Look closely at that picture over there. Rolling Stones, right? Halifax, or Moncton show? Neither. That my loyal readers is a picture of the Rolling Stones at Frank Clair Field in Landsdowne Park in Ottawa. The concert took place in a stadium.
Let’s talk about stadiums. In the Chronicle Herald yesterday (Wednesday Oct 5) the columnist for (corrected, I thought he was editor) the business section, Roger Taylor, wrote a column that included the sentiment that “If there was seating and other facilities available as part of a stadium, it would cut the cost of hosting a concert”.
In an unusual fit of extraordinary sillyness, I called him out. I posted on Twitter, Facebook, locals, and then emailed him directly and invited him to come to my Business of Live Performance and Touring class on October 18th to learn about the underlying economics of large live shows. Basically I want to make a class project to demonstrate that a multi-million dollar investment in a stadium would not translate into significantly cheaper production costs.
So, while I didn’t exactly demand pistols at dawn, it is kinda ballsey to say to the business columnist “you don’t really know what you are talking about in this regard.” This is something I may live to regret.
Nevertheless, anticipating his acceptance of my kind offer, I am getting prepared for that class. Over an hour, myself and the students will present on three topics: first will be a review of how shows work in terms of their budgets and economics, the second on comparing costs in large venues, the third on how stadiums work.
It was to this end I called around for more info about how stadiums really run in Canada.
I called McGill Stadium, where I was told by Dianne that they have not had a rock show since the Police in 1985, since the stadium is right up against a hospital.
I called Mosaic Stadium, which is interestingly enough run out of Parks and Rec of the City of Regina, rather than an arms length crown corporation like the Trade Centre Limited here in Halifax. Brent was really hesitant to talk, said he would get back to me.
I tried to call Rogers Centre, but guess what? No phone number to a direct line. Just a general voice mail box and event email. No dice.
Then I hit pay dirt. Patrick at Landsdowne Park talked to me about Frank Clair Stadium and at length about their operation. Like Regina, park administration is a department of the city, rather than arms length.
“Rent is obsolete in this business” Patrick said. He went on to say “for concert promoters, they know they can negotiate rent down to nothing” Landsdowne has a nominal charge of $27,500 for the field and stands, but Patrick never gets to charge it.
“We make our money from the skyboxes, ticket surcharge of $2.50 for a ticket over $12.00, concessions, alcohol.”
Ottawa has the misfortune of having lost its CFL team. Twice. Ottawa has a population of 1.1 million, and has been able to support an NHL team. Somehow, the CFL has not been able to be make it there.
I asked how often the 28,000 seat stadium was filled, and he said “not that often”.
In fact, the lower deck on one side of the field was in such disrepair that they tore it down, and the stadium now
seats only 22K, less than back when they did the Rolling Stones.
By this point I had really warmed up to Patrick. “Patrick,” I said, “this is a big question. Would you do it again, do you think in today’s market you could build a stadium like this and make it worth while.” I waited, thinking I knew the answer, but I was surprised.
“Certainly” he said. What? Because Frank Clair is not just for professional sports, and he wanted to make that clear “You can rent the just the field for $150.00 an hour”. Frank Clair is available to everyday people, who make up the majority of the users.
He also outlined a private/public partnership that brings in tens of thousands in straight rental revenue during the winter, from a private company that puts an air pressure dome, or bubble, just over the field so it can be used year round.
So what was Patrick’s advice? “It is good for a city. Build it an they will come. It will get used.”
I have always been in favor of a modest stadium. Patrick’s enthusiasm for this stadium, a civic facility used by all, was catching. I think a modest, Moncton style stadium at St Mary’s or even Shannon Park as an anchor facility operated by HRM Rec could be a good thing.
Too bad it wouldn’t have changed the economics of last summers concerts one little bit. I will write more about that in my next article, where I talk to a Toronto concert promoter about what the large concert scene there is really like.