Industry execs skeptical about glut of seats

Within the next two months, three music venues capable of holding 8,000 concertgoers will open in Los Angeles. Even with the economy faltering, venue operators and promoters believe the simple law of supply and demand will keep the concert halls full, provided the ticket price is appropriate.

Other industry execs, however, think the city may have a glut on its hands.

The centerpieces of the L.A. expansion are the remodeled Palladium in Hollywood that reopens Oct. 15 with a Jay-Z show; the Club Nokia venue adjacent to the Nokia Theater in the downtown L.A. Live complex; and the Conga Room, located downstairs from Club Nokia. The club opens Nov. 9 with a Beck performance; Conga Room’s opening has been pushed back a month to December.

The companies that will run the venues — AEG and its subsid Goldenvoice at Nokia, Live Nation with the Palladium — view the venues as crucial to filling holes in their lineups. For Live Nation, the 4,000-capacity Palladium fits between the 6,000-seat Gibson Amphitheater and the 2,000-capacity Wiltern. The 2,300-capacity Club Nokia fills the niche between the Goldenvoice-booked El Rey (770 capacity) and Orpheum (1,000) and the AEG-booked 7,100-seat Nokia Theater. AEG is booking the Conga Room.

“There’s an enormous pool of artists who can sell 1,000 to 2,500 tickets — more than at any time in history,” Goldenvoice president Paul Tollett said. Other promoters and booking agents agree.

By the end of the year, Los Angeles will have seven venues booking acts that draw between 800 and 2,300 and two halls — Pantages at 2,800 is back in play come January, when “Wicked” leaves, and the Palladium — before hitting the amphitheater level of the Greek and Gibson.

“Los Angeles already suffers from a saturation of seat inventory,” said Adam Friedman, CEO of Nederlander Concerts, which books the Greek, Pantages and other Southern California venues. “On its face, it seems like more choice is better for artists and fans alike. However, it heightens competition among the venues and promoters, which results in increased show costs and, in turn, ticket prices.”

Promoters say they are keenly aware of ticket inflation.

“The ticket price has to make sense — good shows that are priced properly are doing great,” said Rick Mueller, president for California at Live Nation, who will be one of five people involved in booking the Palladium.

“You can’t call the competition to get ticket prices down — that would be collusion,” Tollett said. “We keep seeing the same faces at shows, and that tells me to be careful. Charging too much is the only thing that will screw this up.”

Mueller said the Palladium’s ballroom setup is unique, a rare all-general admission venue without seating that can accommodate 4,000 patrons. Upgrades and renovations, which have cost an estimated $20 million, are focused on restoring the Sunset Boulevard venue to its 1940 opening-night appearance with increased amenities such as permanent bars and a merchandise booth, an expandable stage and rigging in the ceiling to accommodate modern sound equipment.

“Everybody knows the sound sucked and the staff was militant, but they saw great shows here,” Mueller said, reinforcing the tagline Live Nation has been using in its advertising — “world famous concert hall, new sound, new staff.”

A key component, he said, in making the Palladium a viable venue again is the ability of performers who choose to do an underplay, i.e., book a performance at a venue far smaller than usual, to still put on a full show. Jonas Brothers, for example, will play the Sunday after Thanksgiving; Rise Against is booked for four nights at the Palladium rather than at the Gibson for one or two.

Meanwhile, Club Nokia mixes an open orchestra section with seats in its balcony, its curved design the opposite of the Nokia Theater, which has a long steady rake. The club is tall, its steep balcony extending significantly over the open floor. The front row of the balcony appears to be one of the best seats in any venue in Los Angeles.

“We’ve taken to calling it the Ledge,” Tollett noted. “It will be a coveted spot for sure.”

For the rest of the year, the Palladium and Club Nokia will feature acts that could play venues two or three times their size. Beck, who sold out the Hollywood Bowl this summer, plays Nov. 8 and 9, Usher is booked for Nov. 19, and Gretchen Wilson is set for Dec. 11. Nokia is solidly booked through Dec. 14; the Palladium, which will be marketed for private events, parties and kudos events, has 10 shows set for November.

One talent agent who has dealings with all the promoters said the L.A. Live venues are looking at a significant crapshoot. Will patrons return regularly if it’s $25 every time to park? Once the restaurants and bars open, will they be able to get the crowd in early and hold onto them after a show is finished? Does it make sense, in a market like Los Angeles where Spanish-speaking artists are often looking to cross over, to narrowcast a venue like the Conga Room?

“The landscape has changed over the last several years, and Latin artists have become accustomed to being booked in mainstream venues,” another agent said. “That reduces the availability of acts that can be booked (at Conga Room) to those who want a strictly Latin audience.”

Goldenvoice’s Tollett has been a key player in shifting the L.A. concert marketplace over the last 20 years, often finding unused places to book shows. He will continue to book venues such as the Mayan and the Orpheum but notes the Wiltern and Nokia venues are “friendly financially to the artists,” which means more opportunities for bigger productions — and a greater possibility that a promoter will end an evening in the black.

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