Q’s With Climate Pledge Arena’s Eric Bresler & Nick Vaerewyck
Climate Pledge Arena – Room With A View:
Climate Pledge Arena is located in the Seattle Center, an arts, education, tourism and entertainment center originally built for the 1962 World
A few days before Climate Pledge Arena’s grand opening on Oct. 22, which will feature a monumental Coldplay concert (see Pollstar cover story HERE) that will be livestreamed across the globe and just hours later the home opener of the NHL’s newest hockey franchise the Seattle Kraken on Oct. 23, Pollstar caught up with Eric Bresler, Climate Pledge Arena’s SVP of Programming, and Nick Vaerewyck, VP of Programming, to find out more about this state-of-the-art arena and its programming.
Here, in this excerpt from Pollstar’s 2021 Concert Venue Directory, the venue veterans who have worked at some of the most successful venues in the country, including Chase Center, FTX Arena (formerly American Airlines Arena), Nassau Coliseum and U.S. Airways Center, discuss CPA’s industry-leading commitment to sustainability, the ins and outs of the Seattle market, the fans’ and artists’ elevated arena experience possible and why so close to the arena’s opening, neither one’s hair is on fire.
Tom Pittenger / Climate Pledge Arena – Building Back Better:
Eric Bresler (left) and Nick Vaerewyck outside Climate Pledge Arena where they oversee programming.
Pollstar: What are some of the features that make Climate Pledge Arena special?
Bresler: It goes back to the vision for the name of the building. There is a strong commitment to sustainability. And all of us are empowered and feel privileged to be able to support that initiative. On a daily basis, we’re embracing and feeling a part of how we save the planet. The backbone is Amazon, so from a technology standpoint utilizing the Just Walk Out feature in our concession stands will allow for greater efficiency and convenience. We are also developing a specialized app that will do a lot of great things for fan experience and have all the touch points for everything you want and that’s exciting. We have a great commitment to transportation and access to the monorail, which drops you right at the building. We’ve got a really, terrific food and beverage program being built by The Climate Collective at Climate Pledge Arena. It’s got local food and beverage brands as a part of the development of specialized food and beverage initiatives with our partners at Delaware North.
Vaerewyck: What sets this building apart, as Eric mentioned, is the sustainability side of it. When you think about it from the food and beverage side, there’s a lot of elements that go into that. No natural gas will be utilized within the building. All the cooking will be done by electric, which presents an opportunity for chefs and our partners at Delaware North to get creative as they fulfill the vision of The Collective. We will be sourcing well over 75% of our food within a 300-mile radius of the building.
Are there specific restaurant partners?
Vaerewyck: There’s a few restaurants we’ve already partnered with. There’s a great cheeseburger joint in Seattle called Lil Woody’s. There’s Ethan Stowell, who’s a great chef, we’re partnered with him to provide pizza to guests. There’s Din Tai Fung, a great local restaurant. It takes an hour and a half for Din Tai Fung to be delivered to my house, because it’s so popular here, so I’m excited to walk out the office doors and be able to grab a bite. There’s a slew of other locally based restaurants we’re working with.
So you’re about to have an incredible opening week with this small band you may have heard named Coldplay(!) and the NHL’s Kraken are making their debut.
Bresler: We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a truly spectacular event load already, but we all recognize our shows aren’t successful if we don’t have a great team, which is comprised of many individuals with experience in the business. Whether it’s ticketing, event services, operations, guest service, finance, food & beverage, arena marketing, we’re not successful without everybody else on the team together. It starts with our leader, Steve Mattson who was previously GM at Target Center in Minneapolis. He knows the business incredibly well. We have an experienced operator in Tom Conroy, our Senior V.P. of Operations, he came from Ottawa and knows how to open buildings; Rosie Selle is our VP of Arena Marketing and was formerly at KeyArena; and Don Graham, SVP of Event Services, was formerly at Microsoft Theater in L.A. It’s a great, great team. And of course Nick and Diana Tall in our department.
Coldplay were included in the Top Ten on Pollstar’s Artists of the Decade list and have an incredible live history and now play stadiums – how the heck did you get them?
Bresler: It all goes back to the vision of Tim Leiweke (CEO of Oak View Group, Pollstar’s parent company, which is opening of Climate Pledge Arena) and his idea of how to put together an event that would have worldwide appeal, a powerful sustainability message and the opportunity to not only develop that event, but also have that event be a part of a worldwide audience that has the chance to have impressions on about 500 million people when you consider that it’s going to be livestreamed on Amazon’s verticals. So when you talk about that event, we are incredibly fortunate to have that vision and a worldwide opportunity, that just doesn’t happen. They are a stadium band and to get them indoors for an arena experience, is incredibly special and one we feel humbled to be a part of.
They’re also a sustainability-minded band which aligns with what you’re doing at CPA and Amazon as well. Did you have them on a dream board?
Bresler: We certainly had a board and, like anything else, we started talking amongst everybody on our team and saying, “What are we thinking about?” You touched on the sustainability component and that really played a part in this as well and identifying a musical act that would resonate with sustainability. Then it was the idea of having a partner who said, “You know what, we’re really interested in the broadcast of this event.” And so then being able to work and say, “Okay, there’s some ideas here,” and we all realized there was really something here and it had legs. Then it became a great partnership between the venue, artist management, promoter and streaming platform. Having the show in Seattle, opening Climate Pledge Arena and the worldwide livestream just takes it completely over the top.
What’s been the reaction of the local Seattle community?
Vaerewyck: We’ve been very fortunate with the support we’ve received from the community. They bought in early. We were incredibly successful with our partners and our fans investing in us throughout the pandemic. It started a few years back when we opened up season ticket deposits when the team was announced. There is a process with the NHL where you hit a certain threshold in order to prove yourself as a team and show this market can sustain a viable NHL team. We opened up for season ticket holder deposits and sold over 12,000 season ticket deposits in the first 10 minutes. We ended up capping that at 32,000 within the first 12 hours. We had to put a stop to it. After that we had an unpaid waitlist that grew to over 60,000.
So the commitment and investment from the community from the get-go was overwhelming. We knew it was going to go very well, but it exceeded even our wildest dreams. When we opened it up and announced the team name, the excitement within the community was huge. Our merch sales surpassed what the Vegas Golden Knights did, and they set records. The buy-in of the community is something I’ve never seen before in any market I’ve been in. Without the fans, all of this would be for naught. We wouldn’t have the 30 shows we have on sale right now. The vision and the commitment that we put into the city of Seattle has been returned tenfold. We don’t take that for granted. We owe them a great experience and we owe them great content and we owe them a diversified set of content.
Seattle is a market of 4 million people in the metropolitan area – are there regional genres that do better there than in other markets?
Vaerewyck: Honestly, it’s a home for everything. It’s a very diverse community up here. When people think of Seattle, they think of grunge, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and all those great bands, that came from this area, but the shows we’re putting on sale,
Bad Bunny, J. Balvin, Kane Brown, Eric Church, The Weeknd, Andrea Bocelli, Trevor Noah, Jo Koy – we’re doing a little bit of everything. I don’t know that we would point to any one genre that’s doing better than the other right now. Within the industry, it’s proving the narrative of Seattle having a very diverse community that you can route any show through and be successful. It’s a major market. You look at L.A., you look at New York, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, those are markets that can sell just about any show you put in it, and Seattle is right there. It just never had a building that could do it and now they do.
So you have the Kraken’s 41 games, the Seattle Storm are doing another 18 and then 30 shows on sale – it’s already getting pretty crowded. I know Tim Leiweke has said you’re going to have 200 events a year. Are you on track for that? Is there already congestion?
Bresler: We’re on track. We’re building something incredibly special. And it does come back
to support. We’ve got a great relationship with our hockey team. They help us and understand we need to maximize every date possible. They work with us and it’s a true collaboration. Our goal is to have 200 events a year and we’re well on our way.
Vaerewyck: We’re fortunate to have really, really great partners. We are an open building and work with everybody, Live Nation, AEG, CMN, Premier Productions, Icon Entertainment, Gelb Productions, Messina Touring, there’s shows by almost every promoter out there. There are holds on our calendar from every agency. The support we’re getting from the industry has been amazing and unprecedented.
When you’re having an event, do you work with the promoter, manager, artist or whomever to say, “How can we help you be more sustainable in your coming here?”
Vaerewyck: On the front end we have conversations and talk a lot about what the sustainability components are for Climate Pledge Arena. We ask, “What are the act’s commitments of sustainability? How can we help you be a part of it with us? Are there any initiatives that are near and dear to you and very important? And how can we help you there?” I think on the front end now we’re having those conversations, certainly in regards to sustainability. It’s in the DNA today. And for us, it’s a part of our natural conversations that are born and organically happening.
How is the artist experience elevated at Climate Pledge?
Vaerewyck: It starts with the arrival. When the artist drives in, they’ll actually enter through a 462-foot,two-lane tunnel that goes from street level straight down to the loading dock. That’s really important on the production side to get shows in and out quickly. There are eight loading docks and a huge marshaling area. There’s a freight elevator that goes from the event floor to the catwalk. We have a fully dedicated artist compound and green room with luxurious finishes dedicated to them. There’s an area dedicated to hospitality for the artists’ crew and their friends separate from their dressing rooms. We’re treating events at Climate Pledge Arena like they’re an anchor in our building and just as important as the Seattle Kraken, the Seattle Storm and any other future tenants. That’s their space. That’s their haven. We want them to feel at home there.
Christopher Polk / Getty Images – Something Just Like This:
Coldplay, who play Climate Pledge Arena’s Grand Opening on Oct. 22 and have made sustainability a key part of their new tour, performing at the 2016 Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium.
Can you talk about the audio?
Bresler: There is a huge commitment to sound quality, especially with the iconic roof, we’ve got Lapendary Panels, acoustical treatments, there’s a full-fledged commitment to enriching the sound and making sure there isn’t reverb or echo and we’re utilizing techniques to work not only within the roof, but have treatments in the ceiling and along the walls. That same experience we talked about for the artists, is the same for making sure fans experience superior sound inside the arena.
Vaerewyck: More than half of our capacity is within our lower bowl. So from a touring perspective and a pricing perspective, we can maximize the number of P1s and P2s and maximize revenue for shows when they come to the building. From a guest experience, the more people in the great seats the better the experience. It’s almost like a theater and our lowest level is like a mezzanine and then you’ve got the balcony right on top of that, everything is subterranean. So you enter in from the upper level and go down to your seats. And those upper-level seats again are like a balcony at a Broadway show where it’s right on top of the action and it’s a great view – every seat is going to be a great seat. I know everybody says that, but I’ve sat in the upper-level seat and you really can see all of the action. My seat for Kraken games is in our loge level and it’s a great seat.
Outside of music, what are some of the other kinds of events that you’ll have there?
Bresler: Well, certainly we’ve got a focus on e-sports and sports. You take the Seattle Storm, we touched on that…
Wait, are you guys getting an NBA team?
Bresler: It’s built for professional basketball if it were to happen. Right now we’ve got college basketball at the forefront. We have a sold-out game, the Battle in Seattle with Gonzaga, and we’re thrilled to have them. We’ve got Seattle U who will have a bunch of games here. And certainly the success of the four time champion WNBA Seattle Storm. Down the road we’re looking at how to build out college hockey. We’ve got NCAA Championship events coming up in future years, we’ve got a slew of great stuff.
Climate Pledge Arena at this point is something of a blank slate, what do you think your legacy will be?
Bresler: Just being a part of Climate Pledge Arena and the Seattle Kraken and being able to launch a brand-new arena in Seattle, which the market has always needed, and at the same time launch a brand-new sports franchise, is just unprecedented and something we
are all incredibly fortunate to be a part of. There is a rich music history in Seattle, no doubt about it; but from an experience standpoint for the artists, we’ve got a venue that allows an artist to really experience what it’s like to play in a brand-new modern arena with a focus on live music and events. That vision from Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff (OVG co-founders) and Steve Mattson, our general manager and the operational side with Tom Conroy, is incredible. We’re building something special and revitalizing the market in Seattle for live music and events, with a focus on both the artist and fan experience. What they’re going to experience at Climate Pledge Arena is what has us most excited, they are going to have the type of elevated experience they deserve.
So your hair must be on fire right now with Climate Pledge Arena’s opening just days away, but perhaps you aren’t the right guys to say that to …
Bresler: Actually, steam coming off the scalp, actually, would probably apply.
Vaerewyck: It’s definitely steam, especially when it rains a little bit out there.
For the complete interview with Eric Bresler and Nick Vaerewyck, pick up Pollstar’s 2021 Concert Venue Directory available at https://www.pollstar.com/directories.