IEBA 2019 Panel Recap: National Touring Power Panel


Kelly Kapp, Live Nation

Adam Kornfeld, AGI

Kate McMahon, Messina Touring Group

Raj Saha, Fiserv Forum


Moderated by Megan Wilson, Red Light Management


For Kelly Kapp, whose dual roles at Live Nation are VP of Touring and Executive VP of HOBE Talent, being on a national tour means having more people on your team who wake up thinking about selling more tickets and advancing your career. “A local team mixed with a national team means you get all the bells & whistles,” she said. “I think we see those artists rise quicker than others who may be going market-to-market to book.”

Messina Touring has been the sole promoter for Kenny Chesney for 20 years, and Kate McMahon knows Chesney’s fans. “There’s so much in my head I couldn’t teach someone; I just know it,” she said. “And we can change on a dime, if we need to, versus having to call 40 people to make something happen.”


Agent Adam Kornfeld agrees that there’s a concrete commitment involved with a national tour. “At the end of the day, the artist comes to me with any questions or problems so I have to know the answers,” he said. “As much as I’m engaged with the national coordinators of marketing, ticketing, and VIP, I still want to speak to the locals.”


McMahon added, “We do a really good job with national looks and what we’re trying to achieve, but I don’t know everything about Milwaukee. It’s really important to me to have a sharp team to tell me when to go on sale, why I should avoid this, where to find these other people I’m not finding.”


At Milwaukee’s fourteen-month-old Fiserv Forum, General Manager Raj Saha utilizes all of the building’s assets to attract tours. Those assets include the Bucks. “We’re on national television every night with our basketball team,” he said. “Giannis Antetokounmpo, the league’s MVP, sells more tickets than anyone.” With 18,000 Bucks fans in the venue, Saha takes advantage of the 800 in-house monitors, which only run upcoming event announcements. He drops in ads during game play, and his Bucks announcers are programmed to talk about upcoming shows. “We care about the unsold tickets – that’s actually the metric we use,” he said. “And the great thing about the power of an NBA team is a lot of shared assets. On the marketing side, we have two dedicated marketing/social media people at the venue then there’s a whole support team of about 20 people in the Bucks marketing department – graphic design, newsletters, Bucks social media. We communicate a lot through social media but then there’s the experience in the arena. We take a lot of money out of our own budget to have quick pop-up selfie stations, flower walls front of house – things to get people really engaged, to come to the arena early. We turn the area into that show. Tool is playing on Halloween so we’re actually turning the arena into a haunted house – it’s not going to be the normal concourse.”


As a new building, Saha enjoyed some national attention about the entertainment district that built up around his venue. “We own four buildings next to the area,” he explained. “These bars and restaurants help us with everything that’s coming through. We take out billboards all over town. We have a marketing deck we update every three months – it’s not a stale deck – that shows what we do and what we’re working on. We have the power of the Democratic National Convention coming up in nine months. So anytime people are talking about DNC 2020, they’re talking about Milwaukee. We’re the host venue and they’re talking about all the events that have taken place at Fiserv Forum.”

McMahon and Kapp know the value of that “venue hustle” and the role it plays in routing a tour. Local expertise plays an enormous role in every tour’s success. “There are the unsung heroes in the relationship,” said Kapp. “I can sit in L.A. and have a great relationship with the agent and the manager but, if the band rolls in and has a horrible time with the production staff, sometimes I don’t hear about it for a year. You can book a really successful tour but, if the bands and the artists aren’t treated well at the venue, you can lose that business forever.”


Moderator Megan Wilson receives end-of-night reports from the road. She elaborated, “I hear how the night went, how the venue looked, how the staff treated them, what the crowd was like. Not only do you need to get the show and market the show, you need to take care of the show while they’re there.”


“From load in,” added Kornfeld, whose client Def Leppard has been distributing local crew shirts at every concert for 30 years.


“How you treat your stagehands is very important,” said Saha. “I learned a long time ago – make it an easy day for the crew. Our local coffee shop has a to-go cart we move backstage for load-in. We have video games backstage.” Saha and his staff walk the venue every day. “We had a tour tell us that the television in their dressing room the night before had been broken for three weeks before they even got there. We have to spend the money because we have to have bands coming back.”


Kapp looks for these deep venue relationships, and sometimes to local independent promoters. She said, “When a routing comes to us, especially at a club or theater level with 45-55 dates with 5-6 nights in a row, sometimes we don’t have the bandwidth and we want to work with local promoters who are in line with us marketing-wise, asset-wise. It’s good to have a network to reach out to and say ‘Does this genre make sense at the moment? What’s the ticket history?’”

“One thing independent promoters are doing these days is expanding their territory and where they book,” said Kornfeld. “They’re taking opportunities and expanding regionally and nationally. If they develop a relationship with an artist, instead of doing one or two shows they’re doing half a dozen or a dozen. And this takes them into cities where, maybe, they haven’t been in the past and this grows their business. That’s one way independent promoters are surviving these days. Any promoter is looking to sell tickets. It doesn’t matter if it’s The Rolling Stones or U2. If [another act] is selling tickets and putting on a good show, it doesn’t matter. Find your niche, whatever that is. If you do a good enough job, you’ll develop a relationship with the band and manager and grow from there. It’s just a matter of doing the right thing.”


Wilson followed up with this question: “With so many people getting into the live event business – podcasters, bloggers, lifestyle experts – how do you identify what will work?” “Data” was Saha’s answer. “Venues talk to other venues about what worked, what didn’t work, and what can we learn from that.” He was quick to also reference Kevin Shivers’ comment from the hip-hop panel, “A co-worker’s kid who’s hanging out in the office. Yes! It’s a limited focus group, but I’m like ‘Hey, what do you think about this? Would you pay $25? Would you pay $100 to have this experience?’”


“You have to be willing roll the dice and get in first to establish the relationship in that genre,” added Kapp. “If not, you’re on the backside trying to play catch up.”


McMahon calls her neighborhood high school kids her focus group. “That’s how we figure out support a lot of the time,” she said. “I’ll say ‘This guy’s got a ton of streams.’ And they’ll say ‘Meh.’ Wow, no vibe there? That’s interesting.”


Regarding marketing, Wilson asked, “With digital marketing becoming the primary marketing tool, do you still consider grassroots marketing important and effective?” McMahon answered, “I do. Radio is still a big part, especially in country. You feel like you have to shake hands with everybody who brought you. Digital is our leader but we still go out there and hustle in every market. We depend heavily on our venue partners for that.”


Wilson wrapped her session with: “Folks here [at IEBA] really want to know how to get on your radar.”


McMahon responded, “Outreach is always good. We’re super lucky that we’re based in Austin. There are a lot of things happening in Austin. When you’re in town, come see us. That facetime is important. Not just with Louis but with everybody in our office. Tell us more about your market. We get into a mindset about what a market is and what it sells but sometimes our mindset is a decade old. Markets get hot and cold. Finding those little pots of honey is fun for us. Having people come in and really sell us – it’s powerful.”


“I’m in New York. I’m easy to find,” Kornfeld said. “I come to a lot of conventions. I’ve been an IEBA supporter for years. I’m here every year. I’m easy to find. Seek me out.”


Kapp feels like she gets more outreach on the band said. “We’ve been instrumental building packages with the first-of on a five-act bill. I feel that comes from people reaching out and agents I have a good relationship with being excited about something. So, drop a line. We like to try new things, especially if things are regionally bubbling. We’ll try to carve out an opening slot and see if we can start growing it locally then regionally then move on to nationally.”


Saha’s advice to venues reaching out to promoters: “Pick up the phone. Also, we say ‘Trust us! We know our product. We know where the fans are. Let us help you sell out your show.’ We’re happy to place ads at net. Let us run the marketing as much as possible. Trust us. A sold out show is great for everybody.”