DANCING CUBS: Dead & Company perform at Chicago’s Wrigley Field in 2017. They’re scheduled to be back for two shows in September. (Don Muret / Staff)
Top names, multi-act packages returning for summer, with more to come next year
The Texas Rangers were poised to open Globe Life Field with a bang on March 14, 2020, leading off with a stadium concert showcasing Chris Stapleton, a Grammy-winning country superstar, and Willie Nelson, the toast of Texas.
The $1.2 billion ballpark, designed for live music as much as baseball, was on track for a sellout crowd of 40,000 until things changed drastically two days before the show.
“We had already loaded in the flooring and the stage, and most of the steel was hung, and we were getting ready to load in the rest of production on that terrible day when everything shut down,” said Sean Decker, the Rangers’ executive vice president of sports and entertainment.
“Watching that come in and then go back out without a show was disappointing for everybody,” Decker said.
The pandemic effectively killed live entertainment over the past 15 months, including stadium concerts, which provide a lucrative revenue stream for big league teams. Unlike their sports-related revenue, that income does not have to be shared with other clubs under their respective leagues’ revenue-sharing models.
Considering MLB teams played in empty stadiums last year and most with limited crowds for the first two months of the 2021 season, any additional revenue is a welcome sight after they all suffered huge financial losses in ticket sales and in-venue concessions and merchandise.
Overall, stadium concerts are still driven by teams’ desire to maximize revenue and date availability, said officials with MLB clubs interviewed for this story.
In that respect, the tide is beginning to turn. As North America slowly starts to rebound from COVID-19, the powerful spectacle of stadium concerts returns this summer with some major acts committing to playing in 2021.
START OF A DELUGE
It’s just the beginning of what is expected to be a flood of stadium tours going out next year, according to industry sources, effectively forcing concertgoers to choose which shows they can attend without breaking their bank accounts.
“Next year and 2023 and even going into ‘24 are going to be crazy business in the stadium world, and I look forward to it,” said Todd Stewart, a longtime supplier of on-field seating for stadium concerts dating to the George Strait Country Music Festival in the 1990s.
“It’s easier to go out this year,” Stewart said. “Realistically, everyone wants the weekend dates in a stadium, but between the teams in those facilities and the time it takes to set up and tear down a show, there’s very limited inventory out there.”
This year, those committing to tour stadiums include Dead & Company, Maroon 5, Guns N’ Roses, and the Hella Mega Tour featuring Green Day, Fallout Boy and Weezer, set for 20 stadiums, including 15 MLB venues. Garth Brooks booked a half-dozen stadium dates for 2021, a few of which were postponed from last year.
Some stadium concerts were confirmed in early June, six weeks before the first shows take place in late July.
New dates were added, such as Guns N’ Roses at Hersheypark Stadium in Pennsylvania, where the group is set to kick off a 25-show route that extends to 10 stadium dates.
Some traditional stadium acts such as Kenny Chesney and Billy Joel opted to postpone shows for a second year, to 2022, after originally pushing 2020 dates to this year. (Billy Joel is booked for three stadium shows this year at Fenway Park in Boston, Highmark Stadium in Buffalo and Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati).
The same is true for the Mötley Crüe/Def Leppard/Poison/Joan Jett & The Blackhearts package, which made the decision to postpone for a second consecutive summer after initially selling out 26 of 30 stadiums on its itinerary.
For all stadium tours, it’s been a tough call tied to a multitude of factors that go beyond filling open dates in teams’ schedules, whether it’s baseball, football or soccer.
In a typical year, that’s the primary concern for promoters and agents. Now, COVID-19 adds a complicated layer of issues on top of the standard puzzle for squeezing live music between homestands.
“Dates and availability have never been harder in our industry,” Decker said.
Without naming specific acts, Decker said that in some cases tours weren’t ready to order production equipment because they weren’t sure when they would be able to hit the road. The best decision was to postpone until 2022.
Joe Berchtold, president of Live Nation, the world’s biggest concert promoter, alluded to that issue at the recent JP Morgan Global Technology, Media & Communications Conference.
“The big tours will still be largely in 2022,” Berchtold said. “Just from a lead perspective, they need to get their production together, their team together, to prepare. What we’re seeing in 2021 is out of the gate.”
In other instances, the question over the aging rocker issue comes into play, putting them at higher risk from a contagious disease, although nobody’s talking about it specifically.
The Rolling Stones, for example, have three members in their mid-70s, and drummer Charlie Watts just turned 80. As of early July there was still no word from the band on rescheduling 15 stadium dates postponed from 2020, but the thinking might be that they would rather see further separation from COVID by waiting until 2022 to hit the road again.
Bottom line, every stadium tour going out in 2021 is selling tickets for 100% capacity. They know that some markets have not yet reached that threshold, but they see encouraging signs as they monitor the increases in vaccination rates.
Officials representing the Mötley Crüe package referred to the uncertainty over restricted capacity in announcing the tour’s most recent postponement.
THINGS CHANGE QUICKLY
One thing is certain: It’s been a roll of the dice for everyone involved in mapping stadium tours.
“One thing we all learned in the entertainment industry was how fluid and quickly things have changed over the past 14 months, for good and bad,” said Kevin Beale, the Philadelphia Phillies’ director of suite sales and business ventures. “I wasn’t as optimistic that these shows would be happening when we had these conversations in March and April, based on where things stood as a country.”
But as vaccinations rapidly increased and more cities and states reopened for business, including Pennsylvania, the Phillies were allowed to open their ballpark June 12 at full capacity. As a result, the prospect of booking concerts for August became a no-brainer, Beale said.
Citizens Bank Park will play host to back-to-back shows Aug. 20-21 with the Hella Mega Tour and Dead & Company, respectively. Dead & Company was added in mid-May when the band announced a 31-date tour with five stadium shows.
“We’ve been following sports as a company and an industry. We’re watching what happens with baseball, which is the real map to what music is going to look like this summer.” — RICK ROSKIN
The demographic equation didn’t deter Dead & Company from going out this summer. The band’s Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman, all members of the original Grateful Dead, are in their 70s.
Beale said, “Next year could be a really crowded space in the concert world, so maybe they thought if they could do it in the various cities this year that will allow them to have full capacity, then ‘let’s go for it.’”
The Hella Mega Tour was among stadium tours postponed from 2020 and which included Citizens Bank Park. Through Ticketmaster policy, ticket buyers could get refunds last year for a limited time. In Philly, most people hung on to their tickets and the relaunch of ticket sales has picked up steam, Beale said.
“Both of those shows will be where we need them to be with sellout crowds,” he said.
At one point this year, the Chicago Cubs had six concerts booked for Wrigley Field. The total number has been a moving target, with Chris Stapleton and the Mötley Crüe package now postponed until 2022.
Five shows remain intact at Wrigley Field. Most recently, Lady Gaga, previously scheduled for Aug. 27, was postponed with no new date announced.
Guns N’ Roses at Wrigley was moved from July 21 to Sept. 16, one day before Dead & Company’s Sept. 17-18 doubleheader at the venue.
The Cubs, in conjunction with Live Nation, have booked multiple concerts at the ballpark every season for about 15 years. They typically don’t schedule those events in September because of the potential for damage to the natural grass field late in the regular season.
The Cubs have been a playoff contender over the past six years, and it would be the worst time to have something happen to the playing surface, said Colin Faulkner, the team’s executive vice president of marketing and sales and chief commercial officer.
In addition, the windows of opportunity for holding concerts in September are much smaller than during the All-Star break in July, for example, and artists prefer touring outdoors during the peak summer months, Faulkner said.
But this year is something completely different, considering the pandemic.
“I talked to (Cubs president of baseball operations) Jed Hoyer about it just to make sure he was good on the baseball side,” Faulkner said. “We all kind of agreed this is a different year and not a normal thing. Wrigley Field is one of Dead & Company’s ‘tent poles’ with multiple shows, and they love playing in this ballpark.”
In general, as the pandemic wanes, the concert industry is following sports’ lead for confirming tours. For stadium shows, ballparks opening at 100% for baseball in major cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and Boston dictates what will happen with live music, said Rick Roskin, a talent agent with Creative Artists Agency.
“We’ve been following sports as a company and an industry,” Roskin said. “We’re watching what happens with baseball, which is the real map to what music is going to look like this summer.”
Even then, sometimes things don’t work out as planned.
‘STARVED FOR LIVE MUSIC’
The Minnesota Twins will end up playing host to one show this summer at Target Field. Hella Mega is set for Aug. 23 in Minneapolis. The MLB team lost another summer stadium show to the NHL arena in St. Paul.
“We were holding Guns N’ Roses as a carryover (from 2020) that went on sale in 2019,” said Laura Day, the Twins’ executive vice president and chief business officer. “They canceled our July date (in favor of a) September show at Xcel Energy Center. It’s more right-sized based on the tickets we sold, which was a little over 12,000.”
As of early June, the Twins had sold 32,000 tickets for Hella Mega and they hope to get upwards of 38,000 to 39,000 for the show, Day said.
On July 5, the Twins are allowed to go full capacity for baseball at Target Field. The concert will follow at 100%.
“Fans are starved for live music,” Day said.
The same is true in Texas, where Hella Mega kicks off July 24 at Globe Life Field, followed by the long-awaited Chris Stapleton show Aug. 21. The stadium is on the Mötley Crüe route that goes out in 2022.
For the Rangers, almost 2 1/2 years will have passed from the time they first announced that Chris Stapleton would christen the venue to his actual performance, Decker said.
“It should be a lot of fun — we can’t wait. There’s a ton of anticipation,” he said. “We expect a packed house and we’ll party just as hard but just a little later in the calendar that we had hoped to.”
Globe Life Field was on the front end of going full capacity for baseball starting April 5, the date of the Rangers’ 2021 regular-season home opener.
It came after the ballpark saw lots of activity in 2020 during the pandemic with restricted capacity, playing host to the National League Championship Series, the World Series, National Finals Rodeo, eight parking lot concerts and 60-plus graduations.
“We spent so much time making sure that it was the best baseball stadium in the country, and beyond that, we wanted it to be a world-class entertainment venue,” Decker said. “We haven’t really had the full opportunity to do that. Starting in July, it will be the first time to showcase some of the great things in the music world that we hope to do.”
For Stewart, the Charlotte-based portable seating supplier, 2021 provides a nice bounceback after doing zero business last year. His firm, Concert Chairs, will provide on-field seats for about 40 shows this summer across the Hella Mega, Garth Brooks and Guns N’ Roses tours.
In a typical year, his company has 45,000 chairs that travel across multiple tours on the stadium concert circuit.
“My fingers are crossed, like everyone else,” Stewart said. “For the general ticket holder, all they think is they have to buy a ticket and the band’s going to show up, but there’s an awful lot of pieces to the puzzle behind it that makes these things happen.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.