More Than 30,000: Foro Sol, Mexico City
15,001-30,000: Madison Square Garden, New York
10,001-15,000: The SSE Hydro, Glasgow, Scotland
5,001-10,000: Auditorio Nacional, Mexico City
2,001-5,000: Fox Theatre, Atlanta
2,000 or Less: Teatro Renault, São Paulo
THE YEAR IN REVIEW 2019
Chase Center opens, industry giants combine and a couple of old venues reemerge
In a year when the news often came flying at us faster than we could process it, the headlines in live entertainment were just as saturated with boldface names, huge deals and major announcements. From the opening and groundbreaking on major West Coast venues to the unveiling of New York’s long-in-the-works Hudson Yards, Major League Soccer’s expansion and the Woodstock 50 debacle, there was more than enough to keep the seats warm.
Seattle’s beloved Showbox was granted landmark status thanks to its significant “cultural, political and economic” contributions to the city as well as its distinctive architecture, even as a threat to transform the site into a 44-story residential tower loomed. One of the year’s biggest headlines, though, belonged to AEG Facilities and SMG, which completed their long-planned merger, forming a 310-venue company known as ASM Global whose holdings include Manchester Arena, Soldier Field and convention centers in the U.S., Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
Another major merger found StubHub sold to smaller competitor Viagogo for more than $4.05 billion creating the world’s largest ticket resale company in the $10 billion secondary market overnight — one that will allow patrons to buy a ticket to almost any event, anywhere in the world in their local currency. The merger drew some raised eyebrows in Europe, where the U.K.’s CMA competition watchdog agency suspended legal action against the company over concerns about how it presents information to consumers.
Speaking of massive, after Bruce Springsteen ended his epic, year-long “Springsteen on Broadway” run at the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York (236 shows and $113 million-plus in box office), Talking Heads frontman David Byrne opened his smash “American Utopia” show at the Hudson Theatre, Madonna set up shop for a month at the intimate BAM Howard Gilman Opera House in October and Alanis Morissette’s long-gestating Broadway musical, “Jagged Little Pill,” opened at the Broadhurst Theatre. Meanwhile, the allure of Las Vegas continued to appeal to A-listers, with Lady Gaga, David Lee Roth, Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Lady Antebellum, Aerosmith and Santana setting down roots.
The year also brought the first rollout of a 5G network at NFL stadiums, with Verizon launching in 14 venues during the 2019 football season, while AT&T rolled it out at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. In the digital realm, the $1.1 billion esports sector made a deeper move into traditional venues such as newly renovated TD Garden in Boston, and the Overwatch League is developing a network of buildings to host events around the world, even as it eyes building custom arenas for its events in the next year.
Check out some of the year’s other top stories:
The Met Philadelphia — The latest addition to the city’s live music scene opened with a bang on Dec. 3, 2018, with a Bob Dylan show at the reclaimed historic hall on the northern fringe of Philly’s Center City. The five-tiered 3,400-capacity Live Nation-booked theater — originally built for opera in 1908 — underwent a $56 million renovation before hosting shows by Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey, Weezer, Mark Knopfler and Madonna, among others in 2019.
“Our first year at the Met far exceeded our expectations. From show count, audience reaction, economic impact in the neighborhood, it has been a truly rewarding and humbling experience for our team,” says Geoff Gordon, regional president for Live Nation Philadelphia. “The Met has really been about the convergence of the growth of the city with an amazing building that deserved this.”
The revamped venue includes a spacious lobby, plus velour theater seating, 25 bars, a ring of deluxe box seats, wrap-around balconies, gently sloped upper decks and a surprisingly intimate showroom vibe thanks to an elaborate Clair Brothers sound system that enhances the room’s already excellent acoustics. A curtain system can hide parts of the balcony, reducing capacity to 2,700 or 1,900. In addition to lush backstage accommodations for acts, the unusually large stage — 94 feet across, 65 deep and 80 high — rivals the dimensions of New York’s Radio City Music Hall. The building hosted 164 shows in its inaugural season and as of October had donated more than $74,337 to the School District of Philadelphia, part of a pledge to give 25 cents of every ticket sold at the Met to local schools.
Chase Center — San Francisco’s first new arena since the Cow Palace opened in 1941 was privately financed, opening with a bang courtesy of two “S&M2” shows featuring Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony (which grossed a combined $4.1 million), followed by shows from Elton John, the Dave Matthews Band, Eric Church and others.
With a gantry system that allows the scoreboard to retract all the way up into the ceiling, the $1.6 billion, 18,064-capacity venue designed by Manica Architecture is also home to the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. It rose up smack in the middle of the city’s trendy Mission Bay neighborhood, also home to the San Francisco Giants’ Oracle Park.
The 11-acre development also includes two 14-story office buildings, 20 restaurants and 27 retail outlets, a nearby 133-room hotel and a 5.5-acre public park across from one of the entrances, much of it yet to open. The public plaza boasts the city’s first full outdoor LED display — a 74-foot-tall curved Samsung/Prismview screen — which complements a massive amount of videoboards inside, with a reported 53.6 million individual LED pixels — as well as 32 courtside lounges with amenities including private wine lockers.
Webster Hall — After a two-year renovation, the venerated East Village venue in Manhattan jointly operated by BSE Global, AEG Presents and Bowery Presents reopened its doors in April with an underplay show from Jay-Z. The 133-year-old club made some backstage fixes — such as a new freight elevator to rectify the building’s notoriously terrible load-in for artists, in addition to more dressing rooms below the grand ballroom — as well vital front-of-house changes including better accessibility for patrons with disabilities, more staircases and exits and replacing the first-floor Marlin Room performance space with a lounge.
Artists can now enjoy expanded dressing rooms and shower facilities, as well as a state-of-the-art sound system from high-end audio manufacturer L-Acoustics set up by acousticians Arup and Sonic Design. The venue has a history of booking arena-size artists for intimate shows as well as hosting a variety of up-and-coming acts as a feeder to sister venues Barclays Center and Nassau Coliseum.
“Because of what Bowery and BSE have done with their other venues, people know it’s going to be great,” says Bowery Presents co-partner Jim Glancy, who has been with the company since 2006, adding that operations under “terrific partner” AEG have been fantastic so far. “I say that with humility, but we believe it’s going to be great, and I think people are anxious to be a part of it.”
Dickies Arena — The new $540 million arena, home of the beloved Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, was designed by HKS and David M. Schwarz, the same architects behind Dallas’ American Airlines Center, with a Southwestern art deco exterior theme that complements several other buildings in the city.
At 560,000 square feet, the arena anchors the south end of the stock show grounds and sits opposite Will Rogers Memorial Center, with the nonprofit rodeo signing a 70-year lease with the city promising to reinvest all net revenue back into the building. The building booked aggressively in its first year, opening with a Nov. 8 gig by Twenty One Pilots, as well as locking down two George Strait shows and gigs by K-pop stars SuperM, the Black Keys and MercyMe in an effort to bring a state-of-the-art, multipurpose facility to north Texas and provide room for 3,600 more people than the rodeo’s former home at Will Rogers Memorial for the rodeo portion of the show.
SoFi Stadium — The future $5.2 billion home of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and Chargers at the L.A. Stadium and Entertainment District is slated to open in 2020 with the private lender SoFi taking naming rights on the Inglewood, Calif., venue for a reported $30 million-plus over 20 to 25 years. The 300-acre development is controlled by Rams owner Stan Kroenke, with the 70,000-seat stadium at the center of a massive mixed-used development.
The new stadium has already booked the 2022 Super Bowl, 2023 College Football Playoff title game and the 2028 opening ceremonies for the Olympics. The district’s first tenant is the NFL Media’s new West Coast HQ, which will take up a 200,000-square-foot building next to the stadium, a small portion of the 1 million square feet of retail space, 15 to 20 restaurants, a 15-screen movie theater, a 300-room four-star hotel and 2,000 residential units in the development.
The stadium will kick off with a bang thanks to the only two West Coast dates of Taylor Swift’s Lover Fest West (July 25-26), as well as an August date by Kenny Chesney and a September booking of the Motley Crue comeback tour featuring Poison, Def Leppard, and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.
West End Stadium — Following a lackluster first year in the MLS, FC Cincinnati finally broke ground on its future soccer-focused stadium while it plays temporarily at the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium. The $200 million stadium project overcame some initial objections from concerned neighbors after agreeing to a land swap with Taft High School that included a promise to build a new $10 million high school stadium.
“One year removed from our groundbreaking, West End Stadium is already coming to life,” says Jeff Berding, FC Cincinnati president. “Seeing the steel starting to go up and the stadium starting to take shape has been incredible, especially knowing we have a one-of-a-kind design and fan experience coming to Cincinnati. At the same time, we’ve done a lot of great work to exceed our community engagement and inclusion goals we established in our landmark Community Benefits Agreement, so we’re very pleased with the commitments all of our stadium partners have made in those areas.”
Objections to the stadium’s lighting design and a swap out of the head architecture firm followed the start of construction in March, with the building on target for an early 2021 finish and March 2021 opening. The project got a boost in November when tech billionaire Meg Whitman bought about 20 percent of the team for $100 million.
Live Nation buys The Echo/Spaceland Presents, The Observatory — The promoting behemoth dipped its toe into the club business in Los Angeles by buying up Spaceland Presents, the beloved club band promotions company founded by Mitchell Frank in 1995 comprising Echo Park’s The Echo (350 capacity), Echoplex (660) and downtown’s Regent Theater (1,130).
Spaceland also promotes outside shows at LA’s Natural History Museum, Getty Museum and the Santa Monica Pier among the 1,200 concerts it puts on annually. Though the margins on the three venues are paltry by LN standards, the move came after Goldenvoice/AEG moved into the San Francisco club scene in 2017. The purchase brought the holding’s in LN’s Clubs and Theatres division to 85 owned and operated venues with another 50 exclusively booked by the company.
“The business has changed dramatically,” Frank told Pollstar after the sale. “About two years ago I saw the writing on the wall with Goldenvoice/AEG going into San Francisco and acquiring Slim’s and the Great American Music Hall and realized the competition on the club level was starting to happen. That opened my eyes and I realized I had to do something. I went through my options and Live Nation seemed like a perfect fit because they had an opening in their portfolio. And on my end I’m interested in growing what it is we do beyond the current three clubs we manage.”
In keeping with those acquisition deals, the plan is to have Frank continue to run Spaceland Presents under the LN banner, much as it has allowed the team behind the Bowery Ballroom and C3 continue to have autonomy over their operations.
Failure to Launch
Woodstock 50 — One of the year’s biggest misfires was Woodstock promoter Michael Lang’s attempt to relaunch a 50th anniversary edition of his signature festival. After announcing a lineup including the Killers, Miley Cyrus, Robert Plant and Imagine Dragons in March, key financial backer Dentsu announced the event had been canceled, tickets failed to go on sale as promised, the festival lost its Watkins Glen International racetrack home, as well as its second production partner, Superfly, and later moved to Merriweather Post Pavilion on July 25, only to have all the artists released from their contracts the next day.
The announced acts began to fall off the bill, with CID Entertainment coming on as the new producer, as well as new financial backers coming and going. On July 31, Lang finally threw in the towel and canceled the event due to “unforeseen setbacks” following one of the messiest, slow-motion meltdowns in recent memory. As for why he didn’t simply team with an experienced promotional giant such as Live Nation or AEG, Lang told Pollstar, “We just had a very independent attitude, and I like that. I wasn’t approaching this as an annual, ongoing event. It was a once-in-a-lifetime occasion.”