This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: John Valentino, senior VP of AEG Live SE.
John Valentino knows more about the musical tastes of native Floridians—and those tourists visiting the Sunshine State—than any person alive.
The veteran promoter can rhyme off the distinct market characteristics of Miami on the southern tip of the state, Orlando at mid-state and Jacksonville just below Georgia’s state line in quick order.
When Live Nation purchased most of Fantasma Productions in 2008; Valentino, then running the company day-to-day as talent buyer/executive VP, opted to leave.
He was immediately tapped by Los Angeles-based live entertainment promoter AEG Live to be its senior VP for Florida. Valentino brought along much of the Fantasma crew, and swiftly established an AEG Live beachhead in Florida from a new office in West Palm Beach.
With a presence in such cities as Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Seattle, Denver, Dallas, New York, Minneapolis and Nashville, West Palm Beach marked AEG Live's 13th regional office in the United States.
Born in New York City, and raised in Long Island and New Jersey, Valentino attended Trenton State College in New Jersey, and went on to Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton where he received a degree in Business and Public Administration.
During Valentino's 29 year stint at Fantasma, the company produced more than 500 concerts and events annually throughout the U.S.
This included shows by Eric Clapton, the Eagles, the Police, Metallica, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, Elton John, Jimmy Buffett, Cher, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Bette Midler, the Cure, Depeche Mode, Whitney Houston, Faith Hill, Alabama, Alan Jackson, the Allman Brothers Band, and Marvin Gaye.
Fantasma survived and thrived by having a fierce entrepreneurial spirit and developing its own real estate, markets and corporate events.
A list of Fantasma successes could fill a thick book; prominent among them were establishing Sunfest in West Palm Beach (which AEG Live SE now oversees); the Wanee Music Festival in Live Oak; and the South Beach Comedy Festival in Miami. It also booked such venues as the 3,500-capacity Mizner Park Amphitheater in Boca Raton, Florida, and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood.
Unlike many regional promoters, Fantasma promoted in all genres, opening doors in Florida and other areas for country, jazz and Latin music.
As America’s concert industry consolidated, and as all the regional promoters with real estate assets were snapped up, Fantasma warded off suitors. Stoll and Valentino, who informally collaborated and strategized on the company’s activities each and every business day for nearly three decades, both believed that South Florida needed a large, independent concert promoter.
Stoll, however, succumbed to cancer in January, 2008 at the age of 54. In March, 2008, Live Nation made a deal with Stoll's widow Lori, to acquire much of Fantasma’s assets.
The Live Nation/Fantasma deal included leases for the Mizner Park Amphitheater and the 2,900-capacity Pompano Beach Amphitheatre—the last two independent, mid-sized concert venues in South Florida as well as the Fantasma name, current inventory of shows, and two Fantasma-produced music festivals.
While live music titans AEG Live and Live Nation battle against each other in the competitive Florida concert marketplace, regional promoters are heavily active there as well, including NYK Promotions, Cárdenas Marketing Network, and Beaver Productions.
Other than your main competitor Live Nation, regional concert promoters, are also quite active in Florida.
We do have a lot of promoters coming through Florida. It has basically been AEG and Live Nation, before that, Fantasma Productions and, way back, to Cellar Door Productions (sold to SFX Entertainment in 1999). There have always been people trying to infiltrate Florida. That’s not to mention the fly-by-night promoters that move here and, because they are retired and need money, they decide they are going to do concerts.
We don’t compete as much with other businesses as we do with the (subtropical) weather and all of the things that there are to do here. It is an outdoor lifestyle here. It’s beaches, it’s boating, it’s the rivers, and it's theme parks and clubs. There’s a tremendous amount of options in Florida. People up north, who have been cooped up all winter, will go to an amphitheatre for a bake sale once spring or summer comes. In Florida, people have so many options that they are not as easily impressed.
How is your relationship with Live Nation there?
I don’t interact with them that much, but I have a lot of respect for what they do. I have known a lot of their staff for many, many years. I don’t know Neil (Neil Jacobsen, president of Live Nation Florida) as well as I do some of the other people. Neil is certainly a very accomplished guy, and he has a good grip on what he’s doing. Florida is a big enough state for two large promoters; they are healthy competitors.
What are the primary venues that you work in?
We don’t own any sheds, but we have good relationships with many of them. There are a few mid-size sheds like the St. Augustine Amphitheatre, which is a great venue for us at 4,000 seats. It is out in a state park in a great setting, with three-quarters of the audience covered with an open-air tarp. I love that venue, and I love that model. It’s basically the Jacksonville market, but we have found being south of town, that a lot of people live on the south part of Jacksonville, and a lot of people come from the St. Augustine area. We have had good success with shows in that venue.
[The St. Augustine Amphitheatre, on Anastasia Island near the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, has become a major player in the northeast Florida concert scene. The outdoor amphitheatre holds about 4,000 people when the area right in front of the stage is open for standing and dancing, 3,850 people when the chairs are used. Among the acts featured there have been ZZ Top, Boston, George Thorogood, 3 Doors Down, Little Richard, Old Crow Medicine Show, Slightly Stoopid, Jesse McCartney, and Modest Mouse with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. ]
We also work a lot in the Mizner Park Amphitheater in Boca Raton and the Sunset Cove Theatre in south Florida (in Broward County). We do have an exclusive coming up at the ArtsPark Amphitheatre in Hollywood that will open in March 2011. It is a smaller amphitheatre with 2,500 plus capacity. If there were a few other sheds around like St. Augustine’s around the state, they would attract some business.
Amway Center recently opened in Orlando. That’s quite a facility.
Oh yeah. I was there for the ribbon cutting (October 1, 2010) with the mayor (Buddy Dyer) and Allen Johnson (Amway Center’s executive director who oversees all of Orlando’s public venues, including the Amway Arena, the Florida Citrus Bowl and the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center). I had taken two hard hat tours of the facility. I learned pretty much about the “smart building,” and all of the amenities that they are offering and providing. They did a great job on the venue.
[Owned, operated and developed by the City of Orlando, the Amway Center is a $382 million, 20,000-capacity venue that replaces the city's Amway Arena. Amway Center opened October 1. The opening was impressive enough to draw Tiger Woods out of seclusion for the Orlando Magic's season-opening victory, his first trip to an Orlando game since his sex scandal erupted last year. Due to the illness of the Eagles’ Don Henley, the first concert at the Amway Center scheduled for October 7, 2010 was rescheduled for October 26, 2010. Amway Center is now home to the Orlando Magic of the NBA, and the Orlando Predators of the AFL.]
Anything Orlando Magic wanted, the team got.
Amway Center is pretty unique in that there aren’t that many cities involved in this type of ownership. This project is one that Allen Johnson worked on for three years with the team. He visited a bunch of arenas. It is a very unique partnership, and the team and the city both put their best foot forward in getting this thing done.
It replaces Amway Arena?
Yeah, it was a 21-year-old building but it wasn’t dirty or anything, it was just outdated.
[Amway Arena opened in 1989. Experts have stated that the arena was outdated since the day its doors first opened. It was part of the last generation of arenas that put suites in the top of the building, placing the highest-paying customers the furthest away from the action. As well, like many arenas of its day, it was short on the amenities of contemporary major-tenant arenas, and unable to maximize revenue opportunities. Plans call for the entire downtown Centroplex, including Amway Arena, to be demolished to make way for a "Creative Village" complex on the site.]
What will be your first show in the Amway Center?
We, as Concerts West, are bringing the Bon Jovi tour (“Circle Tour”) there (in Spring 2011). That is what we have announced so far; we have a couple of other things in the works.
Orlando is a diverse consumer market, if only due to tourism and the theme parks. But there are also two million people living there. It’s a big-sized concert market.
Well, it is. Central Florida—and that encompasses from Daytona over to Tampa—is where you draw from in Orlando these days. It is larger than just the Orlando media market.
Most states have similar entertainment structures. Florida is unique because of its subtropical climate and the abundance of theme parks and entertainment complexes.
Absolutely. Florida is an ever-changing, ever-growing market. It has so many diversities. The difference between the Miami market, the Jacksonville market and the Pensacola market all the way over to the west, is tremendous. Miami is an international market, it is the gateway to the Americas. Jacksonville is pretty well half Georgia and half Florida, it is very varied. Orlando is a very volatile market with the (local) theme parks and the series and concerts that they do. Orlando is definitely much different, it is very much a service oriented market. Orlando is changing too, it is getting more medical (businesses). It is getting some high tech companies coming in there. Tampa is also different. Tampa is commerce and industry and things like that.
Tampa and St. Petersburg used to be sleepy, backwater tourist towns. Not anymore.
Not at all. Tampa is a very big sports town between the Rays (Tampa Bay Rays of Major League Baseball) and the Bucks, (NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers) of course, and then the Lightning (NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning) There’s three major league teams there. Tampa is a very active area. St. Petersburg is a very hip, and cool area. It is gorgeous there; they’ve got museums, culture and sports.
Has the demographic changed for concerts in Florida over the years?
I think so. People think that Florida is just a retiree market, and there was a wave of 55 year-old retirees. But, that’s basically a classic rock audience these days, and there are a lot more younger people here now. The weather has increased the population.
The change is highly visible in Miami.
All you have to do is remember that before the development of South Beach—before the Art Deco District, and the entertainment district that it is now there—that you drove down South Beach, and all you saw was, not just retired people, but elderly people on porches, sitting outside. You know exactly what I am talking about. Twenty years ago, you saw people in rocking chairs where now you see high tech clubs. It has totally changed. The club scene there starts at 11 P.M. and runs until sunrise.
For the U.S. concert industry this was not a good summer.
You know what? It was a good summer for us. There were a lot of tours out that were, maybe, over projected in what the packaging or the results would be. Trying to run acts through venues that are too big really blew up in everybody’s face this year. We were pretty careful and, honestly, we had a good summer. Our division did, and I believe, that our company did as well.
In the past two years, you have been able to closely observe how national tours are done by AEG Live.
They just don’t buy a block of dates and put tickets on sale, it is very well thought out. The (tours) are very calculated. They are planned out. They are very strategized. When you make that kind of investment, that is what you need to do. Debra Rathwell (senior VP of AEG Live) in the New York office has been fantastic with what has been done with Justin Bieber, as well as the John Mellancamp theatre tour, to the reality television stuff (like “So You Think You Can Dance Tour 2010”) that AEG puts out.
At your age, what was it like being at the Justin Bieber concerts this summer?
Well, don’t forget your ear plugs, because you will get your ears popped just by the screeches, and the screams. It was like seeing New Kids on the Block the first time we did stadiums with them. The exciting part of our business is to see someone explode onto the scene like Justin Bieber and create such a demand.
AEG Live has had some solid tours in recent years. Few people thought Britney Spears would do such great business with “The Circus” tour throughout 2009.
I have to hand it to our L.A. marketing department on that. They were spectacular in marketing that tour and creating the anticipation for it. When it finally exploded onto the scene, there was such a demand for that artist. It was remarkable the way they did things.
What was the impact of Jon Stoll’s passing? It’s amazing to think it will soon be three years.
I was with Jon for 29 years, right out of college. Fantasma was very good to me. People ask, “Why did you stay so long?” It was because I was always able to do whatever I wanted to do there, and I could grow tremendously within that company. Losing Jon was a big loss to us personally, to the (live music) industry, and to the communities wherever we promoted shows.
We’re very fortunate that AEG was able to see that vision of what Jon did, and that we’re able to take that independent spirit of what we did at Fantasma, and move forward with the resources of a company like AEG Live behind us. We really like that we really do have that spirit of what we did at Fantasma still alive here.
How did you meet Jon?
I met Jon and Gary Propper, who worked at Fantasma, while I was a college buyer at Florida Atlantic University (in Boca Raton). I would call agents in New York, trying to find out what was going on (in the Florida market). I realized I could make one phone call to Jon and Gary and I could find out everything that was going on; they had the word up to the minute. Here I was trying to play catch up, constantly trying to find out what was really going on. These were the guys in the know.
I was later invited by Jon and Gary to hang out at a show and see how it really worked. I remember meeting Gary at a Molly Hatchet concert when Molly Hatchet first started exploding. I was there, and I said, “Boy, I would really love to do this.” Jon and Gary were very good to me when I was as student. Jon then offered me a position when I graduated.
[Legendary surfer Gary Propper is a former East Coast Surfing Champion. As Director of Booking and Production for Fantasma Productions, Propper worked with Rush, the Police, Bob Seger, Blondie, the Pretenders, Hank Williams Jr., Cheech & Chong, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Marley, the Kinks, and the Allman Brothers. He is credited with discovering the Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird oversized Mirage Studios comic book “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and then helping to develop the 1990 film “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Propper has since managed comics Gallagher and Carrot Top as well as Clock Hands Strangle, and Bill Wharton (The Sauce Boss).]
You were studying business and public administration at Florida Atlantic University. Did you plan to work for a civic government?
When I started college I thought about being a city planner, so I was pursuing a degree in business and public administration. I may have gone into city planning, or I may have got an MBA or a law degree. But then I thought that I would try having fun with concerts for awhile. I never thought that I would do that on a long-term basis.
When you started at Fantasma Productions, you worked special events and trade shows.
One of the first things that I had to do, was to sell boots at a trade show called the Florida Stampede in Lakeland. There was a rodeo, and we did a trade show that went with it. I had to sell these boots, and I had no idea what I was doing. I took more of a liking to the music side of the company, and Jon and Gary saw that’s where I performed better. So I started booking, buying and producing shows.
Jon Stoll's widow Lori sold the Fantasma Productions assets to Live Nation. You didn’t stay on.
That could have worked out, but I just felt that we wanted to keep the spirit of what was at Fantasma alive, and I wasn’t sure that was going to happen there. But, I think the Wanee Music Festival was worth every bit of what Live Nation paid for Fantasma. It is a wonderful event. It was Jon’s baby; it was his vision, along with Butch Trucks, and the Allman Brothers Band
Live Nation purchased the existing lease to Mizner Park Amphitheater as well.
They ended up with Mizner Park Amphitheater and the Pompano Beach Amphitheatre. Mizner has since become an open venue, and Pompano is a great venue. I guess we will see what happens there. There are just a tremendous amount of venues in South Florida. The amount of content to be shared among those venues leaves them all of them a little bit short of where they really want to be as far as the number of shows per year to fill out their venues.
Jon passed away January 12, 2008 at the Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach.
Jon was sick from August, 2007. Along with the guardianship that was assigned—Lori and one of Jon’s friends—I was running the company on a daily basis trying to move forward; booking the Wanee Music Festival and doing the business we did every day; trying to manage the staff; and trying to have everybody hang in there and hold it all together from August to January. Then Jon passed away. At that point, it was decided that something would be done (with the company). That it wouldn’t operate the way it had been operating. That Lori had to do something with the company.
What were your concerns?
Honestly, I had three concerns. One was to see that Jon’s family got taken care of. Another was to maintain a career. The third concern was to try and take care of the people that stood by for those 7 months holding the company together so there was something to sell. If people had defected, and the company had fallen apart, there wouldn’t have been anything to sell.
So even though it didn’t work out the way that I expected, Lori got taken care of in a certain way, I am still doing what I love to do, and our people still have jobs. And we got to give (Jon’s son) Jesse an opportunity. Here’s a guy who pretty much thought he had the world set up for him. I’ve known Jesse his entire life, from when he was running around backstage as a kid, to when he was old enough understand what was going on, to the point he was wondering, “What am I going to do with my life?” I see a lot of Jon’s business savvy in Jesse. He’s a great guy, with a bright future. He’s a valuable member of our team.
[Jesse Stoll joined AEG Live SE July 14, 2008 as operations coordinator to work on venue, festival and special event development and marketing.]
You and others sued Fantasma for commissions due.
That (suit) was collectively between three of us in the office. When Jon got sick, we were asked to halt our collecting on commissions until we could all figure it out. There were some family members that didn’t understand the business. I’m sorry that it had to come to that.
[In a Palm Beach County Circuit Court lawsuit that was filed, three former Fantasma employees—Valentino, Scott Gartner and Ethan Levinson—said that they had to wait in the wings for commissions earned while booking concerts for Fantasma. Valentino said Fantasma owed him $273,583, Gartner said he was owed $40,112, and Levinson claimed $32,000. The suit said the three were promised that they would be paid once the Fantasma sale with Live Nation closed, but were worried they wouldn't be protected once it did.]
Did the suit get settled?
Yes. We settled out of court. Nobody got exactly what they wanted. I’m sorry that the attorneys ended up making the money that would have made the difference, but you can’t live your life having hard feelings about things. I always wish the best for Jon’s family. I still see Lori, she comes to our shows; I wish her the best. Certainly, I will always do the best I can for Jon’s kids.
What was your biggest challenge in setting up AEG Live SE?
Well, I think that the biggest challenge was taking what we had, and moving it forward. Just trying to take the relationships that I had, the knowledge of the business that I had, establishing the office, and moving forward without infringing upon the things that were sold from Fantasma to Live Nation. We had 85 shows on the books that were pulled out from under us in a week’s time. So we started with nothing. We had zero shows the day I walked in. The biggest challenge was building (the business) back up, and really trying to get in stride without missing a beat. I think in a big way we accomplished that.
Many of the Fantasma crew came over as well.
AEG was gracious enough to let me start up with an office of 9 people in March 2008, and all of them were former Fantasma employees. Then, when he graduated in May 2008, Jesse (Stoll) came here. He had some other options but he felt comfortable here, and he wanted to be with us.
You and Jon had been so resolutely anti-consolidation. With Jon’s heritage now spit between AEG Live and Live Nation, people could wonder, “What would Jon think?”
Well, I certainly thought about that. Jon was good friends with a lot of the people at AEG Live, and I have known many of those people for my entire career as well. I often think if Jon was here today, what would he be doing? I’m not going to say for sure, but I would think that there would be a good chance that he would have worked out some sort of partnership with AEG Live at this point, because it is so hard to be in the concert business solely as an independent these days. I salute all of those that make the effort. But Don Fox (Beaver Productions) was fortunate to have tours. If you have a Michael Buble tour, you certainly have something. You just aren’t depending on one market which could be a volatile market, or on a certain region. Don Fox sort of broke the mode of the (independent) model. You have to look up to a guy like that. Jam is a powerhouse, and certainly well respected. They do very well for themselves.
Fantasma, I believe that we could have hung in there. I believe that we could have done whatever (we wanted), but I think that may have evolved into something else at this point, anyway.
Surviving as any type of promoter means doing different types of shows today—like you do.
Jon Stoll was a tremendous visionary in that. We did every style of music, whether it was blues, jazz or country, before it was cool for major promoters to do other styles of music. A lot of them then just did the big touring rock acts. We were also instrumental in developing festivals. Festivals and special events were a big part of what we did at Fantasma, and Jon truly had a vision for those types of things.
Fantasma promoted outside Florida, and Jon dabbled in Broadway, producing Jackie Mason’s shows.
We aspired to do everything. Jon had some partnerships for shows on Broadway. Jackie Mason was one of his best friends; Jon had a lot of fun with that. We did some national touring but, I think that, we would have moved into it in a larger way if Jon were still here. Or we would have created some partnerships with AEG Live or a company like AEG Live. Jon had great vision, as I said.
As well, the concert business was moving toward national touring.
If you think about it, It’s always been there. Concerts West was a national touring company way back when. We are pretty much targeted on Florida, but we’d go into the south east, and work with our associates in those markets.
Bill Silva recently told me he’d hate to be starting a new business as a concert promoter as a new person, if he wasn’t well capitalized, and had a great new game plan.
I would have to agree with that. Unless you have venues and relationships and unless you have a tour, you aren’t going to survive. Nobody can just make money renting a building and selling tickets, surviving on that margin. You can make a very little bit or you can lose a tremendous amount.
As a concert promoter, has profitability come down to having ownership of venues? For some tours, that’s been a factor.
I agree, but we still promote and co-promote with a tremendous amount of great venues. You have to have a better deal than just a rental deal. That’s the point.
Venues need promoters to fill dates.
Of course. Just look at how aggressive the arenas have gotten. For years, they didn’t even get a phone call because it was just an amphitheatre tour. So now the arenas have become very pro-active in trying to attract business, and trying to be aware of what’s going on. Not being in a situation where they hear about something after it’s a done deal. Everybody is pursuing business, everybody is in pursuit. Nobody is waiting for the phone to ring anymore. That model is broken.
You grew up in New York, New Jersey and Long Island. Did you go to many concerts growing up?
I went to John Scher shows, and I went to the Ron Delsener shows. I stood in line at Ticketron for the Led Zeppelin shows. I’d spend $5 at the $5 jean store, and $5 for a concert ticket. I think a lot of John Scher, he’s a tremendous person in our business.
John Scher is another who remains independent with his company Metropolitan Talent.
That’s true. But John Scher, Bill (Silva) and a lot of (promoters) have moved into management or moved into other projects. Look at John Scher, he’s certainly the manager of a few great acts (including Art Garfunkel, Renaissance, and Little Feat, co-managed with Cameron Sears); and he’s got a record company (Hybrid Recordings) and other stuff. You can’t just be a concert promoter renting a building anymore.
Well, Fantasma had a booking division, Fantasma Tours International, which Steve Peck ran. It booked 40 artists internationally, including Orleans, Leon Russell, Clarence Clemons, the Fixx, John Waite, Gregg Rolie, and Nelson.
We did have the booking agency side, and we had the special event and festival side. We had promotions and co-promotions with a lot of venues. At the time of his death, Jon was exploring possibilities of internet revenue.
You personally used to book Dave Mason and Edgar Winter at Fantasma.
We had some great acts. A lot of those classic rock acts are probably going to become more valuable in the years to come. There are only so many ZZ Top’s and only so many Journeys. Those classic rock acts have a tremendous amount of hits behind them.
Also their fans want to see them before they die.
Or, at least before they don’t want to tour anymore.
I recall that Gordon Lightfoot’s booking price significantly jumped when he returned to touring after having an abdominal hemorrhage in 2002. At 71, he’s probably busier today than ever on the road.
From what I understand, Gordon doesn’t need the money from touring because of his music publishing. But a lot of acts don’t have their publishing despite being known for 6 or 8 Top 20 hits. And, they put on a good show.
Touring has become more important as the revenue stream from recordings has dried up. In some cases, acts have to be on the road.
Especially the new acts. There are some great new acts out there. That’s what we thrive on (as promoters). That’s why we are in this business. You see a band like the Zac Brown Band that was opening up for $500 less than two years ago, and look at where they are today. To see new bands break is just the thrill of it all.
With the consolidations in live music, and the recording industry, the development of acts isn’t done as much. Also, with all of the competitive bidding for tours, artists, agents and managers aren’t as loyal to promoters.
That has certainly changed. There are still managers and agents that will try and respect that (loyalty) when they can, and we still work that level. We still believe in developing artists from the ground up, but once it becomes a tour offer, you don’t even have your chance to buy your 5 shows anymore because someone bought 50.
Selling a full tour is an effective way of booking a tour.
Well, it’s a way that can’t be ignored. There are many artists that look at the options and still decide to go independent (way); go on a one by one (promoter) basis. There are pluses and minuses for both (ways). It is frustrating when the acts that don’t need the money go that route. They could do it independently, but they choose not to. But, they have business managers that advise them as well. We’re lucky enough with AEG Live that we can still be involved (in a show) if it is an AEG Live tour, a Concerts West tour, or a New York Touring (aka AEG Live in New York) tour, whatever it may be. We are certainly happy about that.
There are only a handful of superstar acts today that can predictably sell out big shows, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, and Bon Jovi. After that, you may be into pairing acts together.
Or there are markets that are not as great (for a show on a tour), and it takes a lot of work. I think that our guys did a tremendous job of the Black Eyed Peas. They really did a great job with that tour. But, you are right. There will always be those acts at the top that have many, many options. It is that middle ground that gets hurt. People work so hard, and sometimes it is just so frustrating, and it’s those middle acts that get hurt.
People balk at paying $100 for shows by middle acts.
Right. Everybody needs to rethink the business, especially in this economy. I constantly have to ground myself and say, “What do I think is right?” Instead of somebody just throwing a price tag out there. You really have to evaluate what that artist is worth in your market.
The ticket price reflects the guarantee paid to the act.
Of course. (For every show) the stage hand gets the same amount per hour. The radio spot cost the same. A catered dinner is pretty much the same. The biggest factor (in a show) is how much are we paying the band. That’s what determines and defines what our ticket prices are, and where we think we need to be to break even or make a little bit of money. So yeah, it’s a big factor. If the artist would try to cut down their touring expenses a little bit more and we tighten our belts, so we can offer lower ticket prices, we can salvage the business, and rebuild it.
We have to stay focused on respecting the ticket buyer, and being sure that they have a good experience. Making sure things runs as smoothly as they can because people today now have options. If they don’t have a good time, they aren’t coming back. It’s all about that fan connecting with the artist. We all just help to facilitate that. As long as we stay focused on that, I think there will be a business.
Many consumers feel they don’t have fair ticket access to big shows. They also feel ripped off seeing promoters selling discounted tickets for upcoming shows, when they bought tickets earlier at a higher price.
We rarely have trouble selling the front 25% of the house. What can we do to sell the back 25% of the house? All of the V.I.P. ticketing, and all of the things that they do, that’s great, but we don’t have much trouble selling those tickets. It’s the back of the house that we have trouble selling. How about coming up with an idea to do that.
These fire sales and discounting now, most everybody is guilty of it. But, the (annual) Warped Tour still does a discount (ticket) upfront. I remember way, way back when a limited advance sale was a discount ticket. Once, you hit a certain amount of days or a certain amount of tickets, that limited advance (price) went up. Limited advance gets people talking, and it sells tickets. It helps word-of-mouth (for a show), then we are not discounting at the end. These days people are just waiting to see if there’s going to be a fire sale.
The guy who paid $75 a ticket 13 weeks ago is ticked off when that happens.
Right. He’s feeling ripped off.
A disgruntled consumer.
And that’s the worst. We should try and offer those (tickets) upfront.
Also, premium tickets upfront signifies that anyone with a gold Amex card can get seating in the first three rows of a show. That antagonizes hardcore fans.
I am certainly sensitive to that, and I agree with you on that. But what promoters saw were third parties profiting from all of the (upfront) tickets and that has to stop. (Resellers) would put these tickets online and sell them for three and four times face value. Promoters were taking a lot of the risks, and third-party people were benefiting and people were getting ripped off.
If a ticket has a $75 face value, and sells online for $185. What is the true worth of the ticket?
Right. So you really have to look at what the true value of what the ticket is. But we have had great success with paperless ticketing. If you really want to put an end to (scalping) paperless ticketing is certainly a great option.
But then a buyer can’t give tickets to their kids or a neighbor unless they show up at the venue as well. The argument is, “It’s my ticket; I should be able to do with it what I want.”
True. But you have to admit it does nip the scalping in the bud. I’ve seen it put a stop too to that third party (secondary ticket) system. Maybe, there is a way to transfer (a ticket). I don’t know. I know that it does put an end to the scalping.
[The U.S. secondary ticket market is a $4 billion-per-year marketplace, in which resellers and primary ticketers continually and heatedly square off. Paperless ticketing, primarily developed by Ticketmaster Entertainment to curb the secondary market, continues to be a hot-button topic within the sector. The paperless ticketing system requires purchasers of some selected seats to show a valid ID, and the credit card they used to buy the ticket. The idea is to make sure that the ticket is used by the person who bought it. Promoters argue that such ticketing is an effective method to limit ticket resale, and better provides fans with access to tickets at the original face price.]
A sizable portion of seats that are held back by promoters— from corporate sponsors or for the artists themselves—end up on secondary sale sites.
I can tell you that often, when we see the tickets online from the scalpers, that they come from the artist fan club allotment. Acts need to screen those fans better. As a fan of the artist, we want to take care of you, but when the tickets end up online, that sort of backfires.
Ticketmaster tacks on a myriad extra fees, which buyers don't see until checkout. It's disingenuous to the customer to tell them a ticket costs $60 when it really costs $85. Just tell them it's $85.
I think they provide a service, and there are fees for those things. Whether it’s all-in or whether, it’s not doesn’t really matter much to me. The only thing I can say is that if it isn’t an all-in ticket, I’m not sure how sales tax works. If there is sales tax on the face (value) of the ticket, it could rise by a dollar on some tickets, just because the ticket face is a (higher) amount. I really don’t know the inner workings of that yet, but I have discussed and inquired about it with a lot of people.
Concert promoters are a special breed. Your competitors go through the same financial tight-rope on shows that you do.
Of course, and, unlike some people, I don’t want to see anybody lose money on shows. I don’t like it when anyone loses money on concerts. I see people working so hard at what they do, whether it’s a small promoter or a big promoter, whoever it is. It is a tough enough business without people having bad vibes.
Do you still get a buzz being in a large venue as the lights come down?
It’s why we do what we do. It’s why I still like attending a lot of shows, and being in the markets, and seeing the people and knowing who they are, and meeting the venue people again. Seeing them, and knowing about them. When the house lights go down, and everybody screams when that artist hits the stage, you know why you do what you do.
We were lucky enough to recently have a few very special dates with Neil Young in theatres. From being a fan, and seeing the response of the people, it was a tremendous experience. He played “Helpless" and my hair stood on end. That tells you something. You just…that’s why we do it. That’s why I do it.
Outsiders don’t understand your business.
You can’t even explain it to somebody that is not in the business half the time, because they would never believe you. They would think you are making things up. You can’t make this stuff up. The people who have survived, they get it. A lot of us will do whatever it takes for a show.
Three weeks ago, I was taking a TV off the wall of the lobby of a venue with the production manager for a major artist, because the teleprompter on the (stage) was too small. They needed a bigger (monitor) five minutes before the doors opened. So, you do what it takes. You go out in the lobby, you take the television down, and you put it on the stage so they can have a bigger teleprompter. You do whatever it takes.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, the London Times and the New York Times.
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