City National Grove of Anaheim (Calif.) makes a name for itself in the comedy market.

California venues were hopping in 2014 with big music tours, comedy acts, sports events and a few out-of-the-ordinary types. Los Angeles, Orange County and Northern California continue to remain competitive as solid entertainment markets, creating a Top Stops list that grossed over $360 million collectively for 2014.

The Bread and Butter

SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. continues to stay busy on the concert side, bringing in an average of 40 concerts per year. Last year’s lineup included a whole slew of big acts like Justin Timberlake, George Strait, Imagine Dragons, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and Katy Perry. The packed music schedule continues into 2015 with almost 20 concerts already on sale, with dates from U2, Maroon 5, New Kids on the Block, Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow.

“The market here is very hot right now in terms of employment and population and so on and so forth,” said Jim Goddard, SAP Center executive vice president of Business and Building Operations. “So, I think that has something to do with our continuing success. The Bay Area and Silicon Valley are really leading the nation in terms of economic growth. It’s gotten past the point of recovery to where now it’s growth, so it’s a great place to be doing shows right now.”

April means the start of concert season at Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., which is preparing for the almost 100,000 people a day during Coachella’s and Stagecoach’s weekend music festivals. Owner Alexander Haagen III said the festivals continue to grow in size and popularity each year, as evidenced by the sell-out of Coachella passes in a record 40 minutes in January. As the festivals grow, Empire Polo Club continues to grow right along with them, never sacrificing the quality and aesthetic of the venue in the process.

“We have these big events, and we’re able to park large groups of people right here,” explained Haagen. “You don’t have to take a tram and be brought in from down the block. Everyone comes in and parks on grass, not dirt or something else. It’s special.”

Fans aren’t only flocking to music festivals, but are coming out for EDM concerts as well. The EDM music scene has really developed in Valley View Casino Center’s San Diego market. By partnering with LED, the arena hosts around 10 EDM concerts every year, and they’re all sellouts with an 8,500-person capacity set up. 

“These annual events that we’ve created continue to be key when getting certain tours or other shows aren’t guaranteed,” said Valley View Casino Center’s GM Ernie Hahn, AEG Facilities.
Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif., is on track to break into the EDM scene this year as well. As a city-owned building, AEG Facilities GM Steve Eckerson said it’s taken some time to get city officials to warm up to it. But with the success of a few EDM shows in the area and the good business it’s bringing to Valley View Casino Center, he hopes to host their first show sometime in May of this year.

General Manager Adam Millar described 2014 as an exceptional comedy year at City National Grove of Anaheim (Calif.), which is managed by Nederlander Concerts. With a lineup that included Louis Black, Rodney Carrington, Lisa Lampanelli, John Oliver and Angela Johnson, the venue continues to solidify itself as a hot comedy stage. Part of that, Millar believes, has to do with the targeted way they are able to market each artist, including a campaign that usually involves a lot of online promotion, as well as TV spots on Comedy Central or truTV.

“We put compelling offers in front of the artists and market them in a way other people don’t,” said Millar. “We can sell 1,300-1,400 tickets in Orange County, or they can go to a smaller venue and play two or three shows and still not get to our numbers. So, it just works.”

Renovations Help

Santa Barbara (Calif.) Bowl finally completed the final phase of its $40-million, 10-year renovation in 2014. With a new permanent stage pavilion that can accommodate a good variety of productions, a new overlook area and lower plaza and new seating, backstage dressing rooms, restrooms and concession areas, Santa Barbara Bowl is already enjoying the benefits of the new facility.

“From a productions standpoint and a facility standpoint we’re able to accommodate the needs of almost any show,” said Bowl Executive Director Rick Boller, “and we’ve seen the bookings grow over the years to the tune of 34 shows coming through last year.”

Last year, the Terra Rosa Room at City National Grove of Anaheim underwent a full renovation and now sports a vintage industrial look with a new bar and naming rights deal to become the Mercedes-Benz Star Lounge. The VIP space is used for preshow events and dinners with a capacity of 150-200 people and a look that now aligns better with the Mercedes-Benz brand. Though it occupies the same footprint, Millar said the bar is already producing more revenue in that space.

Haagen said Empire Polo Club is teaming up with Coachella and Stagecoach promoter Goldenvoice to build 300 new bathrooms on the side of the concert grounds in order to eliminate portable bathrooms at the festivals. These sorts of long-term renovations are key for Empire Polo Club to keep up with and anticipate each event’s growth every year.

“Where can you go to a concert and have really beautiful, nice bathrooms right there?” said Haagen. “We’re adding infrastructure to continue to make this the top concert grounds in the world.”

Game Changers

Who knew a 30-ft. terrace curtain could make such a big difference at Valley View Casino Center? Well Hahn did, and he’s been trying to get one installed for the past six years and finally succeeded in 2014. The curtain allows for a professional look that cuts the 14,000-seat arena into a variety of different sizes.

“In the past we would have 8,500 tickets sold, and it’s sold out but from the fans and the artist’s perspective, you’re looking at 6,000 empty seats in the terrace because we don’t sell it,” said Hahn. “With the terrace curtain in, it makes it look smaller, you don’t see any other seats, it sounds better, and the whole experience is accentuated into an incredible experience.”

Already in 2014 the curtain allowed them to host three new events that they never have before.

“I anticipate that there are four to five new events every year that we’ll be able to house that probably went to smaller, 4,000-5,000-seat venues in the marketplace,” said Hahn. “But now, this setup allows us to create an environment where we can bring in additional shows that may not have been on our radar and create new events with different entities utilizing that curtain. Then those events become annuals and we don’t depend as much on getting certain tours.”

With renovations to the Santa Barbara Bowl finally completed, Boller said it was important for them to find ways to start giving back to the community. That effort really began focusing on green procedures as it related to keeping the venues as close to carbon neutral as possible. The My Cup and Me campaign focused on reducing single use plastics with the implementation of stainless steel and silicone cups, which patrons are able to buy at each show and reuse at future shows with a discount off beverage purchases. Already they’re seeing a result in the cleanup and people embracing it.

“As a concert venue we thought it was important for us to focus on reducing the energy consumption from the stage and the land-fill items we were creating,” said Boller. “At the same time that was going on, some of the acts that were coming through seemed to have a higher level of interest in what was going on at the facility level. It seemed to marry quite nicely.”

Unique Events

In 2014, SAP Center branched out of their concert success to host the Intel Extreme Masters tournament, Electronic Sports League’s (ESL) biggest U.S. esports event ever with over 6,000 people attending each of the two days. The world’s best League of Legends and StarCraft II players battled it out live in a tournament-style championship. This was the first time SAP Center had hosted an event like this, but the success definitely means more video game tournaments in the future.

“We plan to do more with the same group,” said Goddard. “It’s a market to develop. We look at it kind of like when MMA first started developing, and now it’s becoming big. Now, this has started developing, and I think we’re going to see more and more of it.”

To appeal to a younger audience, Millar brought a few “YouTube type shows” to City National Grove of Anaheim in 2014. A show with YouTube personality Miranda Sings did well, and two DigiTour dates in August were also successful and will be returning again. And it’s not stopping there. Upcoming Pentatonix and All Time Low shows, two “YouTube famous” musical groups, both sold out during the onsale.

“We’re focused a lot on some of the younger YouTube type shows,” said Millar. Those are really kind of an interesting, newer opportunity of maybe a half dozen shows a year of those types of really unique acts. They’re on the rise, and they sell really well. It’s really interesting.”

Interviewed for this story: Jim Goddard, (408) 999-5792; Ernie Hahn, (619) 308-4396; Alexander Haagen III, (760) 342-2762; Steve Eckerson, (909) 244-5530; Rick Boller, (805) 308-9777; Adam Millar, (714) 712-2702