Concert business at Milwaukee's new Fiserv Forum is strong so far. 2019 will be better.

Piet Levy
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Paul McCartney grossed $1.7 million at a Bradley Center gig in 2005, but a full 10 years passed before the Milwaukee arena would make that much money from a single show. 

This fall, the Bradley Center's replacement — the $524 million Fiserv Forum — topped that tally three times. 

In a single week, Fiserv Forum grossed an impressive $6.3 million from four blockbuster shows. In just three months, it sold 128,850 concert tickets — 10,000 more than the BMO Harris Bradley Center did for all of 2017. 

Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band performs at the Fiserv Forum, Thursday, January 24, 2019.  Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In terms of its concert business, the Milwaukee Bucks' new arena, which opened last September with a Killers/Violent Femmes concert, is off to a tremendous start. According to data from Pollstar, the venue lands at No. 127 on the concert trade publication's list of top-selling arenas in the world. 

That bodes well for Fiserv Forum's first full year of operation, which could see as many as 30 concerts and comedy events in the building, if general manager and head of booking Raj Saha gets his way.

It's incredibly ambitious — the Bradley Center had 18 concerts in 2008, the strongest year of its three-decade run. 

But Saha's goal is also within reach: Just a few days into 2019, and excluding family and sporting events, Fiserv Forum already has 18 shows set for this year.

"They have some of the biggest shows right now," said Dave Brooks, founder of Amplify, a concert industry news site acquired by Billboard last fall. "Pink, Ariana Grande, Eric Church, the farewell tours with Elton John and KISS, Travis Scott. These are shows that every arena in America wants."

"For 30 years, the Bradley Center never had a history of doing mass continuous content," Saha said. "We had to educate people that we were building a new arena in Milwaukee for the industry, that if you want your artist to have a footprint and good traction in the upper Midwest, Milwaukee is an important place for your artist to play."

Fiserv Forum general manager Raj Saha's goal is to book 30 concerts and comedy shows at the arena for 2019. The most the BMO Harris Bradley Center ever offered in a year was 18 shows. Fiserv Forum has already announced 18 shows for the year.

Topping the Bradley Center 

Not that the Bradley Center didn't lure major shows. Its final 12 months were especially impressive, with big gets like Guns 'N Roses, Roger Waters, Katy Perry and Bon Jovi.

But whereas Pollstar data suggests the Bradley Center's average concert gross was $375,573 from 2013 through 2016, Fiserv Forum had 11 shows this fall that handily trumped that number, shows whose grosses were more or less on par with some of the best-performing arenas in the Midwest. 

Justin Timberlake's Sept. 21 show was Fiserv Forum's biggest so far, grossing $2.3 million from 16,060 tickets. 

That tally topped Timberlake's show at Detroit's 16-month-old Little Caesars Arena, the fifth-bestselling arena for concerts in the world, according to Pollstar.

The Milwaukee show's box office was also just 13 percent less than the Timberlake date at Chicago's United Center, a "must-play" city with a population more than four times larger than Milwaukee.

Justin Timberlake was the highest grossing concert at Fiserv Forum last fall, his first Milwaukee show in 15 years.

Fiserv Forum's Metallica show sold the most tickets of any concert there this fall — 17,091 — and made $2.2 million, according to Pollstar. That's a hair higher than the average gross that the metal band — the 24th top-grossing touring act in the world — had from a show in 2018. 

And the Eagles — which played Fiserv Forum the same wild October week as Metallica, Foo Fighters and Twenty One Pilots — grossed $1.9 million in Milwaukee, 10 percent more than the band did at Little Caesars Arena, and only 6 percent less than the United Center date.

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 "It's surpassed our projections for ticket sales and has been a great success story," said Charlie Goldstone, president of Madison-based FPC Live, a partner company with Live Nation that was the promoter behind Fiserv Forum's fall shows with the Eagles, Metallica, Timberlake, Twenty One Pilots, Fleetwood Mac and Maroon 5. 

"It shows how much life a new venue can breathe into a music scene and city," Goldstone said. 

The new arena and the traffic it's bringing to Milwaukee is even helping theater-level concert business, suggested Matt Beringer, the chief operating officer for the Pabst Theater Group.

For its primary venues — the Pabst Theater, the Riverside Theater, Turner Hall Ballroom and the Back Room at Colectivo Coffee — PTG had its strongest year of business in 2018, said CEO Gary Witt, with ticket sales up 25 percent from 2017, for 630 shows, a 10 percent increase from the year prior. 

PTG also had success bringing comedian Jim Gaffigan to Fiserv Forum in September, despite the comedian playing the 1,300-seat Pabst Theater nearly every December for the past decade. The show still attracted 12,000 people and made $717,371, according to Pollstar. PTG is also presenting Mumford & Sons at Fiserv Forum March 31.

"It's made Milwaukee more of a routing destination across the board," Beringer said of Fiserv Forum. "You have more agents, artists and managers considering the city as an option."

Scott Leslie, co-president of FPC Live, even suggested that Live Nation was so impressed by the fall's box office at Fiserv Forum that they decided to add a Milwaukee date for Michelle Obama's book tour, happening at the nearby Miller High Life Theatre March 16.

Fleetwood Mac grossed a solid $1.5 million at Fiserv Forum — but the band grossed $800,000 more than that at Chicago's United Center this fall, and $200,000 more at a Bradley Center show in 2015.

Not every Fiserv Forum show has been a slam dunk.

Fleetwood Mac, while selling a strong $1.5`million worth of tickets at Fiserv Forum in October, actually grossed $800,000 more at the United Center, and even $200,000 more at the Bradley Center in 2015. (The Fiserv Forum show fell on a Packers game day, and was without key member Lindsey Buckingham, who was fired last year.)

Kevin Hart underperformed Sept. 13, drawing 8,609 people and grossing $615,216. By comparison, the comedian's show at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, a smaller market than Milwaukee, grossed 41 percent more and sold 37 percent more tickets.

And you didn't need any Pollstar data to see that reggaeton star J. Balvin's Fiserv Forum appearance in October was a bust. Only a couple thousand people attended. (Box office data was not provided to Pollstar.) 

Reggaeton star J. Balvin performed the first entirely Spanish-language arena tour stop in Milwaukee's history at Fiserv Forum last October, and while the show was poorly attended, general manager Saha said the venue is still committed to bringing Latin tours to the building.

It was the first entirely Spanish-language concert tour to play a Milwaukee arena, but Saha said it won't be the last.

"Latin music is the fastest growing demographic," Saha said. "We're seeing a lot more crossover, college kids and young professionals are listening to it. We're not going to give it a one-time shot."

Saha said he's looking at dates for possible Latin shows, and vows to book more hip-hop than the Bradley Center did, whose last rap show was with 50 Cent and Jay Z in 2003. He also wants to bring the first EDM show to the arena this year.

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'In a very good place financially' 

Fiserv Forum — constructed with $250 million in taxpayer money — is operated by the privately run Milwaukee Bucks, which is primarily owned by Wes Edens, Marc Lasry and Jamie Dinan.

The team hasn't indicated what profit, if any, it's making from concerts, but Saha said the Bucks are "right where we expected to be from a budget standpoint."

"We're in a very good place financially. We have the support from the ownership group to continuously go out and book shows," Saha said. "There are some times where we may decide to take a show or not based purely on financials, but there have not been too many of those. We are very comfortable with our ability to sell tickets." 

From an industry perspective, there's reason for the optimism. 

The top 100 grossing tours in the world made $5.64 billion last year, according to Pollstar, a touch below 2017's tally of $5.65 billion, the sixth consecutive year of record growth.

As the concert business across the world, and in Wisconsin, continues to grow, the Milwaukee area isn't. The four-county metropolitan area has 1.5 million people, only about a 0.3% average growth a year since 2010, according to the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. The median income — $53,000 — is roughly in line with the national average.

That shouldn't affect entertainment spending in the area, especially when it comes to major concerts with widely loved superstars, Leslie argued. 

"I don't think people make spending decisions (for entertainment) where they can only spend X amount in this calendar year," he said. "They make emotional decisions. … And we've gotten a lot smarter making sure that someone who doesn't want to spend $150 for concert tickets still gets access inside the facility, even if they don't get the front row."

Nevertheless, Fiserv Forum offers about twice the number of lower-bowl seats compared with the Bradley Center, allowing promoters to sell more higher-priced tickets, and make more money, from Milwaukee shows. 

Fiserv Forum has approximately twice the number of lower bowl seats compared with the Bradley Center, giving promoters more opportunities to charge for higher-end tickets for concerts, and to earn higher grosses.

Fiserv Forum also has six internal loading docks — compared with the Bradley's lone outdoor dock — so load-in for shows has been faster, resulting in some cost savings, Saha said. For a couple tours last year, Fiserv Forum achieved some load-out records, he said.

"It's a huge backstage area," Goldstone said. "There's about 15 locker rooms and star dressing rooms, where they had maybe half of that at the Bradley Center. It makes the day more comfortable for the touring crew and is something promoters remember when they're routing."

When crews eat at Fiserv Forum, they have access to a Colectivo Coffee barista and an ice cream sundae bar, Saha said, and the Bucks are currently building a video game room.

But besides higher grosses and better backstage accommodations, Fiserv Forum offers something else that's appealing to promoters, Goldstone said: the marketing support from an NBA team.

Unlike the Bradley Center, Fiserv Forum is actually owned by the team, and the marketing team for the Bucks is the same marketing team behind its events.

"For the (upcoming) New Kids on the Block 'Mixtape Tour,' they made a promo video with the mascot," Goldstone said. "At the Bradley Center, they would not have been able to pull this off. The team is so invested in the success of these shows."

The fact that the team is so hot right now, led by MVP contender Giannis Antetokounmpo, helps too, Saha said. 

"When the team is in here we're selling out the building on a consistent basis," he said. "All these eyeballs are seeing marketing for our shows. We make announcements during the games and promote concerts on over 800 monitors. We market them on our radio network and TV broadcasts. And acts want to be associated with a great performing team."

More on music 

Piet Levy talks about concerts, local music and more on "TAP'd In" with Jordan Lee, 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9). Follow him on Twitter @pietlevy and on Facebook at



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