Eric Church’s Touring Team With WME’s Jay Williams, MTG’s Louis Messina & More ‘Skates To The Puck’

Church Choir Anthem:
Kevin Mazur / Getty Images / TW
– Church Choir Anthem:
Eric Church performs during the Super Bowl LV pregame at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., Feb. 7.

“The science was the biggest hurdle,” says Q Prime South’s John Peets of his client Eric Church’s desire to rock arenas in 2021. “What do we do if the rules are against us? The feeling – really early, once his record was done – was, let’s start dripping songs out, keep going towards April.

“We just kept marching forward, but we had a lot of conversations, a lot of big brains from the NFL and college football, high level people with a lot of money at risk, the CDC, the buildings, the municipalities and states. It was such a moving target, everybody was guessing, informed but guessing.
“Once the vaccine distribution started, seeing how many cases and doses were happening, we decided to take the leap of faith and skate to the puck.”
Three weeks before onsale, Messina Touring Group CEO Louis Messina was laughing. “We can’t get all the building deals done, because the rules change so much and so often. It’s part of why we announced, then waited to go on sale. But one thing’s for sure: people are ready for Eric Church!”
WME’s Jay Williams, Church’s agent from the beginning, understands. “Passion with Eric is always going to trump everything. There’s reason, but that passion is the reason he has the fans he does.”
Fielding Logan, Q Prime South’s head of touring, recognizes the spark and the fires it lights. “Eric’s always had that theme in his music: blue collar intensity; whether it’s ‘Drink In My Hand’ or ‘Stick That In Your Country Song,’ he brings it. As blue collar’s shifted from factory jobs to working in an Amazon warehouse, they’re all over the nation working harder for less – and Eric understands that, gives it back as hard as they give it to him.”
And so “Gather Together 2021.” Loose ends, tons of non-stop calls, lots of new ways to do things, but when the tickets go on sale May 7, look for them to blow out. Some of it is relentless cabin fever. Part will be the desire to hear the songs from Heart & Soul performed live with his blazing road band. But most of it – like Springsteen – is an undying loyalty to the man whose songs contain their frustrations, triumphs, values and reckonings.

Which helps explain why Church’s impressive touring trajectory over the last decade is one of consistent growth (see Boxoffice Insider HERE). On his 2019 North American “Double Down” tour, which included two back-to-back arena performances in most markets, he averaged 14,387 tickets per arena show and a whopping $1.31 million gross, according to Pollstar Boxoffice. That’s an intense increase of 55% over the 2017’s “Holdin’ My Own Tour” average.
Peets, who was raised outside Cleveland, Ohio, also knows that Rust Belt fury. With Church winning the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year last November and the world experiencing such tumult, the pair recognizes the power of music to unite people.
Eric Church, Louis Messina, and Katherine Church
Rick Diamond / Getty Images / T.J. Martell Foundation
– Eric Church, Louis Messina, and Katherine Church
attend the T.J. Martell Foundation 9th Annual Nashville Honors Gala at Omni Hotel in Nashville Feb. 27, 2017.
“That blue collar perspective goes wide, and we realize a lot of people aren’t working. We talked about that a lot. We wanted to be sensitive about ticket prices, because it’s important the people this music speaks to are able to come together.
“When Eric won Entertainer, it almost feels like you’re given the Miss Universe sash; you’re anointed, ‘Now get out there and lead!’ To bring people together, to be on the front of this was important to him.
“It’s good mental health money, you know? To come together, it’s a community celebrating around a single idea. Musicians and that participatory energy is transforming, and the differences? They’re left at the door.”
Rachel Powers, Messina Touring’s marketing maven for Church’s tours since 2017, knew they were going to need a different strategy once the decision was made. Staggering the announcement and the onsale, she hopes, “gives people a chance to absorb this news, to know it’s really happening. We know it could be a foreign concept after a year without live music.”
But she also admits, “At the top of the year, heading into the Super Bowl (where Church performed the National Anthem with Jazmine Sullivan), it felt like we were turning a corner. When we talked about announcing, it didn’t feel crazy, it was more ‘How are we going to do this?’”
Logan talks about being responsive. “Eric says, ‘We are going to plant our flag.’ But our flag is in sand or dirt. It’s not in cement, so we can be nimble. That’s the word I’ve been using: ‘nimble.’ Eric’s tours have been very successful, so we’re prepared to let it all come out in the wash.
“It’s hard to define examples. Every building will have additional costs for cleaning and compliance. Even organization to organization, every show will be different, and we know that. It’ll take extra time, extra caution. 
“When we go on sale, there are sure to be speed bumps, things we can’t imagine, so we’re gonna keep having lots of conversations – and moving forward.”
For Powers, who uses billboards and radio in most markets, working from home has changed her strategy. Working directly with buildings in each market, she’s pivoting to local television and spreading the wealth at radio.
“Local buys, am/pm buys and the morning local shows are great opportunities for giveaways,” Powers explains. “They like the excitement, plus local adjacencies with ‘Today’ and ‘Good Morning America,’ because no matter where you’re working from, you see those. 
“Hyperlocally works now, because people are home and they’re watching. And because Eric’s Eric, his reach extends so far beyond the country fan base, we work with sports stations, classic rock stations. They’re all eager to be part of this.”
Williams, who helped build the attitude-forward North Carolinian through the rock clubs, recognizes Church works in aggressive ways. “He said, ‘I want to be on the forefront of this, because the only way we’re going to get back to normal is to get people to invest in this.’ He recognizes the idea of giving people a reason to get the shot, to think about herd immunity.
“Not only do the economics not make sense to deliver the show, but for the last so many years, Eric Church shows are packed. There’s that energy, the way people come together – so it is aggressive. But I don’t think there are going to be any capacity issues come September. 
“In a lot of these places, we could be the first show in – and we’re good with that. We’re relaunching this industry, and demand is high. He goes onstage; he knows how they feel. Overdelivering to that fan base constantly means something.”
“We’re taking our cues from municipalities and the CDC,” Peets restates of their belief. “We’re not making these judgments on our own. And there’s a lot more to it (than just mask ordinances). We know there’s some hesitancy in that area (around vaccinations), that we’re telling you what to do with your body, but we’re on the pro side of the argument by example.
“We want people coming out, but we want people to be safe. The rock & roll ethos, that attitude is this, that rollercoaster kind of thing plays big-time into our thinking.”
Whether putting Church in rock clubs in the same markets on the same nights as the Rascal Flatts tour he was “removed” from, packing up the recording gear and taking it to a Carolina mountain restaurant or creating a tour while the nation was still on lockdown, Peets – and Messina – is the perfect partner for the Ray-Ban sporting Church. Neither’s reckless, nor are any other members of the team.
“We’re all hanging on PPP loans, all trying to figure out how to survive this,” Peets admits. “But beyond even what happens when the audience comes in, there’s also the backstage curtain. Local crews and our people, what protocols are going to be figured out for how you serve catering? How you build a stage? These are holistic realities to figure out, and we will.
Eric Church, Cindy Mabe and John Peets
John Shearer
– Eric Church, Cindy Mabe and John Peets
“It’s a lot of extra hours and time, but fine. What we’re giving and getting back is more important.”
Citing increased awareness and communication, Peets hopes people realize the work that’s gone into something as mundane as air handling. Many buildings have spent significant money upgrading their systems to clean or introduce fresh air. Dynamic pricing is also something Church adopted early. 
But Logan cautions, “Revenue maximization isn’t always the goal. I know Guns N’ Roses come to town, charge $600 a ticket and want the most money, but it could be butts in seats. Eric puts a lot more value on driving attendance, maxing the people coming so you can have a sold-out, high energy crowd more than max your payout.”
People more than money. Safety without seclusion. Returning to normal, reveling in how music can set you free or set you on fire. It’s gratitude and the notion music heals.
“Eric and I have been fortunate. We’ve been able to keep everyone’s 401(k); we’ve kept everyone employed – and the idea we’ve held on to keep his people together, then put them back to work in the jobs they love? The double win for me is putting our longtime family back to it and bringing the people who love this music together for the music. 
“It’s what we’ve all been waiting and working for.”