Billy Joel performs March 9 for a crowd of 40,964 at Chase Field in Phoenix. (Monica Bradburn/Arizona Diamondbacks)
MLB team’s new events division welcomes Billy Joel, WWE
When the Arizona Diamondbacks took control of non-baseball events last year, the staff hustled to show Phoenix and the world it is a worthy host.
The team formed Arizona Diamondbacks Events & Entertainment to handle all Chase Field events and has found success so far with college football’s Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 26, the WWE Royal Rumble on Jan. 27 and a Billy Joel concert on March 9 — all in 90 days.
“It’s been an exciting entry point, believe me,” said Cullen Maxey, the team’s executive vice president of business operations and chief revenue officer.
Between the Joel show and the Royal Rumble, Chase Field saw just under 90,000 people before baseball season started, he said. Throwing the Cheez-It Bowl raises the number to 125,000.
Before the creation of the team’s new division last June, Scottsdale-based Select Artists Associates was responsible for all non-baseball revenue at Chase Field.
Maxey said the team felt comfortable with corporate events and rentals but needed guidance with concerts. They looked down the street to Talking Stick Resort Arena and Ralph Marchetta, the venue’s senior vice president and general manager.
“The only area we felt we needed to get up to speed on is the world of concerts,” Maxey said. “That is where our comfort level with Ralph comes in. Many of us here have a relationship with Ralph and know his reputation in the industry.”
Marchetta, who’s booking special events for the Diamondbacks, said working together was a logical choice.
“We have a long relationship with the D-backs at Talking Stick Resort Arena,” he said. “When the opportunity came to help them out with booking Chase Field, in terms of non-baseball events, we were very interested in helping them with that process.
“We’re excited about the partnership with the D-backs. We think Chase Field is a great facility.”
Joel, in addition to being Arizona Diamondbacks Events & Entertainment’s first major concert, was Joel’s first Phoenix stadium show, Maxey said. It sold out, with Live Nation citing attendance at 40,964, including 11,000 fans seated on the floor.
It was a big night for the club. The show finished at No. 3 on VenuesNow’s April list of Hot Tickets, grossing $4.84 million. As non-baseball revenue, standalone concerts are exempt from MLB’s revenue sharing formula, allowing teams to keep 100 percent of the income on their end of the deals they sign with promoters.
More than 48,000 WWE fans filled Chase Field for the seven-hour Royal Rumble, which featured more than 60 WWE stars. Royal Rumble was a true takeover of downtown Phoenix as it also featured matches at Talking Stick Resort Arena and a fan fest at the Phoenix Convention Center. The Royal Rumble marked the first time since the 2003 WrestleMania at T-Mobile Park in Seattle that WWE had hosted an event in a baseball stadium.
“I want to underline that we really impressed the folks from the WWE who have about 500 events a year,” Maxey said. “They were impressed with our ability to use our media connections.”
WWE officials agreed.
“WWE was excited for the opportunity to return to Phoenix with another of our major event presentations,” said John Saboor, WWE executive vice president of special events. “Chase Field and ADEE were exceptional partners for WWE as we worked collaboratively to blueprint the continued growth of our annual Royal Rumble celebration.”
The timing was right for Arizona Diamondbacks Events & Entertainment because this is the first season that the team is playing on synthetic grass. Its addition was a critical element in allowing the organization to book events and concerts in season.
Joel, who has a long history of playing ballparks, was a logical fit for Chase Field. It’s one of his seven stops at Major League Baseball stadiums this year. The show was presented by Live Nation in partnership with Danny Zelisko Presents.
“We had the opportunity to host his first stadium show in Phoenix and it was great to work with them,” Maxey said. “Live Nation made it easy on us. They were really instrumental in helping us learn. At the same time, we had the opportunity to really show our experience from an event marketing standpoint.”
The Chase Field staff and concessionaire Levy took the chance to show off their creativity, too, by serving ballpark fare with a wrestling or music twist. The $13 Royal Rumble burger had an 18-ounce pork bratwurst patty topped with cheddar cheese, Applewood smoked bacon, crispy coleslaw, fried onions and barbecue aioli between a toasted onion roll. It sold out within the first hour.
“To do things like the Royal Rumble burger, the WWE had never thought about doing something like that,” Maxey said. “The ‘Superstars’ rallied around it. We went viral to 10 million fans worldwide with those efforts. These are the unique ways we can help publicize and gain exposure.”
For Joel, there were the Big Shot Stromboli and Captain Jack whiskey sour ($13) and the Bottle of Red, Bottle of White wine carafe, all drawn from the Piano Man’s song titles.
Maxey said the organization and Marchetta are looking into concerts to stage after the end of baseball season. “The majority of our focus is baseball season,” Maxey said. “Ralph and his team are looking into this winter, 2020 and beyond.”
That said, he was elusive when speaking about the stadium’s future.
“Our focus right now is the opportunity in front of us — Arizona Diamondbacks Events & Entertainment,” Maxey said. “It’s something that is new, and ultimately we have a lot of infrastructure to build out in our corporate event business. That is where the volume is going to come from.”