An arena-sized concert venue that’s not an arena.
What would such a thing look like?
And how would it compete with five arenas already within four square miles?
One question may answer the other when it comes to last week’s announcement that Las Vegas Sands Corp. will helm construction of another large concert venue, off Koval Lane by the Sands Expo & Convention Center.
The partners and their track record can’t be disputed. One is Live Nation Entertainment, which divides the dominant share of the concert industry with AEG Live, which operates the Colosseum at Caesars Palace and co-owns the T-Mobile arena with MGM Resorts International.
The other partners are Madison Square Garden Co., Azoff MSG Entertainment and Oak View Group, the same team which expanded the Southern California concert market after renovating the faded Forum in Inglewood, California, to square off with AEG Live’s Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.
Last year, the Forum edged ahead of Staples on Pollstar’s ranking of Top Arena Venues worldwide, coming in at No. 11 with 627,613 tickets sold, compared with Staples at No. 13, with 610,387.
The new project’s partnership group is made up of seasoned entertainment industry veterans, including Irving Azoff, Tim Leiweke, Michael Rapino and James Dolan. Each of the individuals leading those respective companies have interconnected career paths.
A venerable music impresario, the 68-year-old Azoff is the key member of the team who threads the entire project together. Perhaps the most rounded member of the group, he has worked in all facets of the industry, from heading up a pair of record labels to overseeing the careers of iconic artists such as the Eagles and Steely Dan and pop superstars such as Christina Aguilera and Maroon 5. He has served as an executive at several companies, including Ticketmaster and Live Nation.
Over the course of his career, Azoff has worked alongside and partnered with most of the other players on the team. During his time at Live Nation, where he served as executive chairman, Azoff worked with Rapino, that company’s president and chief executive officer, on the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger in 2010.
MSG, led by James Dolan, was an investor in Azoff’s previous company Front Line, and Dolan also served as a member of Live Nation’s board. When Azoff parted ways with that entertainment company in 2013, he joined forces with Dolan and MSG to form Azoff MSG Entertainment, where he serves as chairman and CEO.
Leiweke, meanwhile, is highly tenured in his own right, having led AEG as president and CEO for nearly two decades, followed by two years with Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment, as president and CEO of that organization. Last year, Leiweke teamed up with Azoff to form Oak View Group, where the former directs the company and serves as CEO.
Few would question the team has the knowledge, experience, resources and relationships to build and run a venue of this size.
“I think it can actually be successful,” says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, the concert industry’s trade bible. “That doesn’t mean it’s not going to have an impact on the other facilities in the market. You already have more seats to fill on a given night than anywhere else in the country when you add up all the venues in Las Vegas.”
Other answers about the new venue’s viability might lie in the word “scalability.”
Those behind the new venture say no renderings or design details are ready to share. But they do say the venue will have different configurations, with the seating capacity ranging from 4,000 to 17,500.
A successful design with that much flexibility would put the new venue into two levels of competition: Sports arenas on the high-capacity end and the 4,000- to 5,000-seat concert halls that have become the new magic number on the Strip: MGM Resorts is building a new one adjacent to its Monte Carlo hotel, tentatively called the Park Theater, to compete with the 4,300-seat Colosseum at Caesars Palace.
But scaling a large venue down is easier said than done. Sports arenas sometimes try to put the stage in the middle of the floor and curtain off the back half of the venue.
“The problem with that is everyone knows that behind that curtain is an ocean of empty seats,” Bongiovanni notes.
Here’s where a ground-up construction could have a major advantage over the renovated Forum, which has been praised for its sound quality and nuance but keeps its traditional arena layout.
“Most of the arenas around the country were built for sports first and then retrofitted to accommodate music as best they could,” Bongiovanni says. “The fact that this new venue is going to be built specifically for music and the concerns of touring shows is a real plus for a touring artist.”
The few details released about the Sands venue seem to describe a blown-up version of the much-smaller The Pearl at the Palms. That 2,500-seater and the 4,000-capacity The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel have a floor large enough for a boxing or MMA ring.
But like those venues, the new Sands theater won’t be shaped for team sports — hockey or basketball — which have patrons facing one another on opposite sides. All the seats in the new building are to be forward-facing in a horseshoe.
Taking team sports out of the equation also means the VIP suites will be “bunkers” — underneath the conventional seats — rather than glassed-in areas distanced from the concert stage in most sports arenas.
Those in the concert industry say it’s unlikely the new venue would shape up as a battle between Live Nation and AEG Live. In Los Angeles, the two promoters often put shows in one another’s arenas. And in Las Vegas, the T-Mobile is hosting upcoming Live Nation dates by the Dixie Chicks and Gwen Stefani.
Industry pros say that exclusive booking relationships work for smaller venues, but not at the arena level, where the difference between T-Mobile’s 20,000 capacity and the new venue’s 17,500 could make a significant difference to some acts.
The T-Mobile — as well as the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay arenas — stands to lose special events such as the iHeartRadio Music Festival, an annual TV concert promoting a conglomerate of radio stations spun from Live Nation’s concert promotions.
So far, both sides are speaking well of one another.
“Projects such as these are good in that they create opportunities to attract new events to Las Vegas that we don’t already host,” Rick Arpin, senior vice president of entertainment for MGM Resorts International, said in a statement. “In doing so, it provides benefits for everyone and enhances the overall Las Vegas experience for both visitors and locals.”
Both companies are likely to pursue more residencies or recurring headliners, such as T-Mobile did with Garth Brooks, and Madison Square Garden does with its monthly concerts by Billy Joel.
And while it seems like Las Vegas already gets every show on the road, this summer is so far lacking tour stops by several major acts: Adele, Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam and a co-bill of Sting and Peter Gabriel.
As one executive put it, “There’ll be room, and there’ll be a push to create content to fill these rooms as well.”
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.
Music writer Dave Hererra contributed to this report.
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