Pollstar caught up with JoAnn Armstrong a few days after what was likely a career highlight: the opening of the $300+ million Acrisure Arena in California’s Coachella Valley. As the building’s VP of Programming, Armstrong booked three opening sold-out shows featuring the Doobie Brothers, Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock, and Grupo Firme, which didn’t prevent her from cleaning countertops and windows just before the doors opened. We spoke with Armstrong, who previously worked for 28 years at Anaheim’s Honda Center, about the new building, the Palm Springs regional market and what lies ahead.
Pollstar: How was the opening?
JoAnn Armstrong: It was incredible to open with three sold-out events, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, the 50th anniversary of the Doobie Brothers and Grupo Firme. To see the building at full capacity and break in the building was really great.
Building openings are always intense and an all-hands-on-deck process.
That’s literally what happened. We only got into the building a week before the first show. So to get here, we were like, “OK, we need to wipe down windows, counter tops and pick up trash …” It was all-hands-on-deck doing whatever it took so when the people walked in they saw how beautiful it is. The decor is incredible. It has a beautiful Palm Spring vibe. Our clubs and premium spaces are really well-designed. There’s a sense of pride and we all pitched in and did our part.
Who would you like to shout out?
Phillip Ransford, our VP of operations, and his team were at the hub of all things. Brian Puza, senior director of operations, is incredible. They were here day and night doing so many things with so many moving parts. Our VP of marketing, Joyce Szudzik, was there day and night. The incredible amount of work she and her team did was second to none. My booking director, Drew Gershenson, is great and super-helpful in all things we do in the programming department.
What did you learn from the opening?
The fans are here and ready to come see great entertainment. To have three sold-out events of different genres – comedy, classic rock, Latin shows – proved this market is very viable. It gives these fans the opportunity to see top-notch entertainment that they don’t have to drive an hour and a half to see.
The market’s interesting with Angelinos escaping to Palm Springs, you’re not too far from Orange County and San Diego and even Phoenix isn’t too far.
Phoenix is not that far and we’re still in Riverside County, and that’s 2.5 million people. We’re in the middle of nine distinct communities right here in the Valley. So we’re able to market to all kinds of locations around us because we sit in a unique place and this location is a destination for many people. We have the opportunity to bump up the destination numbers as we bring great entertainment here.
Is it something of a Vegas model where you’ll have a lot of walk-up traffic, for say a family show or concert?
We have family shows already on the docket with Sesame Street Live, The Harlem Globetrotters and Professional Bull Riders, which is very important for this community. But then we also have various shows that sell out immediately, Paramore, was one day clean; Grupo Firme, one day clean. If you’ve got a great hot show, fans will come.
Who are your competitors?
There’s no building in our immediate area that can host the number of patrons we can. The nearest facilities are casinos and at most they hold 3,200-3,500 people.
What’s your capacity?
For concerts, we’re over 11,000. Hockey, about 500 less. And we have a unique lower bowl configuration that lends itself to great sight lines and sound.
How’s it going with the AHL Firebirds and hockey in the desert?
This town’s really taken to having their first home team they can root for. There’s been incredible merchandise and attendance numbers. We also have our Berger Foundation Iceplex, which is attached to our arena and opened to the community a couple days ago. We’ve got free skate, learner skates and league skates and all kinds of programming. People are thrilled. They’re like “Ice in the desert,” they love it.
What about amenities and food offerings?
Because we’re in the desert, we have this unique indoor and outdoor concourse area. You start with Big Chicken owned by Shaq and Pronto Pizza and then go into burgers, tacos, bratwurst and outdoor bars before you venture into the indoor concourses where we have Grab & Go locations. We have several fabulous bars: our buzzbox Bar, Michelob Ultra Bar and Garrison Brothers on our concourse that are well appointed and have great offerings. Our premium lounges are gorgeous as is our private Chairman’s Club.
What would be your dream show?
That’s a tough question. I love Andrea Bocelli. There’s nothing more glorious than hearing him sing those beautiful songs at the holidays. Of course, I love a fabulous Harry Styles show. I’d love Bad Bunny, there’s so many great shows. Our goal here is to have those tours come our way.
Bad Bunny or Harry Styles would be an underplay at that capacity; would that be a premium experience?
Our configuration gives a unique opportunity to have a lot of P1 pricing at this facility and we can get to the numbers that they’re trying to get to – similar to the tours we hosted over the weekend. When we say every seat’s a good seat, it really is.
What’s on the horizon?
We’ve got a family show upcoming and a lot of hockey – we’re making up for lost time because we put the team on the road until the 18th. We have our true grand opening event with the Eagles Feb. 24 and 25, it’s going to be fabulous. If you’ve never seen the Eagles with an orchestra, it’s incredible and shouldn’t be missed. We have a great Paramore show. We’ve got Lizzo. We’ve got Shania, Reba, Cirque du Soleil and Jimmy Buffett.
Really impressive. Do you have plans for how you might work with Coachella?
There’s been ongoing conversations and we’d like to do some programming alongside them as well. Right now, our Journey show is in between the two Coachella weekends and it’s doing great. There’s definitely some things on hold and yet to be announced