Dan Beckerman, CEO of AEG; Ken Ehrlich, Ken Ehrlich Productions; Harriet Ehrlich and Neil Portnow, president, and CEO of The Recording Academy, enjoy the AEG VIP party prior to the 56th annual Grammy Awards Jan. 26.
REPORTING FROM LOS ANGELES — Hosting the Grammys, subtitled “music’s biggest night,” means the arena is entertaining the industry it hopes will pass through the doors again and again with touring shows. The 56th annual Grammy Awards at Staples Center here Jan. 26 accomplished the goal in spades.
The flawless and entertaining evening of remarkable performances is much more than a television show, though ratings were also great. For Lee Zeidman, VP and general manager of Staples Center and Nokia Theater for AEG, the victory was especially sweet because his arena is competing with a newly-renovated game in town – The Forum in Inglewood – which has been receiving a lot of press this month with its grand reopening with multiple shows by the Eagles.
The spotlight was firmly repositioned Sunday night to illuminate all Staples Center has to offer and, behind the scenes, the AEG crew was working hard to impress the acts, agents and promoters who performed, presented, and attended the event.
The show has grown in size each year. Staples Center has hosted it 14 of the last 15 years and has already booked it for next year – Feb. 8, 2015.
How much bigger was it? “We had 340,000 pounds of gear hanging in our ceiling. We literally had to take out part of our sound system and part of our lighting rigs to make sure we had enough capacity,” Zeidman said, when seen on the floor overseeing event night. That’s up from 300,000 pounds last year, he said. And there were “50 more motors, 320 motors up there to hang all that weight.”
What if it’s bigger again next year. “We’re rated for 350,000 pounds, but if you spread it out a little bit more and if we took our complete sound system out or more of our lighting, we could punch it up and put other stuff out. We have a structural engineer look at and sign off on all the plans and make sure we’re safe.”
12 LONG DAYS
“The amount of scenery and what the acts chose to portray as their performances went above and beyond anything we’ve ever done in the building before,” Zeidman said.
It took 60 53-foot semitrucks to deliver all the gear to the building during the course of the week, and that doesn’t include smaller deliveries. And it was out within 30 hours, ready for a Los Angeles Lakers basketball game Jan. 28.
“Our guys are the best in the business and understand what needs to be done,” Zeidman said. That’s a big part of what he is showcasing for the industry.
The Recording Academy used every piece of real estate in the one-million-square-foot building – clubs, meeting rooms, suites, and seats – and it all had to be put back together. Crews removed 2,000 seats for the Grammys. In addition, AEG hosted its annual party for the industry on City View Terrace, pre and postshow, all under tent and themed to focus on Staples Center and Nokia Theatre.
Zeidman said the AEG production crew totaled about 1,700 people. Based on credentialing for talent escorts, staff and additional security for the Recording Academy and Ken Ehrlich Productions, which produced the event, he estimated an additional 2,000 staff were on hand for Grammy Day.
Lee Zeidman, GM of Staples Center, shows off the theme at the AEG party. (Photo by Juan Ocampo, Staples Center)
The pretel ceremonies took place at Nokia Theater this year. In the past, that show had been at neighboring Los Angeles Convention Center, which did host a post-Grammys taping of a tribute to the Beatles which airs Feb. 9. Zeidman would have loved to have booked that post show as well at Nokia Theater, but the venue was contracted to a corporate group, the American Lodging Institute, which began its meetings there Monday. “We did a deal with them that allowed us to do the Grammys pretel Sunday night, which was their first load-in date.” They then used the pretel Grammys set for their meetings.
AEG built a chute across Chick Hearn Way from Nokia Theater into Staples Center so no one had to leave the property. The plan is to do the same next year and, if there is a postshow, piggy-backing on the artists in town for a second Recording Academy telecast, Zeidman hopes to host that as well.
The Recording Academy (National Association of Recording Arts & Sciences) booked two prerig days, Jan.14 and 15, and, due to a quirk in the schedule, began load in a day ahead of schedule, Jan. 16. Move-in continues through Jan. 22, rehearsals are Jan. 23-25, and show day, Jan. 26, so they were in the building for 12 days.
EXPENSES VERSUS INCOME
AEG partners with The Recording Academy, meaning it is a rent-free night. Arena expenses are passed through to the users and were budgeted at about $800,000, but will probably come in under $700,000, Zeidman said. “We do not mark anything up.” Stagehand costs are separate and are incurred by Ken Ehrlich Productions.
AEG sells 110 of the 150 suites, plus the hockey announce boxes and the press box, and retains that income. AEG also receives income from concessions and merchandise. “It’s a good event for the building financially and in terms of PR and goodwill and the ability and opportunity to talk to artists, agents and performers,” Zeidman said.
Food and beverage per caps were just under $50, based on an attendance of 12,000, for a total of $600,000 for Levy Restaurants, Zeidman said. Perhaps $20,000 of that was from concessions, he added. “From a premium standpoint, we do a tremendous amount of food and beverage.” Levy puts together a very exclusive promotional piece with Grammy menus.
There is no parking income – “This is a limo-driven crowd,” he noted, adding Staples Center has limited parking anyway. But AEG Merchandise does make some income.
Sean Ryan, VP, AEG Merchandise, said merch sales were up about 10 percent from last year, to $162,000. AEG sells a wide variety of merchandise at various locations on site all week and on the website, grammystore.com. Prices range from $10-$150.
The big piece this year was fleece, Ryan said. Everything sold is exclusive to Staples Center and the Grammys.
Lee Zeidman, bottom right, looks on during the Grammy Awards. (VT Photo)
A BRANDING ORGY
But the value is in the branding. “We are the home of Music’s Biggest Night and we have them there for the entire week,” Zeidman said. “We get to interact with artists, agents, managers and talent. We make sure we take care of every artist here.”
The push begins with finding out what they want in food and beverage in their dressing rooms. AEG staffers meet with management teams and greet each artist arriving in the building with a personalized gift. This year, AEG gave them a sound system by JBL, branded with Grammy and Staples Center logos and the date of the show. During the production, staff keeps in close touch with artists and promoters making sure their every request is handled. Promoters book suites, but AEG also hosts them with an open bar and food spread in the Chairman’s Room, where just about every name in the business is seen networking.
“We host as an open bar for talent, promoters, artists and agents – passes to our party and passes to the Chairman’s Room. We gave out 50 sound systems, to the primary people on the show and principals from NARAS and to Ken Ehrlich Productions, our partners,” Zeidman said.
The payback is ongoing. Staples Center hosted 53 concerts last year, Zeidman said, thanks in part to a lot of multiples. This year, he’s estimating they will do 33-38 concerts, which is very good business. The best year ever before last year was 38 concerts, and when Staples Center first opened, it was more common to do 25.
Success hinges on how well they push Staples Center and L.A. Live (the entire campus) during Music’s Biggest Night.
Social media has become a big part of the puzzle. What was a one-woman endeavor in 2009 now numbers 11 staff, including three photographers, said Cara Vanderhook, AEG communications and marketing manager.
She provided some stats on coverage internationally through social media. From Staples Center accounts, she reported 46 Facebook posts, 58 Instagram posts, and 63 Tweets sent or retweeted.
The most popular Facebook post was Jay Z & Beyoncé opening the show photos with 2,981 likes and 99 shares.
The most popular Tweet was Kaskade on the red carpet. It helped that his account retweeted the Staples Center-produced photo; it had 407 Retweets and 705 Favorites.
To her surprise the other popular Tweet was “an overall iPhone photo that I took of the 33 couples getting married during the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis performance which had 211 RT and 170 Favorites,” Vanderhook said. The photo was taken from the top of the venue (social media headquarters) with her iPhone, so quality and angle were not premo, but it got the attention.
Grammys photos posted by fans totaled 2,415; videos, 274. A normal Kings/Clippers/Lakers game averages 500-700 photos and 100-200 videos, she said, to put it in perspective. Among three photographers on the red carpet, shooting the AEG party and the show, she logged over 10,000 photos taken, taking up 49GB.
The biggest production challenge for Zeidman’s crew was probably during “Get Lucky” with Pharrell, Daft Punk and Stevie Wonder. The set featured a “recording studio” that was hung and hidden in the ceiling and dropped down to be put together during a commercial for the number.
Zeidman chalked this Grammy Awards up as flawless. “The only calls from a building standpoint we got were 'could you make it a little colder in the Chairman’s Room and a little warmer in some of the dressing rooms for the artists?' There was one incident of fake credentials – he was arrested.”
This year’s AEG party was themed Staples Center and L.A. Live because “we want to make sure the music industry focuses on us. We strongly believe we still are the preferred venue of choice in Southern California for concerts.”
He loved catering to all the big acts touring this year.
Interviewed for this story: Lee Zeidman, (213) 742-7255; Sean Ryan, (213) 742-7235; Cara Vanderhook, (213) 742-7273