Jim Cressman poses with country star Alan Jackson.
Jim Cressman sees opportunity where others don’t think to look. The head of British Columbia-based Invictus Entertainment Group has carved a unique niche in Canada by promoting shows in secondary markets, bringing major acts like John Cougar Mellencamp and Bob Dylan to towns that aren’t used to short drives for A-list concerts.
“It’s been exciting for me, but it’s also one of those things where you get the opportunity to create something from nothing,” said Cressman about the business he’s developed over the past three years. “When you get the opportunity to do a show in a little town similar to the one you grew up in and see people so excited and see artists feeding off that and enjoying themselves, it’s a great feeling to know that you helped put that moment together.”
You’ve established a reputation as the man who helps bring big acts like Carrie Underwood, KISS and Maroon 5 to smaller secondary markets in Canada. How did you become that guy?
In Canada we have this great infrastructure where there are junior level hockey teams in different communities that play in multimillion-dollar, multiuse facilities. Some of the misconceptions the more isolated cities fall under is that if they build a multithousand-seat arena, concerts will flock to them and they’ll have revenue streams other than hockey teams. That didn’t happen and a lot of the buildings started chasing opportunities on their own. I looked at all these buildings, and at the benefit of them having an aggregate effect by building a coalition of secondary market venues. I approached agents and managers and said, ‘you can bring an act to Dawson’s Creek where the mean income is $100,000 and get a high ticket and still do a major market tour.’ Most of those (secondary) markets don’t conflict with major markets.
How many markets do you represent?
At any given time between 12-20. Some tours have the technical ability to downscale, so you can increase the markets you can get into. They’re anywhere between 3,000-6,000 seats and there are probably 40 arenas that size in Canada, maybe more.
What’s your formula for making that work?
It starts with research. You make sure you have the right radio partners in each city to make sure the show will sell well. My company takes a big hands-on approach with ensuring buildings have the appropriate capabilities for the best artist and consumer experience possible.
How do you make it work with partners like Global Spectrum?
Some buildings managed by larger companies like Global Spectrum have this great culture of information sharing among their GMs, so their teams and staff are quite experienced and have been through a big show day before. I look for partnerships with buildings that understand the value of putting on a great show and have great ground teams. I have two masters to serve in these situations: I have to make sure the artist or manager comes back to me and says, ‘I love playing all these small towns and want to do more on my next run.’ And the ticket buyer who says it’s worth paying a slightly higher ticket because I don’t have to drive five hours to a major market.
What’s the markup for a major artist like Rihanna at one of these secondary market shows?
We try not to make it any more than 20 percent, but we always do our best to frame it on social media with messaging for the community. If it’s in Penticton, British Columbia, we say you can see Carrie Underwood for a ticket that’s 20 percent higher, rather than driving four hours to Vancouver, paying for parking, a night in a hotel, and a babysitter and you’re saving money on that experience — and driving 10 minutes to the show! Thankfully, the response in small cities and secondary markets has been really supportive.
How do you message that?
There are opportunities to do interviews with local newspapers so people get the idea and won’t think to themselves, ‘this is an expensive ticket.’ But [rather] they’re getting an opportunity to see John Mellencamp in a 3,500-seat arena versus a 12,000-seat building, coupled with all the other benefits. I’m from a ranching/farming background. I know about growing up in an isolated area where there’s never anything to do, especially in your teenage years. I wanted to bridge that gap. As much as it makes good business sense you’re also contributing to the arts scene in these communities and give people a chance to experience something they may never experience again or not in a lifetime.
How do you convince managers/agents that setting up in Moose Jaw and Abbotsford is a good play for them?
It comes back to honesty and transparency. I’m very upfront with the limitations in these communities: there’s no five-star hotel, this building is rigged to hold 80,000 pounds and not 120,000. I really make sure the artists and management know what they’re in for. I also talk about the benefits of them fetching a higher ticket. A lot of acts have been through the major markets so many times that they experience consumer fatigue. The first time you bring them into a secondary market … they see ardent fans buying merchandise like something they haven’t seen in a while. I had Mellencamp and Dylan doing merch numbers in Prince George, British Columbia, that they haven’t seen in 15 years.
Have you seen competition come up?
In the last year [our business] has really exploded and this will be our biggest year with about a dozen secondary-market tours. Any time you do something that is successful a level of competition will come up. By and large I’ve been able to create great relationships with buildings and city partners that’s made for a level of fidelity that’s made it easier for me to do these shows rather than an outsider.
What are the unique challenges of bringing big acts into small towns?
You’ve got to make sure you have prerig days set within the routing where you need them. Carrie Underwood’s tour manager was incredible and he worked with our team and did his homework on the venues and, where necessary, he tailored the production to ensure that consumers would get a great experience and Carrie’s full show.
What’s your most reliable way to get the word out about these shows in communities where you have to rely on a higher percentage of the population to come out to be profitable?
The ability to message and bombard through Twitter and Facebook is very effective. But the key is also making sure that if I’m the guy doing six concerts in Abbotsford, British Columbia. I stagger on-sale dates and inventory so I’m not going after the same audience with every show. It’s about being a good steward of the marketplace.
How do you work with the big promoters like Live Nation and AEG Live?
In a facility management sense, Global Spectrum has been very innovative and enterprising in creating structures that work for promoters. When you’re rolling an A+ level act through a small arena and have to lay out a high guarantee, there’s not a lot of margin and Global has made it work for me. I also have a good partnership with Live Nation on many tours they bring to Canada where I pick up the secondary markets and they do the majors. I’ve also worked with AEG Live in the past on John Mellencamp and Carrie Underwood. I’ve found that by working in a realm that no one was really working actively, I could create an atmosphere of diplomacy so that I can work with Live Nation instead of working against them.
So many of the independent promoters in the U.S. have been swallowed up. What’s your secret and why stay independent?
Without sounding self-serving, I have a knack for [creating] great collaborative partnerships with companies like Global Spectrum and city and building partnerships that really enhance the economic impact an A-level show can have on a city and the profile of an arena. I also go to a company like Live Nation and say, ‘I can complement what you’re doing by giving the artist that you have on tour an opportunity to play more places.’ Part of it comes down to diplomacy and doing a great job on the show, too. We make sure that all the logistics are handled and people going into these cities they’ve never been to before get timely responses, and we anticipate any concerns they might have.
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