Billboard's 2017 Arena Power Players: The 20 Execs Who Run Venues & Keep People Safe
For concert venue executives, the world changed in 2017 when a suicide bomber killed 22 outside England’s Manchester Arena on May 22, and when a gunman took at least 58 lives at a festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1. Venue managers can sum up new security precautions in one word: more.
In addition to tighter security, ticketing technology, production complexity, higher-end concessions and keen competition for superstar tours have all raised the bar for today’s arena managers. And the stakes are high: The world’s top-grossing concert venues drive a significant part the touring industry’s estimated $25 billion-plus in annual revenue.
The Arena Power Players recognized here are chosen for their leadership the venues that dominate Billboard Boxscore worldwide rankings in two categories: buildings with a capacity 15,001 or more and those with a capacity 10,001 to 15,000. The rankings are based on ticket grosses reported to Boxscore in the first eight months the chart year: Nov. 8, 2016, through July 17, 2017. (Not all events taking place during this period are reported by venues). This year, buildings from the United States, Europe and Australia top those lists.
Top 10 Venues, 15,001-Plus Capacity
1. THE O2, LONDON
Boxscore gross, chart year to date: $119 million
John Langford, 46, VP/GM, The O2
“Immediately after the terror attacks in Manchester and on London Bridge in June], we essentially doubled our site security, and we continually review security,” says Langford, who came from the SSE Hydro arena in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2016 to succeed Rebecca Kane as head The O2. Retaining its long-held position as the world’s highest-grossing concert venue, The O2 this summer celebrated its 10th anniversary with sellouts by Céline Dion and Ed Sheeran. “Commercially, we’re having our best year ever,” says the Johannesburg-born father two, who’s also overseeing the construction a designer outlet village at The O2 that will “bring a significant amount daytime traffic to the venue.”
2. MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, NEW YORK
Darren Pfeffer, 41, executive vp, MSG Live
Pfeffer didn’t have time for a learning curve when he joined the Garden in May after a 20-year stretch at iHeartMedia. “We made history this summer with 13 nights Phish,” says the Texas native, “and at the same time, we did 16 nights Dave Chappelle at MSG-operated] Radio City Music Hall.” Residencies and multi-night shows are the focus right now, with Billy Joel in the fourth year his monthly residency. “It’s important that artists know that they can park a production here,” he says. “MSG is no longer just a venue for one night — it’s really a place where you can stay and feel at home.”
3. T-MOBILE ARENA, LAS VEGAS
Dan Quinn, 41, VP/GM
The mass shooting at the outdoor Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 took place only a mile down the Las Vegas Strip from the T-Mobile Arena. Although Las Vegas law allows carrying a concealed firearm with a permit, all weapons and large bags have been prohibited at the arena since the day it opened in April 2016. In comments he made before the shooting, Quinn said that the biggest issue facing venues now “is the ability to ensure] guest and employee safety.”
4. MANCHESTER ARENA, MANCHESTER, ENGLAND
James Allen, 44, GM
It was the right song from the right artist in the right place.
The Oasis hit “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” performed by Oasis co-founder and Manchester native Noel Gallagher, was an emotional highlight the benefit concert that reopened the Manchester Arena on Sept. 9, nearly four months after a suicide bomber killed 22 people outside the venue during an Ariana Grande show.
Like the all-star One Love Manchester benefit concert for the bombing victims, co-headlined by Grande and broadcast worldwide on June 4 from the Old Trafford cricket ground, the September event at the arena promised healing through the power music.
“All the industry has rallied around us to understand what we have gone through,” says Allen the SMG-operated venue. “Not just as a building, but as a city. Manchester’s a music city, and it very much needs live music.”
Manchester Arena, one the top-grossing venues in the world, is refilling its calendar. Neil Diamond played the building on Oct. 1, and upcoming concerts include Lady Antebellum on Oct. 4, J. Cole on Oct. 21 and Metallica on Oct. 28. As the venue once again welcomes fans, Allen reflected on what followed the attack on May 22.
On loss and coping: “When you’re an arena manager, you can do as much training as you like, but you don’t know how you’re going to react at the time. This was the ultimate test. I’m pleased I’ve been able to fer support to my team. Everyone there on the night did a fantastic job. I’ve been able to deal with all the issues that have come through. And I’m coming out the other side.”
On shutting down the arena: “Canceling one show is tricky. Canceling 23 shows across 14 promoters, like we had to, is really tricky. The support from promoters was great. Not just promoters, but other arena managers, artists and managers, agents, friends from all around the world.”
On protecting music fans: “Our business is to sell tickets, and if someone doesn’t feel comfortable coming to the arena, then they won’t buy a ticket. So, a lot what we do, and what all the industry is doing, is taking security measures] to give a bit more confidence to people.”
On reopening: “One the nice things about getting back to business is that I’m now finally starting to find the time to get back to people and say thanks. SMG World in America, AEG, Live Nation, SJM Concerts, the National Arenas Association — and the general public — have all been hugely supportive.”
5. BARCLAYS CENTER, BROOKLYN
Brett Yormark, 51, CEO, Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment
From downtown Brooklyn, Yormark is building a small venue empire. The New Jersey native and father two has earned two spots on the Arena Power Players list, overseeing the Barclays Center and the newly renovated and reopened NYCB LIVE: Home the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., both top-grossing arenas in their respective capacity classes. “We’re in this business to grow,” says Yormark. As Barclays marks its fifth anniversary this fall, Yormark will soon take on oversight Brooklyn’s reopened Paramount Theater and Manhattan’s Webster Hall, a joint venture with AEG.
6. STAPLES CENTER, LOS ANGELES
Lee Zeidman, 62, president, Staples Center/Nokia Theatre/L.A. Live
Adele’s eight-night run at the Staples Center in July 2016 (grossing $13.8 million) and Drake’s three nights in September 2016 were just two recent high points for the arena, which, notes Zeidman, hosts up to 250 events a year, including some 35 concerts. It’s also home to four pressional sports teams — “and still has the schedule flexibility” for major events like the Grammy Awards and the NHL All-Star Game. A Detroit native who has lived in California since age 9, Zeidman is overseeing a $20 million renovation all concession areas, suites and VIP seating “without losing any events or shutting down the venue.”
7. PRUDENTIAL CENTER, NEWARK, N.J.
Scott O’Neil, 46, CEO, Philadelphia 76ers/New Jersey Devils/Prudential Center
On O’Neil’s watch, the Prudential Center, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, has become an unexpected hotspot for K-pop in the New York area, presenting both KCON and multiple nights supergroup BTS among the venue’s 22 recent sellouts. Next up, on Oct. 20, the arena will open the Grammy Museum Experience, the first East Coast outpost the Los Angeles-based museum. When he’s not hosting concerts, O’Neil oversees the NHL’s Devils and the NBA’s 76ers. “I’m constantly on the move,” he says. (Off hours, he’s devoted to other teams, coaching basketball for his daughters, ages 10, 14 and 17.)
8. AMERICAN AIRLINES CENTER, DALLAS
Dave Brown, 57, CEO/GM
Don Henley may be forever identified with songs Southern California, but the Eagles co-founder celebrated his 70th birthday in his native Texas with a concert at the American Airlines Center. “If we had a house entertainer, it would be Don Henley,’’ says Brown, noting the Eagles opened the Dallas arena in 2001. During the past year the venue hosted 43 concerts — a facility record, says Brown, a native Houston. “If there was a major show out there,” he says, “we had it go through our building.”
9. SPORTPALEIS, ANTWERP, BELGIUM
Jan Van Esbroeck, 54, CEO, Sportpaleis Group
“Like the whole Europe, we are now facing new and different safety and security issues,” says Van Esbroeck, a father two, who notes that terrorist attacks in Brussels in 2016 caused the Sportpaleis to tighten its procedures. “People feel more comfortable knowing that their safety is being taken care .” With a capacity 23,000, Sportpaleis remains an essential tour stop “for every big act who wants to collect a nice gross, ten more than once.” Among those playing multiple-night runs in 2017 were Depeche Mode, Drake and Belgian pop group Clouseau.
10. THE FORUM, LOS ANGELES
Shelli Azf, 61, managing partner, Azf MSG Entertainment
Nick Spampanato, 49, senior vp/GM, West Coast, Madison Square Garden Company
It has been four years since concerts by the Eagles christened the reopened Forum, and the Brooklyn-born Spampanato still recalls the late Glenn Frey calling the renovated arena “the best-sounding building in the business.” For Azf, The Forum is a music landmark whose legacy she closely guards. “We care so much about this building,” says Azf, the wife Irving Azf, chairman/CEO the firm that runs The Forum. “Every night we want the fans to have a great time and know that we’re in this for the long term.”
Top 10 Venues, 10,001-15,000 Capacity
1. SSE HYDRO, GLASGOW, SCOTLAND
Debbie McWilliams, 46, head live entertainment sales and ticketing, Scottish Event Campus
Since the SSE Hydro opened its doors in 2013, “Glasgow has become a must-play destination on any major tour,” says McWilliams, who joined operator Scottish Event Campus in 1989 fresh out college and climbed the ranks to become head live entertainment in 2015. She credits a recent 15-concert run over 11 nights Scottish comedy show Still Game, alongside sellouts from Bruno Mars and Justin Bieber, with contributing to the venue’s stellar box-fice results. Her favorite show at the SSE Hydro? “I’ve got to say Prince,” in 2014. “It was like an amazing ’70s disco club night.”
2.HALLENSTADION, ZURICH, SWITZERLAND
Felix Frei, 57, CEO
Hallenstadion’s booking calendar is equally divided among sporting events, corporate functions and concerts, but “the most volatile part is the music and shows,” says Frei, who splits his time between Zurich and the Alpine region Lenzerheide. The venue executive is concerned that the Swiss touring market may be saturated as artists book festivals on top arena dates. Yet Frei reports that Hallenstadion just had its second-best year with “140 shows and more than 1 million attendance.”
3.BARCLAYCARD ARENA, HAMBURG, GERMANY
Steve Schwenkglenks, 45, GM, Anschutz Entertainment Group
The loss its two sports teams as tenants in 2016 prompted Barclaycard Arena to rethink its booking strategy. “We have been very successful with that,” says Schwenkglenks, who was promoted to GM in March after seven years at the AEG-owned venue. He credits investment in the building, allowing 12 different audience configurations, with helping make up for any booking shortfall. “That brought us a lot new content,” says Schwenkglenks, a native Reutlingen in southwest Germany. Recent performances from Iron Maiden, Shawn Mendes and German rocker Udo Lindenberg boosted the arena’s grosses.
4. NYCB LIVE: HOME OF THE NASSAU VETERANS MEMORIAL COLISEUM, UNIONDALE, N.Y.
Brett Yormark, 51, CEO, Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment
(See Barclays Center entry.)
5. PERTH ARENA, PERTH, AUSTRALIA
Michael Scott, 50, GM, Perth Arena/AEG Ogden
Challenged to bring tours to one the globe’s most remote capital cities, Scott says Perth is “spoiled for choice.” Three nights this past January by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band and spring dates by Green Day, Santana and the Dixie Chicks helped Perth Arena’s standing. Scott, a native the capital Western Australia, says “fans are still buying plenty tickets despite a ster economy. But they are more discerning about what they attend — and more sensitive to ticket price.”
6. VAN ANDEL ARENA, GRAND RAPIDS, MI
Richard MacKeigan, 50, regional GM, SMG/Van Andel Arena
Performances at the Van Andel Arena by Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, Eric Church and others contributed to what MacKeigan reports was the “best fiscal year ever” at the 20-year-old venue. A Montreal native and father three, MacKeigan says that even at his Midwest venue, security is his most pressing issue, “given what the world is witnessing these days.” For venue management firm SMG, he says, “safety — for our employees, the guests and the artists — is always our first concern.”
7. BRISBANE ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE, BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA
Trish McNamara, 47, GM
Hosting Australian tours this past year by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood would be bragging rights for most arena managers. But ask McNamara about the highlight her year, and the Queensland native describes arranging group tickets to Disney on Ice: Frozen for 60 girls under age 15, all with autism. For many, it was their first time at an arena performance. “I spoke with a mother who was crying and asked if I could help,” recalls McNamara. “All she said was, ‘I never thought my child would see a show like all the other kids.’ It was overwhelming to her.”
8. MGM GRAND GARDEN ARENA, LAS VEGAS
Nathalie Binette, 51, executive director
“MGM Resorts has always held the safety our guests at the highest level,” said Binette, in comments she made before the Oct. 1 mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival site, a five-minute drive from the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Like its sister venue, the T-Mobile Arena, the MGM Grand prohibits all weapons, including firearms carried with permits, inside the venue. In her earlier comments, Binette added: “We aggressively pursue the leading-edge technology to stay ahead any potential threats to our venue, our guests and employees.”
9. INFINITE ENERGY CENTER, DULUTH, GA
Dan Markham, 54, executive director booking
At the Infinite Energy Center, 30 miles northeast Atlanta, Markham checked a major item f his career bucket list by booking Paul McCartney’s July 23 performance. “It broke the single-night gross ticket sales record for the facility, at $2.3 million,” says Markham, a native Troy, N.Y., who has been at the Georgia venue since 2009. A rising concern? Growing competition for acts from an increasing number concert facilities, including amphitheaters, says Markham. “I joke that anybody with an acre grass and some lawn chairs has decided to become a venue.”
10. 3ARENA, DUBLIN
Cormack Rennick, 55, GM, Live Nation Entertainment
“The cranes are back in Dublin’s skyline,” says Rennick, remarking on the rebounding Irish economy, which is prompting multiple-night bookings at the 3Arena by acts including comic Billy Connolly, Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran. “Ed did two shows,” says Rennick, who started his career booking bands while studying at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. “We could have done 22 with him, or even 222.” Managing a venue just 160 miles across the Irish Sea from Manchester, Rennick says the “horrific events” last May have “made everyone really security-aware. It’s the reality that we live in now.”
Contributors: Lars Brandle, Dave Brooks, Adrienne Gaffney, Andy Gensler, Mitchell Peters, Richard Smirke
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 14 issue Billboard.