COWBOY UP: Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum held a rodeo in the middle of basketball season as ASM Global strives to book more events at Wake Forest’s arena. (Courtesy ASM Global)
One year in, ASM Global reshapes Wake Forest venue biz
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The unmistakable smell of a country barnyard welcomed patrons as they entered Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum to attend the Cinch World’s Toughest Rodeo in late January. Farmers refer to the scent of manure as “the smell of money,” tied to their crops and prized livestock.
For ASM Global, which runs Wake Forest’s basketball arena, officials hope that theme extends to the ACC school’s campus.
The third-party management firm, which runs about 25 college venues across North America, has been in place for one year now after Wake Forest officially announced a multiyear agreement with ASM Global in January 2023. John Currie, Wake’s athletic director, decided to outsource those duties shortly after he took over the reins in March 2019.
The process started in 2013 after Wake Forest purchased the arena from the city of Winston-Salem, in exchange for assuming debt and taking over the responsibility for upkeep and deferred maintenance. After completing a 10-year booking deal with the Greensboro Coliseum Complex, Currie put the management contract out to bid and Wake Forest officials selected ASM Global for the job.
“We felt coming out of the pandemic, we had an opportunity to elevate how we were marketing the arena,” Currie told VenuesNow. “By the end of (the shutdown), our facilities staff was down to one person because people left as other opportunities arose and we were out of the events business. From my perspective as an athletic director, I’m not qualified to know, for example, whether the rigging is done right. ASM Global brings expertise and redundancy and a higher level of safety.”
Apart from Lawrence Joel, which opened in 1989, ASM Global provides support services for Allegacy Federal Credit Union Stadium, Wake Forest’s 35,000-seat football venue, and 3,823-seat David F. Couch Ballpark. The Demon Deacons, ranked No. 1 in the country in Baseball America’s 2024 preseason college poll, start the season at home against Fordham on Feb. 16.
The Wake Forest Tennis Center, home of the annual Winston-Salem Open, an ATP event in men’s professional tennis, is another venue where ASM Global provides its support. Proof of the Pudding, Wake’s new concessionaire, provides the majority of food service for the tennis tournament, along with the football, basketball and baseball facilities.
Brandon Berry serves as ASM Global’s general manager at Wake Forest and he’s has been on the ground at Lawrence Joel since September 2022. Berry spent 17 years with Live Nation with stops in Boston and Atlanta, where he oversaw the opening of the Coca-Cola Roxy. The live music club is part of Battery Atlanta, the mixed-used development tied to Truist Park, home of MLB’s Atlanta Braves that’s become the go-to model for teams developing those entertainment districts.
Wake Forest is among those in the college space developing mixed-use projects tied to their sports facilities over the next decade.
First things first. ASM Global’s goal is to increase programming at Lawrence Joel, generate incremental revenue for the school and build the 14,400-seat arena into more of a community asset by booking more special events apart from ACC basketball. The rodeo, which played the arena Jan. 26-27, is one example of filling the arena calendar in the middle of hoops season, according to Berry.
Producing a dirt show one week before the next ACC basketball game is something athletic officials haven’t done a whole lot of prior to ASM Global coming on board, Berry said.
Wake Forest is part of the Piedmont Triad, which encompasses 1.3 million residents in Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point, and they should expect to see more events in general as the school and their partner finds more ways of reaching out to the community.
“One thing that I applaud the athletic department on is treating us as an extension of them. They don’t treat us as a contractor, which is ultimately what we are. But it’s almost like we’re an internal department,” he said.
Berry sits in on all of the athletic department’s senior staff meetings. Together, they run tabletop exercises to prepare for non-basketball events across the three facilities.
He’s also part of a major events task force to help prepare for activities on campus. The group, which includes representatives from the city, Forsyth County, local law enforcement agencies and the North Carolina Department of Transportation, was formed after issues with traffic control and parking for the Paul McCartney concert at the football stadium in May 2022.
It’s all about communication, regardless of the hat he wears, Berry said.
Discussions for booking the rodeo started last summer with Berry “spitballing” dates with the athletic department. ASM Global came up with a pro forma for the event and showed the potential upside for everybody involved in the operation. The due diligence process covered not only the profit and loss docket, but looking big picture at what it all means for the region with increased activity and its benefits.
World’s Toughest Rodeo, a touring property that dates to 1979 and which booked 20-plus arenas annually during its heyday in the 1990s, drew about 2,500 attendees on Friday night with a bigger crowd coming through on Saturday night. It wasn’t an overwhelming success, but it’s a good start for the first-time event in Winston-Salem, Berry said.
Upcoming shows at the arena include “Make It Last Forever,” an R&B show with Keith Sweat, Tyrese and Pretty Ricky (Feb. 25); plus comedians Gabriel Iglesias (March 23), Trevor Noah (April 30) and Bill Burr (May 18).
In addition, Lawrence Joel will play host to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association state championships in boys and girls basketball, March 11-16, a high-level event in a hotbed for hoops.
Demon Deacons basketball, the arena’s primary tenant, will average about 9,500 in attendance by the end of the regular season, a bigger number than half of the arenas in the ACC, according to Currie, and during a new era when new college basketball venues such as Moody Center and Foster Pavilion have smaller capacities compared with older buildings at Texas and Baylor.
At Wake Forest,, the arena’s 18 suites are getting upgraded, among other renovations. Proof of the Pudding created temporary grab-and-go setups by placing drink coolers in front of concession stands.
“We’re taking a closer look at near term improvements to the fan experience and to build a framework for what the longer term would look like,” Currie said.
“By college basketball standards, the norm is really 7,000 to 10,000 (in attendance),” he said. “We’re above the norm, but this building serves the whole community. We had 13 high school graduations last year, Winston-Salem State’s graduation, and have served as a FEMA shelter. There was a shooting incident at a local school (in 2021) and the arena was immediately identified as an evacuation point and a reunification center. It’s more than just Wake Forest basketball.”
For the upcoming college baseball season, Berry plans to add more activities to supplement ballgames at Couch ballpark for a team that has high expectations for 2024.
Last spring, ASM Global, in tandem with the athletic department, organized a watch party at the football stadium for fans that couldn’t get tickets to watch Wake Forest play in the sold-out NCAA super regionals at the ballpark. It came one week after ASM created the “Beers, Bats & Bites” craft beer festival tied to the regionals, which were also held at Wake Forest.
That add-on to the overall event didn’t draw a big crowd, Berry said, but it provided a great proof of concept. Athletic department officials asked ASM Global to stage something similar the following week for the super regionals.
The next best thing to being at the ballpark was watching the action on a portable LED videoboard next door, set up on the football stadiums concourse, supported by patio furniture and soft seating. Proof of the Pudding sold beer and set up food trucks to generate some revenue from the free admission format.
“We ended up having (200) people sitting in the football stadium watching on the big screen. It was well received,” Berry said. “When the athletic department concentrates on making sure everything is going well for the team and the fans, it gives us the opportunity to explore new things they don’t have the bandwidth to put together. Those are the kinds of things we get excited about.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.