Nick Vaerewyck

Senior Vice President,
Programming and Business Operations
NYCB Live: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum

By Eric Renner Brown

Q & A With A Gen Next Honoree

(Photo: Nick Vaerywyck with Naughty by Nature)

NYCB Live: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, in Uniondale, N.Y., on Long Island, has played home to scores of iconic acts, including the Grateful Dead, Billy Joel and David Bowie, since its 1972 opening.

But following its top-to-bottom overhaul — the arena closed for renovations from August 2015 to April 2017 — Nick Vaerewyck has helped oversee Nassau’s 21st-century rebirth into a venue that goes toe-to-toe with regional peers Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center and Prudential Center.

“The biggest draw was I’d be opening up a building after a major renovation and lead the process through that,” said Vaerewyck, who joined BSE Global as Nassau’s vice president, of programming in July 2016, and assumed his current role as NYCB’s senior vice president of programming and business operations in September, when the Brooklyn Nets, Barclays Center and, by extension, BSE Global, were sold to new ownership.

Vaerewyck arrived in New York after a decade at Arizona’s Talking Stick Resort Arena, home of the Phoenix Suns, where he started out in the accounting department following his 2006 graduation from Northern Arizona University and eventually assumed the role of director, event booking.

“I always had the passion there, and really getting to see the nuts and bolts and the different deals that the shows had got me started,” said Vaerewyck, who also handled some settlements and accounting at nearby Arizona Federal Theatre, known as Dodge Theatre and Comerica Theatre during his tenure. “My role (at Nassau) really picked up where I left off in Phoenix.”

Vaerewyck’s job at Nassau “gives you a glimpse into almost every facet of the business,” bringing him into contact with the teams responsible for marketing, operations, ticketing, production, and more. His responsibility? Tying it all together.

“I came out (to New York) with about nine months prior to opening and hit the ground running, lining up the first shows in the building and trying to get a good diversity of content into the building, just so everybody, from young, old, all different types of people could come back and experience the Coliseum again,” he said. “The experience they had before was the old building and we wanted to show everybody what the new building was.”

That goes for artists and their representatives, too, who Vaerewyck said he’s spent time giving “assurances that this is a brand-new building, for all intents and purposes.” In the renovation, Nassau’s interior was almost completely gutted, replacing key aspects including backstage accommodations and fan seating.

“The Coliseum has a great history, it speaks for itself,” Vaerewyck said. “Everybody has a connection in this industry, I’ve found, or a war story from the Coliseum back in the day.”

Take Joel, who played the venue’s final concert before it closed for renovations, on Aug. 4, 2015; its first gig when it reopened, on April 5, 2017; and most recently rang in 2019 at the arena with a New Year’s Eve show.

“Sitting there talking to Billy and Dennis (Arfa, his longtime manager) about old memories that Billy has in that building, and how he’s blown away by the dressing rooms and everything like that and the changes to do it, it’s really cool to hear that from the acts directly,” Vaerewyck said.

As demonstrated by Joel’s performances, and other smashes including Roger Waters, who grossed $2.45 million over two September 2017 nights, and Paul McCartney, who raked in $4.23 million across two nights later that month, Nassau hasn’t strayed too far from its roots. Said Vaerewyck:  “Classic rock and Long Island are hand in hand.”

But “we have a wide range of demographics out on Long Island,” and Vaerewyck, who in late 2019 and early 2020 orchestrated sold-out shows by Ariana Grande and Post Malone, said his “strategy is to find diversity in content and provide something for everybody out there.”

Pop music’s a serious draw, as is Nassau’s family programming, which included a 15-show November run of Feld Entertainment’s “Disney On Ice” that drew more than 53,000. Vaerewyck also makes sure the games of Nassau’s three sports tenants, the New York Islanders, the New York Riptide, and the Long Island Nets, go off seamlessly.

Though some artists still balk initially at the idea of playing two, three, or even four arenas in the New York City metropolitan area, Vaerewyck said a little education — and data proving plays at Jersey’s Prudential, New York’s MSG or Barclays, and Nassau rarely cannibalize each other — goes a long way in drawing talent.

Some might “think they’re all very close venues, but they can be worlds apart,” Vaerewyck said. “Long Islanders want a place for Long Island.”