Why Chesney? He sells tickets
Watch a time-lapse video of a large roof being placed over the stage ahead of Saturday's Kenny Chesney and Jason Aldean concert at Lambeau Field. (June 18, 2015)
ASHWAUBENON – Kenny Chesney proved in 2011 that a major concert can be held profitably at Lambeau Field.
Profit matters because losses due to picking the wrong act, bad weather or other variables with a production as big as a Lambeau Field concert could sink the promoter, PMI Entertainment Group of Ashwaubenon.
Bringing Chesney here again in 2015 drew criticism from people who are not country music fans or wanted to see something different, but math, not artistic preference, was the basis for inviting him back. Saturday's concert, which includes Jason Aldean and others, sold more tickets than the 2011 version, which sold out. Because of a different stage configuration, more seats are available.
"There's not many people that can sell 50,000 tickets and get in the (scheduling) cycle," said Louis Messina of The Messina Group, the tour concert promoter for Chesney, Taylor Swift, George Strait and others. The Messina Group is working with PMI to promote this year's show.
Chesney and Swift would be among that number, as would Luke Bryant, the Rolling Stones and U2.
"For the people promoting the event and taking the financial risk, it's entirely a matter of mathematics," PMI president and CEO Ken Wachter said. "How many seats can you sell? How much can you charge? What are your expenses?"
Income from the event is divided several ways. Performers get ticket revenue, the Green Bay Packers get concessions and parking revenue not in the immediate Lambeau Field lot, such as the grass/gravel lots south of the stadium, and the Green Bay/Brown County Professional Football Stadium District gets revenue from Lambeau Field parking. Ticket tax in 2011 was $411,000, but will be more this year because there are 10,000 more seats. Parking revenue was $60,000.
"We don't control the three major revenue streams. It makes it much more difficult for a middleman to take risks," Wachter said during a stadium board meeting in September, before the Chesney announcement.
In 2011, the stadium district rebated the 10 percent ticket tax for events at Lambeau Field. This year it will return 5 percent. Wachter said they were able to adjust ticket prices to mitigate the difference, and attract buyers, by creating more higher-cost and lower-cost options.
Wachter said PMI does not have the financial resources to take big risks. In an arrangement unique in the entertainment industry, PMI pays Brown County for the right to manage the Resch Center, Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena and Shopko Hall, the source of the majority of its income. In most instances, companies like PMI are paid a fee to manage properties.
"If the buildings lose money, we lose money. If they make money, we make money," Wachter said. "When we take big risks, we go to our board. They usually say if it's good for the community, do it; try not to lose money."
PMI also manages the Meyer Theatre under a separate arrangement and promotes other Green Bay events such as the Tall Ships visits and Leicht at Nite concerts.
Not surprisingly, PMI is careful about its choices. A $100,000 loss on a Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire concert in 2004 — its largest loss — still rankles. After that, September was crossed off its list as a time for hosting major concerts.
Chesney in 2011 was a bigger risk.
"It was the largest risk we'd ever had. It's millions of dollars of expense," Wachter said. "The catering bill to feed the stagehands for a week was $100,000."
There was concern about bringing Chesney back.
"Louis Messina said by adding Jason Aldean, you'll do great. We had Aldean in the Resch Center and sold out in like a minute," Wachter said.
About 2,000 tickets remain for Saturday's concert, but they will be gone by showtime, Messina said.
Other issues affecting who can play and when include tour schedules, stadium availability and the Packers' well-known concern about protecting their playing field. Messina said all NFL teams care about that, but "I would say Lambeau rates right up there."
PMI provides a steady menu of concerts at the Resch Center, but scheduling Lambeau Field is more difficult. The Packers' lease of Lambeau allows events in the bowl February through May, during June if the Packers haven't scheduled something else, and at other times if the team agrees. For example, the University of Wisconsin and Louisiana State University are scheduled to play football at Lambeau in September 2016.
PMI won't schedule a concert before Memorial Day because of weather risks, Wachter said.
"Because of that window, we are looking at one (concert) a year at best," he said.
For example, if U2 isn't touring at that time, or if they are in Europe, there's no hope of getting them to Lambeau unless they really want to be here.
Lambeau Field is in a county of 250,000 people, so any large event has to draw from a wide area. Green Bay isn't exactly on the beaten path, but Messina said Lambeau remains a destination, even for things other than football. The Chesney concert sold tickets in more than 30 states.
"Lambeau Field is one of those iconic venues," Messina said. "If I know there is a window and I want to play Lambeau, I will work around that schedule. You walk in, it's spiritual."
Success with two Chesney concerts could prompt other efforts.
"I think there will be opportunities for concerts on a yearly basis. I think in the future, you'll have outside promoters," Wachter said.
Generally, Green Bay has another advantage over venues in big cities like Chicago: it's a less expensive place to visit. This year might be an exception because the massive U.S. Youth Soccer regional tournament is in town starting Friday.
"Our hotel rooms are in very high demand," said Brad Toll of the Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Soccer on its own is a huge weekend for us."
Hotels are booked from Fond du Lac to Green Bay and Shawano to Manitowoc, Toll said.
"Food costs and other parts would (still) be less expensive than if you were attending a concert in Chicago," he said.
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PMI Entertainment Group
PMI Entertainment Group is a community-based, private, non-stock corporation led by a local board of directors. It provides venue, sports and entertainment management services.
• Leadership: President & CEO — Ken Wachter; executive vice president — Brendan Bruss.
• Business interests: Management company of Brown County Arena, Shopko Hall, Resch Center, known as the Brown County Veterans Memorial Complex; manager of the Meyer Theatre; owner of Green Bay Gamblers hockey, Ticket Star and The Catering Co. Also produces events at the Veterans Complex, such as The Wedding Show and N.E.W. Truck Expo, and WBAY-TV shows, such at the RV & Camping Expo and Boat Show.
• Notable: PMI pays Brown County $325,000 to manage the Brown County Veterans Memorial Complex.
• Employees: 52 full time, 800 part time.
• Founded: 1983.
Board of directors
•Peter Mancuso, former president and CEO of Lindquist Machine Corp., Ashwaubenon.
•Ron Weyers, The Weyers Group, Howard.
•Jere Dhein, retired president of Tosca Manufacturing, Green Bay.
•Tom Olejniczak, managing partner, Conway, Olejniczak & Jerry law firm, Green Bay.
•Thomas Meinz, retired senior executive, Wisconsin Public Service Corp., Green Bay.
•Robert Atwell, president and CEO, Nicolet Bankshares, Green Bay.
•Jeffrey Kanzelberger, president/CEO, Performa, De Pere.