Paris La Défense Arena, the biggest indoor arena in Europe, opened in 2017. It is a unique building in many ways. With a modular capacity ranging from 10,000 to 43,000 seats, it offers flexibility in a capacity range that’s attractive for stadium acts.
It may also be the first arena in Europe to have been built with entertainment first, and sports second in mind. The building’s sports tenant, Racing 92, is one of the most successful rugby teams in France, yet its home fixtures will still be moved to accommodate a big show, as will be the case in May, when Bruce Springsteen takes over the building for two nights on the 13th and the 15th.
“It’s consistent with the DNA of this venue,” said CEO and president Frédéric Longuépée, “it’s an entertainment venue welcoming rugby, and conventions, in that order. In other words, when there’s a conflict of dates, entertainment comes first, simply because you are booking events 18 to 24 months in advance. What is more, the economy is on the entertainment side, not on the sports side.” Longuépée wants to make sure, the big actors on the world market are thinking of Paris La Défense Arena, when they’re routing international tours.
Pollstar’s box office is flooded with stadium tours that didn’t quite sell out. And it’s in that capacity range, where Longuépée sees Paris La Défense Arena’s unique selling point.
“It’s sometimes better for an artist, who’s not sure if they’ll sell out an 80,000-seat stadium, to come through our place for two nights, and make sure that the experience for both the artist and the public is incredible. Everybody will see if a stadium is not sold out, but no one will see that you did a full venue on day one, and maybe 50% or 60% of the capacity the second night,” he explained.
It works from the other end as well, of course, allowing promoters to add 1,000 or 2,000 more seats for artists that would easily sell out the other arenas in the French capital. Intelligent draping will make the building look and feel sold out in any case.
And just before press time, Longuépée revealed that the building had received the green light from the local authorities to add another 3,000 seats. “We can now communicate on 43,000, which is competing with stadiums in France,” he said.
Longuépée confirmed what other venue operators and promoters dealing in arena and stadium territory have been saying: that ticket demand has been through the roof. Finding avails for next year has been especially challenging, seeing that the Summer Olympics visit Paris in 2024.
“We have just booked a very famous artist on the 9th, 10th, and potentially 11th of May, in other words, four days before giving the key to the Olympics organizing committee in 2024. And we are currently booking concerts for mid-October, which is right after getting back the keys of Paris La Défense Arena from the Olympic committee,” Longuépée explained, adding that a tight schedule was a good problem to have, which didn’t make coping with the demand any less challenging.
Another challenge was the French live industry’s reluctance to embrace new technology, particularly the “new ways of selling tickets.” according to Longuépée, who explained that many in the biz still opposed to secondary ticketing and dynamic pricing were fighting for a lost cause.
“Secondary ticketing and dynamic pricing could benefit the artist, as long as people try and understand how the market is organized, which is still not the case in France. For years and years, an obvious evolution of the market. The music and entertainment industries need to understand that some avenues could benefit everybody. Sometimes it helps to open your eyes and look at what the sports world is doing,” he said.
Longuépée, whose professional background includes multiple executive positions at high-ranking soccer clubs and sports and entertainment committees, said the sports sector tackled, and more importantly embraced, emerging ticketing issues almost 20 years ago.
“They are now collaborating [with the secondary platforms] in a positive way to the benefit of the sports franchises. I’m sure there are avenues to do the same thing in music, again, for the benefit of the artists,” he said, adding that he was currently implementing a “new ticketing tool that would allow us to guarantee promoters, who are taking the risks, that Paris La Défense Arena will sell out in a certain number of hours and at a certain price. We would help them understand the way the market is behaving, where things stand at any given point in time. At the end of the day, we are at the service of these guys. We are obviously at the service of our customers, and making sure that coming to Paris La Défense Arena is a memory marker.”