Wednesday, February 2
Small Hall Managers Meeting
Moderator: Pam Matthews, Ryman Auditorium
Laurie Jacoby, Radio City Music Hall
Rena Wasserman, The Wiltern LG
Rick Merrill, Universal Amphitheatre
Brett Steinberg, Creative Artists Agency
Jake Hooker, Hook Entertainment

Pam Matthews of Ryman Auditorium responded to an opening question from the audience that was probably on other people’s minds. Since when is a 6,000-capacity venue considered small?
“Well, you know what, we’re at Pollstar’s CIC, so they actually think that 6,000 is small. I sort of think 2,000 is small, but that’s not up to me to decide,” she joked, explaining that the category was for venues up to 7,000 capacity.

Matthews began the session discussing the challenges of blending a landmark-designated building with corporate involvement. The venue pros on the panel said they work to keep signage to a minimum.

The Wiltern LG’s Rena Wasserman said her venue’s name and title sponsor is LG Electronics based in Korea. Landmark status meant her venue couldn’t change its name, so the LG was tacked on and signage was kept within landmark parameters.

“On the building, in a very conspicuous front-of-the-building way but one that’s also approved by the Los Angeles Conservancy and Cultural Committee, you’ll find there’s a little bit of display but it doesn’t really take away from the theatre itself.”

Venue sponsorship brought up another question: What do you do when you bring a sponsored tour to a venue that has a sponsor? Communication between the parties helps in compromising, according to CAA agent Brett Steinberg.

“I think the most important thing, really, is disclosure and letting people know when you’re dealing with a sponsor,” Steinberg said. “The corporate world doesn’t understand necessarily the business we’re all in.

“So we’re going to hold their hand and educate them. If we have all the information, they’re usually OK with it.”

Universal Amphitheatre’s Rick Merrill said he’s been able to work things out when that situation comes up.

“If an artist comes in with a large sponsor, we’ll let them decorate the backstage area and we’ll obviously let them hang some banners inside the house itself and things like that, so we keep that kind of generic for the artist,” he said.

“When it comes to sponsorship, a lot of these corporations are very high profile and they want everything everywhere. They’ll ask for the world and you really have to tone them down a little bit, but it depends on the show.”

The conversation turned to what determines ticket prices and how those tickets are sold at each venue.

“It depends on the act because, at the end of the night, they have an expectation of walking out with a certain amount of money,” said Laurie Jacoby of Radio City Music Hall. “I pick and choose because I know my building’s expenses. We promote in-house, so it’s our money that we could be losing. I won’t do something unless I think I can sell at least 85 percent.”

Internet pre-sales brought a mix of opinions from the panelists, who said about 60 percent of tickets are sold online. Pre-sales aren’t always compatible with every venue, and ticket scalping is an issue, but it’s become the “way of the world.”

“I think in the beginning, it was a great way to sell tickets. I think a lot of people were saving money on advertising,” Jacoby said. “But then it dilutes the value. After awhile, it’s like you’re going to sell to those fans one way or the other.”

“In a large city like Los Angeles, it’s all about demand,” Merrill said. “One of the frustrating things for me is we’re constantly getting complaints from patrons and they’re saying, ‘I spent $300 bucks for this ticket,’ and it’s a $58 ticket.

“They just don’t understand. They think it’s the facility that’s making all the money even though they bought it on eBay.”

Jake Hooker of Hook Entertainment chipped in the management’s perspective.

“Obviously, we want the fans of the artist to get a fair shot at good seats. That’s very, very important,” Hooker said. “A lot of bands work by word-of-mouth and you don’t want your fans going away disconcerted about the fact that they got a lousy seat or didn’t get a seat at all.

“We try to balance it out with the venues and make it as fair as possible.”

The use of subscription services to give fans a leg up on concert tickets is another area the panelists pored over.

“You really have to look at the artists that you’re booking in that subscription series,” Steinberg said. “A good example is, you don’t want to put an artist like a Jewel or Seal in the same series as a Don Rickles.

“The younger demographic, they’re the ones that are prone to buy the single ticket, not buy into a subscription.”

Matthews asked if the panelists feel they’re spending more or less money on marketing and advertising these days with the Internet and pre-sales.

“We found at Universal in the last couple of years, we’re selling more tickets on the Internet than through other means,” Merrill said. “And again, being in L.A., a lot of times it’s ego driven, so if we have a large act coming into Universal, they want a full-page Sunday Los Angeles Times breakout ad that’s about $20,000 for one day.”

“You don’t really get the bang for your buck anymore like you used to in the old days,” he added.

“We advertise on the radio, but the Internet is really the up-and-coming factor.”

Jacoby said it depends on the show for Radio City, but the money is spent regardless of what medium is used. She said it’s really a matter of figuring out who your audience is and where they live.