On December 30, 1999 Mayor Don Wesely appointed a Concert and Entertainment Task Force. Its charge was to determine if Lincoln has a problem attracting concerts and other entertainment events and if facilities or current policies are creating obstacles. The task force began meeting in January and formed five subcommittees: survey, venues, UNL involvement, corporate support and Pinewood Bowl. The task force's final meeting was in mid-May.
Jim Ritzman of Arjay Advertising chaired the task force. Other members were:
City staff providing support were Diane Gonzolas, Manager, Citizen Information Center; Phil Potter, Event Services Director, Pershing Auditorium; and Jerry Shorney, Superintendent of Parks/Operations, Parks and Recreation Department.
Whether or not a concert tour comes to Lincoln is dependent primarily on economics -- whether organizers can make a profit. In general, concerts are getting more expensive to produce, and ticket prices are going up.
Net revenue for shows generally comes from a combination of ticket revenue (dependent on price and capacity), concessions and parking revenue, where available. Most venues need to realize maximum usage of all revenue streams to create a profit.
Other economic factors include artist guarantees (minimum amount for which the artist will do a show); other artist demands (special food, etc.); production costs (stage hands, union rules, permits, equipment rental or purchase, etc.); venue costs; ticketing costs; advertising; security and first aid; competition; and insurance. Artists also charge different amounts based on the size of the venue.
Lincoln does have a problem attracting concerts for several reasons:
The survey subcommittee designed a questionnaire to gather opinions about concert opportunities in Lincoln. The survey was developed by the task force with help from Cheryl Wiese, Associate Director of the UNL Bureau of Sociological Research. The Lincoln Journal Star ran the survey in its "Ground Zero" section Friday, March 31 and in the Sunday newspaper April 2. Copies were also distributed at Pershing and other event sites, on the UNL and Nebraska Wesleyan campuses and other locations. The survey was also on city's web site.
Those who filled out and returned the survey by April 15 were entered into a drawing for a "Fun in Lincoln" prize package, which included tickets to local events and other gifts. The winner, drawn by the Mayor May 26, was Rick Goldsby, who had filled out a newspaper form.
More than 500 surveys were returned. Results were compiled with the assistance of the box office employees at the Lied Center. The complete survey results are included with the supplementary information. The following conclusions are based on the survey results:
Seventy percent of the respondents said they were not satisfied with the concerts currently offered in Lincoln. Twelve percent had no opinion, and only 18 percent indicated satisfaction.
About 67 percent of the respondents had paid to attend a concert in Lincoln in the past year, but only 43 percent had attended more than one.
About 70 percent of the respondents had attended one or more concerts outside of Lincoln in the past year. About 29 percent had traveled more than 240 miles to attend a concert. Overall, distance does not appear to be a major factor in concert attendance.
The city's three largest venues - Memorial Stadium (76,000), the Devaney Sports Center (13,600) and Pinewood Bowl (7,000) do not currently allow alcohol sales. Between 2,500 to 6,500 capacity, there are six venues - three outdoor and three indoor (including the not-yet-opened Lancaster County Events Center.) There are seven to eight venues in the 500 to 800 capacity range.
The city has been an attractive destination for small touring acts for many years. Many artists have established followings in Lincoln in the early stages of their careers, but have not been able to return because of the lack of appropriate venues.
Cities such as Lawrence, Kansas; Boulder, Colorado; and Columbia, Missouri have theaters that can accommodate these concerts. An opportunity may exist in the State Theater - it is being leased by former NU football player Lance Brown, who plans to use it as a music venue.
Ogden Entertainment manages Pershing Auditorium, but the city's contract with Ogden expires August 31, 2001. Ogden's entertainment division was recently sold to Aramark. The city plans to terminate its contract with Ogden now, rebid the contract and sign a new contract by the end of the current fiscal year August 31, 2000.
The increased costs of shows is making it difficult to break even at Pershing with its capacity of only 6,500. The facility is 44 years old and is outdated. The city had planned about $1 million in upgrades in 2002. The city has instead decided to hire a consultant to look at options for the future of Pershing.
Devaney is already making an effort to secure concerts on those dates when the facility is not in use for sports or other activities.
As one of the finest natural amphitheaters in the country, Pinewood Bowl offers one of the most positive opportunities to increasing the quantity and quality of concerts in Lincoln. The Bowl could be a premier summer venue.
Alcohol sales are socially accepted by a majority of adults for age-appropriate shows. Alcohol sales are also pivotal to increasing concert activity at Pinewood Bowl. Ticket sales and parking revenue are adequate, but other third of the equation - concessions - is seriously lagging due to lack of alcohol sales. This factor can make the difference between a break-even event and a loss. Alcohol has an impact on ambiance and attendance. There is also a concern that the current prohibition on alcohol may increase pre-show alcohol consumption and raise security costs.
At Pinewood Bowl, there is a need to determine revenue streams, security, levels of production, parking charges and alcohol availability on show-by-show basis based on demographics.
The size of the student population should draw concerts, but shows have not always been well attended. Some possible reasons are:
History has shown that when the "right" group does come, students will support the event, and a sell-out is possible.
At UNL, athletics is likely to have a priority over other extra-curricular events. Many student organizations, such as the University Program Council, have limited funds for production and promotion. Long-term planning is difficult because there is high turnaround with the student staff.
There are several ticketing systems at UNL. The Athletic Department has its own; the Lied Center has a system for itself, the Nebraska Repertory Theatre and the Howell; and the Nebraska Union is a Ticketmaster outlet.
In terms of the alcohol issue, 75 percent of the UNL student body is under the age of 21.
It can be difficult to get national support, but the best opportunities are those firms trying to expand into the Midwest and those looking for a niche, such as Internet and phone companies.
There are enough local corporations in Lincoln who could help support concerts. It is easier to get a meeting with local business leaders than with national corporations, and it's easier to explain the benefits of local activities to someone who lives, works and raises their children here.
What are the benefits for a company to support concerts and events?
One of the barriers is potential conflicts of interest - business sponsors that don't match well with acts or with other co-sponsors (tobacco, alcohol products).
The Concert and Entertainment Task Force should continue as a permanent Advisory Board to follow through on the other recommendations and, in general, to promote entertainment opportunities in Lincoln. The Board should consist of those task force members who are willing to continue serving plus new appointees from areas that may be under represented.
The Advisory Board would also facilitate the networking that is needed among promoters, venues, the media, bars and restaurants, record stores, the campuses, local businesses and corporations. When a show does come to town, all parties can be involved in creating a "game day" atmosphere.
Recommendations on Pinewood Bowl:
The Task Force recommends that the Mayor seek the approval of City Council and the Parks and Recreation Board to allow a series of three to six concerts or events at Pinewood Bowl, administered, staffed and promoted or co-promoted by Pershing and its management firm.
These concerts or events would be selected to appeal to audiences of different ages and interests. A typical season, for example, may include a country music concert, a family show, a blues concert and a rock event.
Permission would be sought for alcohol sales only at those shows that are age-appropriate to provide needed revenue. Approval would be for one summer concert season only and would be subject to approval by governing bodies after completion of trial season.
The following steps have been recommended:
Throughout the process, it must be stressed that the ultimate goal of the effort is to bring more concerts and entertainment to Lincoln. Alcohol is not the focus, but is part of the equation, and no one is proposing alcohol sales for every event or every park location.
Task Force Reports & Initiatives