COLD CALL: Coldplay’s Chris Martin struts the stage during the band’s 2022 concert at FedEx Field. Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment now books special events at the NFL venue. (AP Photo)

Group’s arena experience comes into play

Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment has taken over programming of special events at FedEx Field after Josh Harris purchased the NFL Washington Commanders in July.

The move comes after Harris, founder and managing partner for HBSE, added the Commanders to his sports portfolio that extends to ownership of the NBA Philadelphia 76ers, the NHL New Jersey Devils and the English Premier League’s Crystal Palace Football Club. HBSE is parent company of the three U.S. big league teams.

As it stands now, FedEx Field has three concerts booked for 2024, featuring country music headliners Kenny Chesney (May 25) and Luke Combs (July 26-27).

Those events were booked prior to HBSE coming on board, as well as the 2024 Army-Navy college football game on Dec. 14, company officials said. In the coming weeks, a few more non-NFL sports events could potentially be added to the 2024 calendar, officials said.

HBSE is already pursuing stadium concerts for 2025, said Sean Saadeh, HBSE’s executive vice president of entertainment in charge of leading the effort to fill non-NFL dates at FedEx Field.

Taylor Laurer, the Commanders’ vice president of ticket sales, service and operation, and who took the lead on pursuing FedEx Field concerts before Harris bought the team, will continue in that role with HBSE. Laurer joins Saadeh, Tyler Bates, vice president of entertainment booking at Prudential Center and Dylan Wanagiel, vice president of sports properties and special events, as part of the group focusing on FedEx Field bookings.

On his own, Saadeh has 28 years of experience booking arenas, including Barclays Center and Arena, now Diamond Desert Arena. He’s based at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, the Devils’ home ice. He’s been programming “The Rock” for about nine years.

Saadeh’s responsibilities extend to White Eagle Hall, where HBSE has managed and marketed the historic club in Jersey City, New Jersey since 2021.

Last year, under Saadeh’s leadership and during a boom time in the concert biz, Prudential Center alone booked a record 58 shows, producing 570,000 tickets sold and a total gross of $81 million. The arena holds its own in the fiercely competitive New York-New Jersey market, where five facilities that hold 15,000 seats for concerts jockey for events.

At FedEx Field, Saadeh and his staff will lean on their longtime relationships with concert promoters, such as Live Nation and AEG Presents, to help program events at FedEx Field. The region surrounding the stadium in Landover, Maryland, known as the DMV, encompassing Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia, supports a strong market for live entertainment, Saadeh said.

FedEx Field opened in 1996 and has had its fair share of concerts over the past 27 years. Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, U2, Morgan Wallen and The Rolling Stones are among the acts that have played the stadium over the past seven years and rank among the top 10 attended shows, according to box office data compiled by Pollstar, VenuesNow’s sister publication.

The numbers show Beyoncé tops the list with 97,909 attendees for two shows at Fed Ex Field in 2023, producing gross ticket sales of $29.3 million.

In the DMV market, FedEx Field competes for stadium concerts against M&T Bank Stadium, Nationals Park, and to a lesser extent, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, as the Baltimore Orioles have entered the concert biz over the past few years.

“We like where we’re positioned, despite the fact that we’re an older venue,” he said. “It’s all about the experience. We want to bring our best practices to the stadium, because we see it a little bit differently than just the NFL. We see it as an entertainment experience, and understanding some of those things that can bring that best experience for our clients quicker than if we didn’t get involved.”

SOCCER SELFIE: Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings takes a photo with fans at a Premier League Summer Series match vs. Brentford FC on July 30 at FedEx Field. (Getty Images)

Saadeh said HBSE will remain flexible in its business model for stadium concerts, whether it’s taking financial risk to co-promote those events or negotiating a traditional rental agreement with promoters. All things being equal, big league teams that run venues and who commit to investing money upfront to help promote a concert have a better chance of securing the date, according to industry experts.

“We listen to everybody,” he said. “It’s about what (promoters) need to make it happen and what do we need to do for it to make sense for us. Finding that happy medium is always the way to go. It’s generally no different at Prudential Center, which is mostly a rental business, but that doesn’t mean we don’t take risk on certain events. We are 100% open to it for FedEx Field as we move forward.”

The challenge for HBSE is the age of FedEx Field and the lack of upkeep and maintenance of a building under previous Commanders owner Dan Snyder, in addition to renovations for a 28-year-old facility. Under HBSE, the Commanders are in the process of planning improvements while team officials map out a strategy for potentially building a new stadium.

“There could be some better efficiencies around the venue (for tour productions) that we’re looking at,” Saadeh said. “Now, you have a client and a team that’s going to be there for you to make sure we resolve them. Promoters and agents love the market and they recognize our challenges and we’ll be pro-active in that respect to give them a better feel about coming into our venue.”

In addition, the mid-Atlantic climate reduces the window a little bit for booking concerts to May through September. Within those parameters, HBSE will try to maximize as many dates as possible, including soccer matches, considering FedEx Field’s natural grass surface and the need to protect it for NFL games that start in August with preseason play.

“We’re in active conversations with all the promoters involved with soccer friendlies,” Saadeh said. “For me, it’s been an eye opener, learning that piece of the business and getting our arms around it. That part grown a considerable amount over the past several years. There’s a strong multicultural population in the DMV that can support a lot of these teams.”