowl, the Buccaneers, the Rays and the Lightning, Tampa Bay has become a huge sports hub. Has that made a ripple on the music side?
People go out for everything, sports and entertainment. The Lightning [is] one of the strongest teams and strongest sales for games. They do a tremendous business. Tampa Bay has really latched onto ice hockey since the team came into town [in 1992], and Amalie is a great venue that people like going to. Certainly if there are games the night we’re gonna do a show, that’s a consideration. But I think with three-plus million people in the market – and it’ll grow to 3.7 [million] or close to four in the next 10 years – it’s certainly a big enough market to support more than one event a week.

Tim Boyles / Getty Images
– Come Over (To Raymond James)
Kenny Chesney has played four shows co-produced by AEG Presents and Messina Touring Group at Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium since 2011. Here, he’s on a co-headlining bill with Tim McGraw on June 2, 2012.

Can you walk me through the various venues at each tier that AEG handles in the market?
We’ll start at the top with Raymond James Stadium. The Messina Group frequents that venue quite a bit. The stadium is a great play for a lot of our larger shows. Amalie Arena and Yuengling Center are great venues that we frequent often. The college venue, Yuengling Center, is just a step down in size from Amalie, but both are viable arenas, midsize and full-size. We do a lot of shows at Ruth Eckerd Hall, between them and their smaller theater, the 700-cap, seated Capitol Theatre; Ruth Eckerd, Straz and even Mahaffey to the south in St. Petersburg, all great theaters. Each has carved its own niche. We probably frequent Ruth Eckerd more than the others, but they’re all great venues. We do a lot of shows at [2,000-cap] Jannus Live, and that’s one of the most unique and fun experiences for going to a show of any place I’ve been, just because it’s an open outdoor courtyard area. It’s been there for decades and it’s in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg. We go to the [1,500-cap] Ritz [Ybor] in Tampa. Those are good stepping stones and good sizes for certain artists. They’re all great places to play shows. We’re well over 100 shows a year in that market.

How does your work with AEG today carry on Fantasma’s legacy and what you learned there?
The day that I started with AEG and Fantasma sort of closed down was seamless. Me and my team were booking shows one day under a Fantasma banner and the very next day under the AEG banner. The fact that the business is about people and relationships has shined through. We’re a great example of that, because we haven’t missed a beat. We were able to take the independent spirit of what we had at Fantasma with Jon Stoll and bring it to the next level and further develop it with the resources and support of a company like AEG Presents.

You mentioned the business is all about people and relationships. What crucial relationships do you have in the Tampa market?
We have a lot of great partners. The folks over at Amalie and Yuengling are very good to us and they’re very supportive of everything we do. They play very fair, so we work with them as often as we can. Even though we probably bring most of our traffic to Ruth Eckerd, just because the content of what we do fits really well there, our partners at Ruth Eckerd, Straz and to a lesser extent even Mahaffey, they’re very supportive, and we’re happy with our relationships. We don’t mind working for our money, so we bring value to the table when we work with those people. I like to think we do, anyway. [laughs] Because a lot of times we’ll play four or five markets, four, five, six dates. We’ll route artists through the state, because Florida is not really on the way to anywhere. What we typically try to do is route them in and route them out. If we’re going to take a Tuesday in one market, it’s because we have the Friday in another market, and that helps us as promoters justify what we’re doing. It’s hard just to play one isolated date in South Florida or even Central Florida. You need the stepping stones.

John Davisson
– Tampa Dream
Katy Perry performs at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla., Dec. 15, 2017.

What particularly big successes have you had in the Tampa market?
Just a couple of years ago – and it was really by happenstance, and not by design – our touring division had Roger Waters on sale. Then, I worked with my office and [Marshall Arts’] Barrie Marshall in bringing Paul McCartney into the state, and we played Tampa the very same weekend. Then, Rod Stewart popped up and I worked with Artist Group [International] and Dennis Arfa in bringing Rod Stewart into Tampa. Those three shows played the Amalie within a four-day period [from July 8-11, 2017]. The onsales and the marketing and what the money spends were and how we market the shows and what we did were all crucial, because we wanted to make sure we didn’t cannibalize ourselves. All three of those shows sold out. That was when I was like, you know, this can be done. This market is very supportive and there is a balance there. There’s others of course, with multiple plays we’ve done at Ruth Eckerd Hall with everybody from Van Morrison to Jackson Browne to whoever it may be. And then Jannus Live, I don’t think there’s a major act that hasn’t played Jannus Live on the way up. There’s just so many shows that we’ve played there. We’ve got a lot of great memories from being in town there.

Are there differences you look at when booking within the market – Tampa or St. Pete? – or do you think of them as part and parcel of a bigger thing?
We always try and find the right venue for the right act at the right time. That’s what we do as promoters. Timing has everything to do with it, so that often comes into play when we make decisions. But certainly downtown St. Petersburg is a lot different than downtown Tampa. [Clearwater’s] Ruth Eckerd is different than Straz in downtown Tampa.

Tell me about the team you’ve assembled for AEG’s Southeast region.
Back when I first started booking Florida, decades ago, I knew every band, I knew every place that a band was gonna play and if a band was in the state, I knew whether I booked it or not. You just can’t do that anymore. You can’t do it without a team. I challenge anyone to come up with an artist or attraction that sells tickets that one of the five of us does not know. Because someone on my team, one or more people, know that artist, know the agent, have a relationship with them, and we book them. We book probably the most diverse schedule of talent of almost any office in the United States.

Read More About The Tampa Market At Pollstar + VenuesNow’s Market Focus: Tampa / St. Petersburg Hub