IAVM leader describes how his group is lobbying Congress on behalf of members
Brad Mayne stays busy these days coordinating conference calls with legislators to seek federal aid for public assembly venues and working with task forces to support his 7,100 constituents as they navigate the long, dark tunnel of COVID-19 to reopen their facilities.
Mayne, president and CEO of the International Association of Venue Managers, spent one hour last week with VenuesNow discussing the shutdown of live events; its affect on IAVM members among the hundreds of arenas, stadiums, convention centers and amphitheaters; and where things are headed for the industry as a whole.
“We’re doing a lot of lobbying with the House and Senate,” Mayne said. “We’ve hosted well over 30 phone calls with folks such as Marco Rubio, Bob Menendez and Mitch McConnell. We’ve applied for two things: an extension for that (stimulus) money as well as additional dollars.”
Legislators are listening to IAVM make its case for financial aid, but to this point no money has been approved for its membership. “The CARES act with the Payroll Protection Plan was funded with more stimulus, and within one week, half of it was given out,” Mayne said.
It’s been an interesting process as those discussions take place with members of Congress and their staff, he said.
Depending on the market, IAVM selects a venue executive to speak with their local legislator. Some already had relationships with New Jersey-based lawmakers, such as Jim Leonard, senior vice president of government relations for Prudential Center in Newark.
“These are constituents that can vote for these individuals telling them we’re in a world of hurt,” Mayne said. “When we don’t have events, we have no revenue coming in and those employees that only work events are not getting paid, and that’s a negative ripple effect to the economy.”
Separately, IAVM formed a task force chaired by consultant Russ Simons that’s working with experts to prepare for reopening their buildings in tandem with police, fire and emergency medical service groups in the individual markets.
“Friends and family tell me they saw what the experts are saying on TV and I tell them those aren’t the experts,” Mayne said. “The ones we need to be aligning ourselves with are the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and (the Department of Homeland Security), people that make decisions based on facts.”
The key is to form an open channel of communication with local authorities and to identify the role they play to reopen the economy, Mayne said. At the same time, though, venues must be prepared with their own measures for reopening their doors and share that information with decision makers to move forward with an appropriate timeline in a safe and healthy environment.
“Our buildings were the first to close, rather suddenly … and we’re probably going to be one of the last industries to open because we are all about mass gatherings,” he said.
The cost to retrofit venues for greater protection against the virus is part of what’s driving IAVM’s lobbying efforts. There’s a lot of new technology flooding the market, whether it’s ticket scanners connected to thermometers, walk-through disinfectant machines or smart bracelets equipped with buzzers that are activated when social distance boundaries are compromised.
Some of it may be effective but in other cases it may be unnecessary, security experts say. At MetLife Stadium, where Mayne served as president and CEO for four years, 50% of all products pitched to stadium officials weren’t going to work for the NFL facility after testing those items. The remaining 50% that did make sense to install resulted in additional training and figuring out how to get funding to pay for those new systems, Mayne said.
“The challenge with new technology is required training and the creation of new protocols and the strength of the supply chain,” he said. “Is it going to be made available and how quickly? Is it proven technology so we don’t experience stops and starts in the implementation? We don’t want to disrupt the convenience for fans coming into our buildings. Using something brand new leads to concerns over whether what might and might not work.”
Risk mitigation is another issue for venues to prepare for, considering recent class action lawsuits connected to ticket refunds for concerts. Facilities need to sit down with their attorneys to discuss a plan of action in the event a spectator claims they caught the coronavirus while attending an event and files a suit in court, Mayne said.
“There’s potential liability there, a lot of moving parts to pay attention to,” he said. “You need to cover every aspect and possibility.”
On the ticketing front, Mayne got on his soapbox to discuss the situation with primary ticketing firms and others focusing on the secondary market. The hundreds of live events canceled or postponed has resulted in mild chaos for those vendors while consumers demand their money back to help pay bills in an economy that came crashing down in March.
“The last 25 years, I was the top executive in venues that sold tickets,” Mayne said. “Buildings who do not share ticket revenues with promoters before the event has taken place are following the right path. Those who distribute ticket revenue before the event are going to have an additional layer of concern as to whether or not they’ll need those monies if this pandemic is prolonged.”
In addition, those promoters and ticketing firms taking a “hard and fast position” for not issuing refunds until events are officially canceled may want to reconsider that policy in these unprecedented times, and if they hold firm on that decision, they need to “be loud and proud” about it and communicate it to the general public, according to Mayne.
“There’s an organization that wanted to work with us as it relates to an events industry coalition that we’re doing lobbying for and when they told us their No. 1 need was they already spent ticket funds for the shows postponed and canceled, they needed to replenish those ticket sales for events that hadn’t happened,” IAVM declined their offer, he said. “We’re not going to go after that for our venues; it just doesn’t make sense. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but let’s take care of the employees, give venues the funds they need to survive and purchase and build what we need to have a safe environment.”