Building stadiums and arenas – but not for sports

Concerts are lucrative, lucrative enough to construct buildings with 10,000-18,000 seats primarily for shows:

Los Angeles-based Oak View Group, an entertainment and sports-facilities company backed by private-equity giant Silver Lake, is slated to develop eight new arenas over the next three years, six of which will forgo major-league teams, largely to keep their calendars clear for concerts.

An arena can generate twice as much net income from hosting a concert than a National Basketball Association or National Hockey League game, according to Oak View. Live music is expected to balloon to $38 billion industry by 2030, from about $28 billion currently, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Oak View said being able to schedule twice as many concerts as it would otherwise with a professional team in house is an attractive prospect in markets including Palm Springs, Calif., and Austin, Texas. And as streaming is helping artists develop larger international audiences, markets including Manchester, U.K., and Milan are ripe for more arena shows, too…

The company said the arenas are being designed with music as the primary focus, from acoustics to VIP amenities. They will include fewer suites – a pet peeve of musical performers, who typically aren’t able to sell tickets for those seats – and add more clubs within the venue to entice concertgoers to linger before or after a show.

Multiple thoughts in response:

1. The ability to tweak the venue for music in multiple ways seems like a big win for artists and audience members. Instead of being in cavernous arenas that need enough floor space for a playing surface, everything can focus on a stage. It will be interesting to see how sound quality in new arenas like this compares to multi-use facilities.

2. This is a reminder that the big money in sports is not necessarily in attendance to games but rather in television rights and other revenue sources. Could this lead to a future with smaller sports arenas that provide an upgraded experience (it is already difficult to compete with large HD televisions) and more emphasis on what is built around the stadium?

3. Sports teams often ask for public money for facilities. And many communities seem willing to provide it, even when the evidence suggests it is not a good investment. Will music arenas also be funded with public money?

4. Since many larger cities already have arenas or stadiums, it will be interesting to see what mid-sized markets get music-only facilities. Some of the locations mentioned above are places without major sports teams (like Austin). But, I could imagine some of these facilities within large metropolitan markets in order to cater to musicians (imagine such a facility in the southwest or northern suburbs of Chicago taking away business from the United Center, Allstate Arena, and the Sears Centre).

5. Just as sports stadiums and arenas have limited games, these facilities will have a limited number of concerts each year. What else could the arenas be used for?

Naperville to add 6,600 seat indoor concert venue

While a new development in the northwest corner of Naperville seems to be primarily about ice hockey, the facility could also accommodate sizable concerts:

Extra landscaping to block sound will be negotiated into a plan for an ice rink and entertainment venue soon to be developed in Naperville.

CityGate Centre North will be a 209,589-square-foot facility with two NHL-regulation-sized ice rinks and seating for up to 4,600 for hockey games or 6,600 for concerts…

Ken Witkowski, senior vice president of Calamos Real Estate LLC and a former law enforcement official, said CityGate Centre North plans to be largely dedicated to hockey and ice skating uses with several local clubs and a semipro team. But owners are keeping their concert options open and Witkowski said they also could plan up to two concerts, expos or other entertainment events a month.

He said the concrete outer walls of the $60.2 million arena will absorb sound created inside, and security on site will “maintain proper decorum.”

Does a facility like this give Naperville a new edge in the competitive suburban entertainment scene? This would help fill a gap in the west suburban entertainment scene: a decent-sized concert venue. The northwest suburbs have the Sears Center and Allstate Arena. Gymnasiums on college campuses throughout the metropolitan region can host concerts. This sized facility would fit between larger (think United Center, Allstate Arena) and smaller venues (think theaters). It would also be in a wealthy community where plenty of nearby residents could pony up money for tickets.

At the same time, it is a little funny that a suburban concert venue will be constructed next to a retirement community, warehouses, and a nice hotel. There are a jumble of uses just off Route 59 north of I-88 and they are not necessarily all compatible.

It will also be interesting to see how much the concert potential affects the design of the facility. Could this accommodate high-tech shows? Could the hottest new acts be headed to Naperville, Illinois?

 

LA suburbs welcome raves for their economic benefits

Suburbs aren’t usually known for wanting to host raucous music events but the economic benefits are hard to resist for some Los Angeles suburbs:

All of the region’s biggest electronic dance music festivals are now held deep in the suburbs and exurbs of Southern California, centered in San Bernardino County. There, the rave scene has been largely welcomed by government officials and local businesses hoping for an economic boost from the large crowds.

But many of the problems that dogged the concert in L.A. — rampant drug use, overdose deaths and overwhelmed emergency rooms — have persisted…

In the Inland Empire, rave organizers have tapped large venues that can hold more concertgoers…

The debate over rave safety has largely focused on whether government agencies should allow the concerts to be held in publicly owned spaces. Some emergency room doctors have called for such a ban, saying hospitals are overwhelmed by drug overdose patients after raves.

Many suburbs are looking for ways to bring in more revenue through the arts events, whether that be art, theater, music, or some other form of creative expression. The primary advantage of such events is that they are temporary: vendors and people descend for a limited amount of time and money is generated. However, suburbs usually don’t take too kindly to noise, damage from a lot of concertgoers, and drug use and drug-related deaths. Suburbs tend to want to promote themselves as safe and family friendly.

Thus, we get a set of trade-offs: communities that need money versus typical suburban propriety. I would imagine the drug-related deaths will scare off more suburbs even as many communities look to bring in more money through similar events.

No “musical ensemble that was more sociological” than the Beatles

Looking back at the Beatles playing Shea Stadium in 1965, one radio personality the group was a sociological phenomena:

Fifty years ago, the Beatles changed the way America witnessed live music by performing the first stadium show of its size and scope. On Aug. 15, 1965, the boys from Liverpool played a record-shattering concert at New York’s Shea Stadium, which would be televised on BBC and ABC, immortalized in a documentary, and further the massive reach of Beatlemania in the ’60s. Legendary radio personality Cousin Brucie served as the announcer, and now, 50 years later, he says it still stands as the tipping point for turning concerts into must-see live spectacles…

The Shea Stadium show broke records in terms of profits and attendance; promoter Sid Bernstein said the event made $304,000, and 55,000 fans were at the stadium. Ed Sullivan’s iconic documentary about the event, The Beatles at Shea Stadium, culled footage from 12 cameras that documented the day, and captures the band at their peak of fame…

1965 was a pivotal year in both music history and American history, and Brucie remembers the Shea Stadium performance being one of biggest events that brought young people together for something that was pure enjoyment. “At that time in our nation, we needed something desperately to get our minds off some of the tragedy that was happening, the assassinations, racial strife and political problems,” he said. “Anybody who was at Shea Stadium, it’s like someone who was at Woodstock. You have to have been there.”

Experiencing live music has changed nearly completely since the Beatles took over Shea Stadium, and Brucie attests today’s music festivals and arena tours would not have existed without that one day in New York. “The [show] was really the beginning of major events that we we have today at stadiums. It was a precursor of everything. It was an experiment that worked very, very well. Today when people go to concerts, they go to listen to the music. There has never been a musical ensemble that was more sociological and garnered the emotion than this particular group, the Beatles,” he said.

Similar arguments have been made by many: the Beatles came about at the right time, the group was more than the sum of their parts and was able to amplify the hoopla (which also burned them out as they stopped touring one summer after the Shea Stadium concerts), and concerts in the 1960s were the place to be (from Shea Stadium to Woodstock).

But, the statement that “There has never been a musical ensemble that was more sociological” is interesting. What exactly does it mean? That they shaped broader society more than any other group? They are more fascinating to study and ponder than other groups? Everywhere they went was an interesting social scene? Their innovations were way ahead of other artists? Not too many groups could claim similar things and perhaps the time is past when a single music act or musical/social experience could truly get the attention of the world.

Listen to the full Shea Stadium concert here.

Using the Dave Matthews Caravan to help sell former US Steel Works site

The Dave Matthews Band has a proven track record for selling albums and filling large stadiums but now they are being asked to do more: showcase the 600 acre former US Steel Works site in south Chicago.

Early next month, in the first real use of the enormous lakefront land parcel since the plant finally closed in 1992, tens of thousands more will walk through a different set of gates. Instead of lunchboxes, they’ll be clutching tickets to a three-day, multiband rock event, the second stop of the Dave Matthews Band Caravan. The worker who checks their ticket may well be a volunteer, paid not with wages but with a ticket to the show…

Having the show there, in open space roughly centered on 83rd Street, was a risky choice: Land needed clearing, logistics needed developing, transportation needed planning. But to Jerry Mickelson, the partner in Chicago-based music promoter Jam Productions who brought Matthews and the old mill grounds together, it was a risk worth taking…

Where there were once 160 buildings, the only structures left on the property — which covers the lakefront from 79th Street on the north to 87th Street on the south — are massive masonry retaining walls once used to hold raw materials and a former clock house now used by a development company to show off its plans to turn the area into a bustling urban jewel…

What McCaffery wants to do, detailed in drawings and videos in the company’s on-site showroom, is dramatic — creation rather than a mere makeover.

In his plan, malls will be built, lakefront parkland donated, the city’s largest marina constructed, entire neighborhoods erected on ground that used to produce the raw materials of construction. It’s a $4 billion, 30- or 40-year plan, carved up into separate phases.

It sounds like this concert idea is a stepping stone to a larger plan for this sizable parcel and the article suggests most people, including local politicians, are happy with these concert plans. It sounds like a reasonable idea: the site is being clean, the concertgoers will only be there for a few days, the influx of people will presumably provide some boost to nearby businesses, and all of this could show off the viability of the site for more permanent uses.

But I would have a few questions about the long-term proposal for the site:

1. How does this concert and the big plans for future uses fit with the existing area? I imagine traffic could be a concern to some people.

2. The large long-term plan is contingent on extending Lake Shore Drive – who will pay for that?

3. Is there a need in Chicago for such a large mixed-use site, particularly this far away from the city center? If it is built, will they come?

Regardless of what happens in the long-term, this is a unique music festival site in Chicago and we’ll see if the Dave Matthews Band can also help sell real estate development.

Learning the norms of audience behavior at the orchestra concert

Going to a symphony orchestra concert of a major group, such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is an event: certain behavior is expected of the audience. An article from the Chicago Tribune offers some tips and a comment from a musician about how to learn about going to the orchestra:

It is extremely hard for anyone without significant exposure to classical music to truly understand it, he said.

“It’s something that has to be cultivated,” he said. “Beethoven’s music is filled with philosophy. …You can’t just come to one concert and understand it.”

But he hopes beginners try. One concert, after all, can lead to another. And another.

I would like to know when exactly symphony halls became places of quiet and decorum. If you read about classical music in the early 20th century, such as in The Rest Is Noise, some concerts, particularly those featuring modern music by the likes of Stravinsky and others, were places of displayed emotions. Classical music wasn’t just nice background music; it was music that was tied to bigger ideas and revolutionary thoughts.