Wembley Stadium’s James Taylor and Debbie McWilliams of the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow at Pollstar Live! (Gideon Gottfried)

James Taylor and Debbie McWilliams talk venues at Pollstar Live! 2019

Venues took center stage at Pollstar Live! 2019, when a panel of international stadium and arena operators addressed the current hot topics of the trade. 

Host Paul Korzilius of Bon Jovi Management and a consultant for Oak View Group, parent company of VenuesNow and Pollstar, opened the session by quoting the latest PwC forecast, which estimates the concert industry to be worth $31 billion by 2022.

“Music, as it gets bigger and bigger, becomes the primary tenant in a lot of buildings,” Korzilius said, before asking his panelists how they made sure live music would always have a home at their respective venues.

“We are quickly finding that stadiums are becoming old quickly,” James Taylor, senior commercial manager for Wembley Stadium, began. He said that in light of a new Tottenham Hotspur stadium opening in North London “we’re noticing that our stadium is in need of investment. We’ve put 10 million (pounds) into our hospitality facilities last year.”

Wembley is doing well in terms of the number of concerts it hosted annually,  but if the stadium intends to keep the standard number of events, Taylor said additional investment will be required to accommodate artists and promoters. “Around five or six years ago, we realized that a lot of promoters weren’t happy with our staffing,” he said. “So we’ve invested into music specialists and turned from being a sports venue which did music to a venue which really prioritizes music.” 

The SSE Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland, has invested between 500,000 and 700,000 pounds annually into its backstage, front of house and hospitality areas since the arena opened in September 2013.

“At the forefront of everything is customer experience, said Debbie McWilliams, the arena’s head of live entertainment. “Fans these days are buying experiences over things. We very much see ourselves as part of the overall experience. The artist delivers the show, but we have to deliver a venue that matches the quality of that show. That’s our commitment.”

In New Zealand, most venues are owned by the cities. According to Helen Glengarry, head of performance for Venues Wellington, there is only one building in the country partially owned by Live Nation, which makes it an open field for venue operators to come in and bring their expertise for running concert facilities.

Korzilius segued into security: Bad bathrooms, poor food service, terrible parking can all be mitigated, as long as the artist still performed well. “The second people don’t feel safe, we’re all in a lot of trouble,” he said.

Wembley Stadium, which hosts two NFL games a year, has learned “an awful lot” from their American guests, Taylor said. “We’re becoming a bagless venue now. We get 90,000 fans and no one will bring a bag in. We’ve just [launched] a bag-drop system, which costs us around $10,000 an event. We’re pushing checks further and further away from the stadium. We’ve invested in all sorts of bollards, so you can’t get a car near the ground now on event or non-event days.”

The SSE Hydro, which has a ban on large bags, also pushed back its external perimeters, so vehicles can’t get near the building. It also employs spotters that just watch people’s behavior. McWilliams emphasized proper communication with the audience creates comfort for people.

Going forward, ticketing technology is going to allow venue operators to know exactly who is in the building, not just the ticket purchaser but the people they’re bringing with them, too. While the venue operators are happy to pay whatever it takes to make their buildings safe, the increased costs are limiting the flexibility of the deals they can offer promoters.

One trend that will influence the work of venue operators going forward is the way people consume music. In the age of streaming, artists can break overnight and disappear from the scene again equally fast, making it difficult to breed loyalty around artists. McWilliams said, “While the longevity isn’t there, there is always something new coming along. That’s a big change, but it’s also a great opportunity.”