Reserved seating is often situated in the lower center of the lawn, though Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek in Raleigh, N.C., has tried it along one side. (Courtesy Live Nation)

Test offers reserved seats, some with waitstaff, at amphitheaters

Veteran concertgoers recognize lawn seats can be a dicey proposition at amphitheater shows. In a general admission setting, the cheapest tickets come with some risk, whether it’s stormy weather, drunken patrons causing a disturbance or someone stealing the space you staked out well before show time.

Live Nation recognizes the issue. For the second year, the company is testing reserved lawn seats across most of its 50 amphitheaters. For an upcharge of $20 to $30, customers can buy a gated green space. It comes with a lawn chair, security attendants and, depending on the venue, waitstaff for ordering and delivery of food and drink.

“We’re beta testing, in year 2 of reserved lawn,” said Tom See, Live Nation’s president of venues for U.S. concerts. “We have people that love sitting on the lawn. They want to be in an area that is a little bit center, closer in, but they can’t get there when the gates open. They don’t want to feel the hassle of that whole experience.”

The reserved lawn, part of an effort by Live Nation to revamp its outdoor concert venues, stands out for its departure from the business model. Live Nation typically prices the lawn on the low end. Under the reserved lawn program, people pay a premium for more elbow room, which evolved through feedback from Live Nation fan surveys, See said.

“They wish the lawn was divided,” he said. “They like it but it’s a bit overcrowded. It’s up to us to find a solution where we can give people a little more space. They don’t have to feel like they’re one of 17,000. They can feel they’re within a (special) area but still have that lawn feel.”

To purchase lawn reserved seats, customers can buy the upgrade while buying tickets online. For those that buy regular lawn seats, they may receive an email later if space is available, Live Nation officials said.

Reserved lawn is not available for every concert, but for those shows where it is in effect, the artist shares in the revenue stream, See said. There is flexibility to change capacity depending on the event, but in general, those areas can hold 50 to 200 patrons. Otherwise, it tends to get unwieldy and loses its value, See said.

Last year, Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre sold reserved lawn seats for all 37 shows in St. Louis, said General Manager Frank LoPresti. The section had a “sliding capacity,” depending on show size and demand, LoPresti said. The upgrade comes with one lawn chair per ticket.

At that amphitheater, reserved lawn is situated in the lower middle portion of the lawn. That’s the preferred area, although other venues such as Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek in Raleigh, N.C., have tested it along one side of the lawn section.

Live Nation would not disclose lawn reserved ticket sales in St. Louis,  but LoPresti is expanding the space in 2019.

“It was very well received last season,” he said in an email. “We see continued growth as more guests would like a reserved seat on the lawn, so this year, we’re increasing the capacity based on demand.”

Live Nation will collect additional data and make tweaks along the way to improve the experience, See said.

“We’ll learn,” he said. “It’s available to everybody (buying a lawn seat) and we’ll determine if it’s something that will be a long-term product or not. So far, fan reception has been positive. They enjoy the fact that they don’t have to get there when the gates open to get that spot they coveted.”