Interviewed by Dan Steinberg, Emporium Presents and Luke Pierce, Works Entertainment
After checking in with “senior correspondent in the field” Rick Ferrell, Steinberg and Pierce welcomed their special guest Bob Roux, Co-President of U.S. Concerts at Live Nation. Steinberg synopsized Roux’s 40-year resume: “You’ve had an amazing career, starting at the University of Illinois at Champaign in 1978. Building a relationship with Bruce Capp in Chicago in ‘84. Your first job in ‘87 in Milwaukee at Stardate Productions then, in 1990, you started in Houston at Pace Concerts. In ’99, Pace sold to SFX. In 2002, SFX sold to Clear Channel. In 2006, it spun off into Live Nation, giving you yet another business card and, in 2010, you became Co-President of U.S. Concerts at Live Nation.”
“Early on, I had the privilege of booking a lot of shows in the Nashville area. We had Starwood Amphitheater here in Antioch and we were promoting at Municipal Auditorium. We also had the opportunity to promote Pearl Jam and many others out at Murphy Center in Murfreesboro. So, I have had a long relationship with this city. It has always been a great music town. I find it to be probably the easiest market in the country – probably even the world – to network and meet friends and business associates. There’s a really great lifestyle here. People love to support music. Jason Isbell’s six-show run at the Ryman. Chris Stapleton with two shows sold out at Bridgestone. There is always something going on here and it has come a long way since the early 1990s.
“There are so many new buildings now. The management at Bridgestone, with David and Sean, is phenomenal to work with. Ascend Amphitheater is having a tremendous year. We have really made some significant strides in the market over the last several years since opening a promoter office here. Brian O’Connell’s touring team has been based here for many, many years, but their basic responsibility is to buy country tours and promote them on a national scale. Since closing Starwood many years ago, we really didn’t have a true promoter working day in and day out developing artists and building those careers here. So, we were fortunate when Brian Traeger, who had prior experience on both our touring team and in our Philadelphia and Chicago offices, agreed to move to Nashville. We were fortunate enough to win the contract at Ascend Amphitheater. Later on, we were able to strike up a relationship with Fontanel, and we have recently made an investment in Municipal Auditorium and have gotten that show count up. We are starting to build venue assets in the market and we are looking forward to the next step with our venue portfolio here. Essentially, we can take artists from very early in their career – 500 seats or so – build those relationships and try to put them in the right venue in Nashville throughout their entire career.”
Pierce acknowledged that both Roux and Campana have been instrumental in the plan to decentralize Live Nation as a company. “When you came in, there was kind of a top-down approach. Call it one-size-fits-all. But you and Mark created these promoter pods where you entrust the market to a local promoter so there is that understanding of the market. As a result, in the last 7 or 8 years, you have seen tremendous success and it’s a strategy that is really working at Live Nation.”
Roux replied, “I don’t know if that was a question, but I appreciate the compliment. When we took over in 2010, the economy was coming off a rocky 2008/2009. When Michael [Rapino] asked if we would take over leadership of our U.S. concert business, we thought about our next logical step to try to level set and start over. Mark and I grew up in that era of local promoters with geographical territories. We had an amazing group of promoters throughout the United States, which has expanded significantly over the last seven years. We wanted to make sure they were empowered to do what they’ve learned to do throughout their careers – just get up every day, acquire talent, promote really hard, be experts at marketing in their local market. But, we also saw some of the benefits of centralization in talent acquisition. A lot of artists and managers were looking for one-stop solutions. So, instead of having a lot of individual conversations across the United States, they could meet with one group and talk about the entire tour – how they wanted to lay that out, what combination of venues, the marketing strategy – and make a singular financial deal and then let us orchestrate that with local level execution. Really, it is the best of both worlds: centralization on the acquisition and some marketing aspects but also decentralized in the fact that we have experts now in 25 cities across the U.S.”
Live Nation operates approximately 53 amphitheaters in the U.S. in addition to the 25 promoter offices. “Most major cities are represented,” said Roux. “And each has a geographic territory with a cluster of assets that they are responsible for … and we are running about 120 U.S. tours this year.
“When we buy a tour, it is typically U.S. and Canada. We have offices in Vancouver, Toronto, and maybe a third. We are starting to buy more globally. This year, we will do shows in 43 countries around the world and sell approximately 80 million tickets. We will do 40 million tickets in the U.S., so about half of our total tickets. Certainly business here in the United States is very mature compared to some of the markets we are going into now. South Africa, Israel, India – there are still a lot of untapped markets. South America still has a lot of potential for Live Nation. So we’re looking at where we can expand around the globe.”
Steinberg noted this diverse list of countries and asked if that was reflected in the type of entertainment they are booking. “I am learning,” answered Roux. “There are superstar acts that are country-centric. A lot of our superstar country acts in the United States are unable to tour globally just because their exposure in those countries is limited. But it is the same in Italy and Israel and India and China. There are a huge number of nationalist entertainers at arena-level popularity in those countries. You have to know what you can export around the world and what you have locally to work with. This year we imported several Korean pop artists into the United States. If you take somebody who is really, really popular in Southeast Asia, there is a strong possibility those artists can work where you have a similar population in the U.S. Los Angeles, Toronto, Chicago, New York, and parts of Texas can really work well for international acts.”
Using his own career as an example, Roux explained that he was responsible for all of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Oklahoma when he first started in Houston. In the past 3-4 years, Live Nation opened offices in Dallas (initially with Dan Eaton and now with Anthony Nicolaidis) and in New Orleans (with Russell Doussan). The Los Angeles office once handled L.A., San Diego, and Las Vegas but there is now a Las Vegas office under Kurt Melien and a San Diego office run by Candace Mandracia. “We’ve learned that as you get smaller and smaller in the territory, you become more focused. And as you have more focus, you are able to do more things. You don’t overlook the secondary markets. We will keep squeezing down, getting tighter and tighter. And that will create more opportunities for a lot of people in this room to work with us and get a good one-on-one correspondence going with a promoter who is responsible for your particular part of the country.
When asked what he looks for in a potential opportunity, Roux answered, “The club and theater division, which is similar to the U.S. concerts division I run, focuses on venues with a couple thousand capacity down to a few hundred. We have a tremendous starter league and we can discover brand new acts. Out of that network, we developed relationships really early with bands like Twenty One Pilots and Imagine Dragons. We were able to put these artists across as many as 40 or 50 club and theater shows, and use that to grow those relationships as the artist’s career expands. No market is too small for us. It’s just a matter of finding the right type, and amount, of programing without cannibalization.”
“Which tours you are actually working on?” Pierce asked. “You are not only responsible for all of the things we just discussed. You are actually out there looking out for some acts right now.” Roux agreed, “When I took over this job, I went from being a day-to-day promoter, which is what I grew up on at Pace, to more of a managerial role. But I never really wanted to give up entirely on what a promoter does. Acquiring those acts, learning what they want to do at the next step of their career, and then executing on that plan to their satisfaction or above. So, over the last year and a half, I’ve had the great privilege to work very closely with Coran Capshaw on Chris Stapleton’s touring business. [Chris] is just a terrific live performer and an amazing individual. I think a lot like he does and that has turned into a terrific relationship for us. I also had the great privilege to put Tom Petty’s last tour together. I was there on the first night in Oklahoma City, and I was there on the last night at the Hollywood Bowl. It was the biggest tour he’d ever had – just tremendous effort out there every night. That was a tough one, as all you know.
“I was responsible for Metallica’s tour this year. We did 22 stadiums and just under 1 million tickets.” “I heard Michael Rapino actually spent time with Lars to cut the Metallica tour deal,” said Steinberg. “Any truth to that?” “I’ll tell you what I know. I won’t tell you what I don’t know,” Roux answered. “Tony invited me to this show – I think it was last December, right before the holiday break, where they played a small venue in Los Angeles. He said ‘Hey, maybe later on we can have a bite to eat. The band is coming over. Call Michael and see if maybe he wants to come down.’ So, we went over to this little reception and Tony was very cordial and made all the introductions and I left way past my bedtime. I think Michael and Lars were still talking. A few days later – it’s almost Christmas now – and Michael’s like ‘You think you can put a stadium plan together in a day?’ We worked hard over the holidays and put something together that they must’ve liked and we got the responsibility for that tour and it turned out well.”
Choosing the Right Mix of Venues
Steinberg asked, “We’ve been seeing more and more steel and stadium shows going up around the country. You own basically all of the amphitheaters, at least of massive scale. And then you’ve got a baseball park where you have to build the stage. What is the deciding factor on playing your amphitheater for two nights versus putting up the steel? Like Tom Petty this year in Seattle and Chicago.”
“You ask that question like I get a vote,” Roux began. “We talked about it earlier – part of our success has been in really understanding, from the ground up, what an artist wants to do. And we want a plan that all sides agree on – artist, artist management, agency, as well as promoter – after we talk about all the pros and cons and different attributes of what that plan could be. Those relationships will grow, the tour will be successful, and the money will follow. So we try to work with each act and develop exactly what they want. The truth is, at today’s ticket prices, an artist can still make more doing a single baseball field than even the largest amphitheater. But you have to be able to sell 40,000 seats as opposed to 17,000 or 20,000. In the case of Tom Petty, Tony, who has been Tom’s manager for so many years, understands the artist so well, understands the touring so well, put together almost the perfect tour. Tom played predominately indoor arena shows with some of the greatest outdoor buildings mixed in. Plus some great festivals, those two stadium dates at Wrigley Field with Chris Stapleton opening, and another in Seattle with the Lumineers opening. Tom has toured a lot, with a lot of different looks and a lot of different mixes. When you are out there doing the same kind of environment day after day, especially a long tour like that one, if you can mix it up then you have things to look forward to, even as an artist, that might be a little different. I think it keeps the artist excited and keeps the band excited. I also think there is a lot more media attention that comes with something that has a lot of different attributes built into the tour.”
Steinberg asked Roux to participate in a speed round, where Roux would just reply with one word or the other. Roux agreed.
Billboard or Pollstar? “I would have to say Pollstar today.” Someone in audience screamed and Roux responded, “I meant Billboard.”
U2 or Metallica? “I really love both bands. I saw both multiple times this year and they are two of the greatest live shows on the road today.”
William Morris or CAA? “I think this is a part where we need some audience participation. I enjoy phenomenal relationships with both. Those are two tremendous companies and we are partners with both WME and CAA in so many ways and I am happy for those relationships.”
Irving or God? “Irving.” “That is the right answer” was Steinberg’s quick reply.
The conversation turned to ticketing, beginning with Verified Fan. “I am a strong supporter,” Roux said. “My hat is off to the entire Ticketmaster team for switching the way they think about their business. They really are a service company for the artists and the fans. The more I can get them to think about how we service both artists and fans, the healthier our combined business will be. We sit down with so many artists to talk about tours and where they play, and then you start to talk about ticket price. In recent years, there have been a lot of conversations about the secondary market. Money is being left on the table and the artists deserve every penny of it. And we talk about how fans are being mistreated on sellout shows. They weren’t able to get tickets with all the electronic purchasing methodologies, primarily out of Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. To me, it is criminal activity that gave the underworld the opportunity to get tickets at the onsale. We needed to come up with a solution so we could get tickets into the hands of fans. That’s first and foremost. That is what we want, that is what the artists want, and that’s what the fans deserve. We employ an enormous amount of engineers, developers, and software writers and we invest heavily in that business. It is capital-intensive to do it right. But they started to reallocate some money a few years ago and really think about this problem and how we can approach it. They have come up with Verified Fan, where we can pre-register fans of an artist. First we make sure they are a real person. You’d think it is simple. We qualify everyone to make sure that it is someone like you or I.”
“Are you doing this on every level?” Steinberg asked. “Or is it just for the arena acts like Pink?” “It is for any artist who would like to use the product,” Roux continued. “Right now, I believe we have 50 artists who have used it, or are in the process of using it. Taylor Swift, who is probably one of the hottest shows on the road next year, was highly engaged with us, setting up the distribution and sales for her upcoming tour. Harry Styles too. Bruce Springsteen, who has been such a strong advocate for making sure the fans got his tickets, worked with Verified Fan for his shows currently playing on Broadway. The stories coming out of the artist community are just tremendous. And we really feel we are at about a 95% success rate for getting the initial tickets into the hands of a fan who will actually go to the event.”
Roux explained, “I don’t want to confuse the products. Platinum is essentially a platform to price to what, we believe, is the market. We have been using Platinum pricing now for 4 or 5 years. Platinum is a U.S. concerts team product. It is not necessarily a global Ticketmaster product. The pricers work for our team with U.S. concerts. We sit down with an artist and we talk about how much they want to gross on an average arena or amphitheater tour. About 90% of the artists we work with now utilize Platinum. They may take a few hundred seats, usually a maximum of 500 that might be the first rows of P3, and they price those more to market value. Sometimes we include what I would call premium seats. This can be a little boost of $50,000 to $100,000 to a show gross. And the artist is taking out 90% of that. And yet the vast majority of the tickets in a 15,000 capacity venue are priced at less.
“Most artists try to make as much money as they can, for themselves and those who are dependent on their earnings. We have worked with artists like Bruce Springsteen for many tours and have all of the facts about how much money was being left on the table. Every act is different and the choice is theirs. We just want to make sure we are presenting all of the knowledge we have accumulated so they can make informed decisions on their ticketing portfolio. We started with a couple of acts. Now, I think, we have about 90 participating.”
Steinberg wrapped the conversation by asking, “Tell us where you see the industry going with technology, with fan experience. What you could preview for us?”
“We talked about various ticketing products and getting tickets in the hands of fans, our marketing efforts, our continued expansion,” Roux answered in closing. “I’ve got a great team in Los Angeles, about 70 central marketers who wake up every day trying to come up with new, innovative products and ways to create direct relationships with music fans and communicate our concert messaging. And we want to do a better job making sure that everybody who wants to go to a show knows that it is coming to town, has the ability to afford it, and can purchase that ticket if they really want to go.”