The newly christened Austin360 Amphitheater fits an iconic tower, stage and 14,000 fans inside the Circuit of Americas racetrack, located on the outskirts of the Texas capital.
The largest outdoor stage in central Texas is carrying the name of one of the region’s most high profile media brands. The new Austin360 Amphitheater just outside Austin – it is part of the $350-million Circuit of the Americas racetrack complex – gets its name from a naming rights deal with Cox Enterprises and its entertainment website Austin360.com.
Terms or length of the deal were not disclosed when the name was announced in March, though venue officials said the promotion and marketing possibilities available through an agreement with a media company made Austin360 an attractive partner when negotiations opened up late last year.
“A media company was at the top of the list from the start and then we started looking at what we could do if it was a local company on top of that,” said Ben Cahalane, chief of sales for Circuit of the Americas who helped see the deal to its completion. “There were lots of interested partners we were already working with but doing the deal with Austin360 made the most sense because it lined up with both of our strategies.”
The amphitheater has a capacity of about 14,000 with much of that seated, making the facility a new venue type in Austin, where hundreds of clubs and a handful of theaters make up the bulk of the live music sites. Having an amphitheater in the market opens up new possibilities for booking partners Live Nation and C3 Presents, with shed favorite Jimmy Buffett set to visit Austin for the first time in memory this summer.
Country star Kenny Chesney opened up the amphitheater’s first night April 5 and roots-focused acts like Zac Brown Band, The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers make up a large portion of the amphitheater’s early schedule. The hard rock Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival is also on the books, as is a show with Lil Wayne, and the facility is a finalist for a three-year bid to host ESPN’s X Games.
Cahalane said brands like Bud Light, Pepsi and Frito Lay expressed interest in a name deal, but working with a music-focused entertainment site that can raise the amphitheater’s profile was a key consideration. Before the deal was finalized, track officials let officials from Cox and the Austin American-Statesman newspaper (which operates Austin360) use a track luxury box to host advertisers at the debut Formula One race in November, and the paper also sponsored a kickoff luncheon at the track in the fall.
“Music is such a big part of the culture with what they do and what we do, and they understood the type of regional and national attention they could bring to what we do,” Cahalane said. “We looked at it from multiple lenses, in terms of what’s the direct value (financially) and also the indirect value on things like promotion and ticketing.”
Located in the infield of one of the turns of the racetrack, the amphitheater features an arena-sized stage with dual video screens and a red and white multispired canopy. Its most striking visual detail is a 22-story observation tower above the stage that provides a grand view of the music venue as well as the surrounding racetrack.
Paul Thornton, president of TAG Presents entertainment management firm that produces shows at the amphitheater, said road agents and managers have been impressed by visits to the track and the music venue and are excited that shedcentric performers like Buffett can finally make a stop in Austin.
“It’s normally tough to talk artists into being a guinea pig for a place that’s just opening up but not only have they been excited, they’re telling their people to schedule a day off before or after the show so they can spend time in Austin,” Thornton said. “We didn’t have to throw large amounts of money out there to start getting this place booked, and that’s good because once you start doing that you never know how you’re going to get it under control afterward.”
Thornton said the amphitheater will have 15 to 20 shows this year, with more expected for 2014.
Interviewed for this story: Ben Cahalane and Paul Thornton, (512) 301-6600