SMG in the News: Fine-Tuning

Originally Published in the Lincoln Journal Star

August 18, 2013 12:00 am  •  By L. KENT WOLGAMOTT

The Pinnacle Bank Arena has an impressive lineup of concerts for its first five shows, including performances by in-demand artists The Eagles and Pink, with more to come.

But SMG management, which operates the arena, didn’t randomly pick artists or send out a “we want this artist” list.

Booking concerts doesn’t work that way.

“It’s really all about relationships with the major promoters — AEG, Live Nation, Beaver and Brad Garrett and Jeff Fortier and all the other promoters,” said SMG general manager Tom Lorenz. “It’s those long-term relationships with promoters more than anything else that lead to bookings.”

The promoters first provide the possibility of concerts coming to a venue. If the show becomes a strong possibility, “holds” are put on specific dates before a final decision is made to schedule the concert.

That decision can be made based on many factors, including how recently an artist has played the market, anticipated ticket sales and where the tour is going.

“We look at who’s touring, but we don’t pick who we want,” Lorenz said. “We can talk about what’s natural in the market, but it’s more routing and some of the other factors than anything.”

The same factor can work in opposite ways in bringing in concerts.

For example, Michael Bublé, the arena’s opening concert, was scheduled, in part, because he hadn’t played the market in four years — a show at Omaha’s CenturyLink Center. In contrast, Jason Aldean played Omaha in April, but he is among the hottest country artists, so it made sense to bring him to Lincoln quickly, Lorenz said.

In addition to relationships with promoters, “the SMG brand is meaningful across the industry,” said assistant general manager Charles Schilling. “It kind of gives us a platform.”

SMG, a 36-year-old venue management, marketing and development firm, manages more than 230 facilities around the world, including arenas with more than 1.75 million seats.

Executives at the SMG national office in Philadelphia talk directly with the agents for the artists rather than the promoters, helping to steer concerts to SMG buildings, Lorenz said. SMG also maintains a proprietary database used to track concerts, bookings, costs and other factors key in determining whether to book shows.

That said, Pinnacle Bank Arena hasn’t taken every show that has been offered. Instead, officials have looked to build a mix of concerts following the same booking philosophy SMG has used the past two years at Pinewood Bowl.

“We’re trying to provide something for everyone,” Schilling said. “We look at the routing opportunities, match it against other dates and try to make it fit.”

Some shows, particularly country, can be booked as far out as two years before the date. But that is the exception. Most concerts are set less than a year in advance and some can be scheduled only weeks before they occur.

“Things can happen really quickly,” Schilling said. “Prince books a Thursday, Friday and Saturday four weeks out, and you’re on sale three weeks out. That’s an extreme example. But they can happen fast.”

The Eagles’ Oct. 4 concert happened relatively fast, Lorenz said. A few weeks ago, a promoter asked for holds for three nights for a major artist in September. That concert did not come to the arena. But had it done so, it would have been scheduled just a couple months in advance.

Booking multiple-day events like Disney on Ice, Cirque du Soleil, rodeos, monster truck shows and circuses — all of which will be coming to Pinnacle Bank Arena — is far different than scheduling concerts.

“We really have to work to get into their rotations,” Lorenz said. “They have certain buildings they play every year at the same time. We have to get into that rotation, and it can take some time.”

For that reason, Disney on Ice won’t be at the arena until the fall of 2014 and Cirque du Soleil won’t perform there until 2015.