The Venue’s Role in Booking, Marketing & Maximizing Concerts (Pollstar Live! Panel Recap)

313 Presents’ Sarah Zawalski, Live Nation’s Brad Wavra, UTA’s Ken Fermaglich, D.Live’s Michael Brill, IAG’s Jarred Arfa and Live Nation Canada’s Joey Scoleri.

Moderator: Joey Scoleri, Live Nation Canada
Jarred Arfa, Independent Artist Group
Michael Brill, D. LIVE
Ken Fermaglich, UTA
Brad Wavra, Live Nation
Sarah Zawalski, 313 Presents

“Communication is key” may sound like a broken record but, for venues working with and competing for dozens of concert dates per year, communication can always be better.

“Especially in the beginning and when dates are coming through, (communication) is extremely important on the building side,” Sarah Zawalski, senior director of entertainment booking at 313 Presents, which books and operates six major venues in the Detroit area, including Little Caesars Arena, Comerica Park and Pine Knob Amphitheater.

She said when sending avails she tries to provide additional information and let promoters know what may impact the success of an event – apart from just the day of the week. “In addition, it seems to be starting now that so many more shows are needing load-in days, and that sometimes gets communicated, sometimes it doesn’t. If we don’t know we need one, that’s a real challenge.”

 On the artist side, a tour loading into a different environment each night means it’s up to the promoter to make sure the experience is up to the expectations of the artist and fan. Collaboration between venues, a relatively new phenomenon in the concert business, has made that more possible and benefits both sides.

“We are almost a third tenant in every building we go to, so at the end of the day, we bring a lot of content to buildings,” said Live Nation’s Brad Wavra, promoter for major tours including the Jonas Brothers, P1NK and many others. “We’ve matured a little bit as a business. I mean, you guys are connected now. You’ve got alliances, you get to share information. It didn’t happen before, it was every man for himself. I’m seeing the new generation come up through building management, and they’ve learned how to become promoters with us. The good ones have. They understand what we need. And so there’s this true collaboration with a lot of you guys. I go to a lot of my shows, so I look for you to be my partner.”

Communicating with fans is just as important, and venues can become part of the message when announcing a tour or creating buzz. With their own marketing departments and a proactive approach, venues are able to become directly involved rather than just a name on the routing.

“With global tours and national tours, buildings are key parts of the launch of a tour,” said Ken Fermaglich, UTA agent and partner who represents Guns N’ Roses, Paramore and others. “When I started doing this years ago, I don’t think we really understood the power of what a building locally could do on a national level. I mean by usage of social media predominantly, but a lot of times tours now are using the building and assets of the building.”

With new buildings coming online at a rapid clip and with heightened artist amenities, eager staff and hospitality top of mind, Jarred Arfa of Independent Artist Group was quick to note that simply being newer doesn’t translate to ticket sales.

“When we’re looking at dates, we’re looking at what venue sells tickets, what’s the hot sports team in there?” said Arfa. “Do people like going there?  I don’t think it’s just new/old.”

To that end, D.Live’s Michael Brill, which operates multiple venues in Dusseldorf, Germany, said direct input from promoters is valuable when investing in venues or trying to make a better experience for everyone involved.

“ All of these expectations are not difficult for us to solve,” said Brill. “I see a lack in communication in the entire process from being asked to hold a date through the end of the show. The more details, the more we reflect on what has to be good and what can be done better, the more we look into finding new ways  to get more money out of the show, and then share under all parties.”

With venues so eager for content and being as accommodating as possible to artists, promoters and their touring parties, Zawalski says positive feedback would be appreciated when things go well, rather than only hearing when something could have been better.

However, excellence is expected, and required. 

“When I walk around the building, we’re selling $200, $300 tickets down there, courtside. Maybe basketball doesn’t give a shit, but my fans don’t want to sit in dumb, stained cracked leather seats when they expect to have a $250 experience,” said Wavra. “Steam clean that row of seats so it looks like you know we’re coming. Paint those rails and get the chips out. That experience becomes part of the value of that ticket. You don’t make your house guest walk through the garage or past the garbage to get into your building. I understand that it is not always easy, but you can do better.”