Justin Bieber descends upon a packed crowd at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Jan. 23. (Photo by Cliff Robinson)
When you’re 83 years old, change doesn’t come easily — especially when the numbers show you’re still the top dog.
But the team at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta — the top venue on this month’s Georgia Top Stops Chart and the number one nonresident theater for its size in North America — knew it needed to adjust its business model to meet the changing demands of the business landscape, even if, for that moment, that landscape had yet to change that much.
“At this very moment, we’re not having a problem selling tickets, but we’ve always been looking at ways to make this organization last for 100 additional years,” said Adina Erwin, VP and GM at the Fox.
In early 2012, the Fox ended its long relationship with Ticketmaster and took ticketing in-house with a Paciolan-powered platform and hired Atlanta-based Ticket Alternative to set up customer-centric call centers and walk-up ticketing outlets at Whole Foods grocery stores.
“We went from a massive box office where we took more of a passive approach to ticket sales to being more of an aggressive ticket sales destination,” including “outlets that are aligned well with customers and brand,” said GM Allan Vella. “And we wanted to bring Atlanta’s sense of Southern hospitality to our phone sales with a higher-end experience. Ticket Alternative has really personalized our phone sales and even makes recommendations for nearby restaurants,” including The Varsity, a local hot dog joint that’s famous among Atlanta residents.
The Fox isn’t the only Georgia Top Stops venue to embrace change. Venues all over Atlanta are making preemptive changes to improve their business models and stay current with the demands of an ultra competitive marketplace.
“You’ve got to constantly be thinking about the fan experience because there is so much competition for the entertainment dollar,” said Dan Markham, VP of booking for the Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga. — a convention and entertainment complex outside of Atlanta that includes the Arena at Gwinnett and a performing arts center.
Besides improving the rigging system to hang larger shows and finding new ways to activate the entire campus for concerts, Markham said his building is more strategic than ever at the way his building books talent.
“We’re very focused on diversifying our programming,” said Markham, who’s booked upcoming shows with Latin group Juanes, a televised mixed martial arts bout and a family show run for the Harlem Globetrotters.
At Philips Arena, top shows came from Coldplay, Jeff Dunham, Bruce Springsteen and Van Halen — “we get a lot of artists who start in the clubs and then build their way up to us,” said Senior VP and GM Trey Feazell. “One of the great things about our building is the flexibility. We have a theater configuration that’s increased our bookings for bands that can play 8,000 to 10,000 seats.”
The arena’s upper bowl is usually curtained for the building’s WNBA team, the Atlanta Spirit — “we had Katt Williams a few years ago go on sale at 7,000 seats. As the concert sold, and then blew the building out, we were able to move the curtain and fill the building.
Feazell said the biggest change in concerts is “the way shows today are marketed. We’re now announcing shows and on-sales through Facebook and Twitter and different types of social media. We’re still buying ads through television and radio, but social media is an increasingly important part of our marketing mix.”
For a January Justin Bieber concert, the arena created an interactive photo booth where fans could take pictures of themselves at the show and send the image out to their friends on Facebook and Twitter.
“And we have another Justin Bieber show coming up in August and we hope this campaign keeps him on fans’ minds,” Feazell said.
Each venue indentifies its own competitors — for Feazell it’s the summertime amphitheatre shows, especially the country acts with native sons like Zac Brown Band, Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean. The growth of the Georgia-country sound, along with the mainstay roots of southern hip-hop, has meant an uptick in celebrities making appearances at Hawks basketball games, and Feazall said he’s been able to parlay that new relationship into increased bookings.
Stadium shows at the Georgia Dome also had a strong run with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw’s “Brothers of the Sun” tour, and a follow-up Chesney show with Zac Brown Band scheduled for August — both self-promoted shows.
“We’re always looking for who’s playing stadium shows — if they’re playing them, we’re going to make an offer since everything sells strong here,” said GM Carl Adkins. “In 2014, we’re going to take a run at bringing Taylor Swift to the building — she sold out her last Philips Arena show in 15 minutes so we know the demand is off the charts.”
At the Fox, Erwin said the building is moving away from the four-wall model into a promoter and co-promoter role. While the building’s two Broadway providers regularly bring content to the Fox, “changes in the music business have forced us to look at the idea of risk differently. While not taking risks has worked for years — revenue opportunities from that particular model are slowly drying up.”
Besides co-promotes and outright buys, the Fox has begun experimenting with renting out other facilities for special engagements. Last year, the building hosted “Spank,” a parody of the popular book “50 Shades of Gray” at the nearby Buckhead Theater.
Interviewed for this story: Carl Adkins, (404) 233-8800; Adina Erwin, (404) 881-2116; Trey Feazell, (404) 878-300; Dan Markham, (770) 813-7557; Allan Vella, (404) 881-2104