martes, 31 de octubre de 2017
Did Paul McCartney skip Phoenix because of Chase Field dispute?
Did Paul McCartney skip Phoenix because of Chase Field dispute?
Rebekah L. Sanders, The Republic
Published Oct. 31, 2017
47,922 fans in Chase Field wait for Kenny Chesney to perform during the Spread the Love Tour at Chase Field in Phoenix on Saturday, May 7, 2016.
(Photo: David Wallace, David Wallace/The Republic)
Thousands of fans paying top-dollar for tickets might have packed Chase Field to see the legendary ex-Beatle Paul McCartney take the stage this summer.
But according to Chase Field's booking manager, McCartney's concert tour skipped Phoenix in part because of the ongoing clash over stadium issues between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Maricopa County.
Charles Johnston, CEO of Scottsdale-based Select Artists Associates, has run non-baseball events at the stadium since it opened in 1998. He specializes in staging entertainment at sports venues across the country — including taking part in 28 Super Bowls.
Johnston warned Maricopa County officials that the uncertainty surrounding renewal of his Chase Field booking contract in the face of opposition from the team contributed to McCartney's decision to go elsewhere and continues to hamper his ability to attract other talent.
"With the current state of affairs with our Booking Manager Agreement expiring June 30, 2017, and our inability to confirm a date and the unfortunate status of the relationship we all are experiencing with the Arizona Diamondbacks, they (Live Nation and Paul McCartney) elected to pass on Chase Field and not get involved in the pending matters," Johnston told Maricopa County Stadium District Director Daren Frank in an email obtained by The Arizona Republic under the Arizona Public Records Law.
A Live Nation spokesman who has promoted previous McCartney dates in the Phoenix market said the musician's choice to play other locations had nothing to do with the Chase Field dispute.
"Holds are placed at venues all the time" and later canceled, the spokesman said in a written statement. "The tour routing, unfortunately, didn't work out."
Kenny Chesney performs during the Spread the Love Tour at Chase Field in Phoenix on Saturday, May 7, 2016. (Photo: David Wallace, David Wallace/The Republic)
But other events have been canceled or jeopardized amid opposition from the Diamondbacks. The baseball franchise, as the downtown Phoenix stadium's main tenant, has veto power over events there.
The team took more than three months to respond to Johnston's request to book Kenny Chesney in 2018, endangering his ability to lock down the June 23 date, according to emails Johnston provided. The team also declined Johnston's offer of discounted tickets to Diamondbacks season ticket holders, sponsors and advertisers, he said.
The Diamondbacks didn't quickly give approval despite Chesney's wildly successful show at the stadium last year — and the team's frequent complaint that Johnston does not book enough concerts at Chase Field.
The Diamondbacks also moved this year's Fan Fest out of Chase Field to the team's spring-training ballpark, blaming Johnston on a radio show for not making the weekend available. He insists the dates were open.
"Our company has a 20-year investment and relationship with that property. And we took it from zero," Johnston said. "If I wasn't willing to commit our space and time, there would be nothing at Chase Field for the next year and a half."
Maricopa County has struggled for months to figure out whether to keep Johnston as the booking manager as the Diamondbacks ramp up pressure on him.
The team has a vested interest in attracting more non-baseball events because revenue from those events feeds a stadium maintenance fund. For more than a year, the Diamondbacks have been locked in a fight with Maricopa County over maintenance funding and the team's desire for major renovations to the 19-year-old stadium.
The millions of dollars at stake in non-baseball event revenue adds to the Gordian knot of disputes between the county and team.
Diamondbacks attorneys Leo Beus and Nona Lee separately wrote letters this year to the county threatening to torpedo any new contract awarded to Select Artists Associates.
"So there is no misunderstanding, the Team is exercising its contractual right to disapprove of the hiring of Mr. Johnston or any firm with whom he is affiliated," Lee wrote in a letter obtained through the newspaper's public records request.
The Diamondbacks also objected to the wording of the county's solicitation for bids to hire a new events manager. The original solicitationread, "the team has rarely permitted events that utilize the Playing Field during the baseball season."
In the face of the team's displeasure, the county unexpectedly canceled its bid solicitation and sweetened the language for the team in a second attempt to draw bidders.
"(T)he Team has expressed encouragement for and a willingness to permit events that utilize the Playing Field during the baseball season," the new solicitation reads.
County spokesman Fields Moseley said officials "reached out to the Diamondbacks so we could better understand why they were not satisfied with the original RFP. The county addressed all objections expressed by the team."
If the Diamondbacks were hoping for a different outcome, they are likely to be disappointed.
The initial bid process drew two proposals: One from Johnston's firm and another from R Entertainment.
The new round, which ended earlier this month, attracted only one bidder: Johnston.
County supervisors could soon vote to award the contract or ask for the third round of bids.
Mike O'Donnell of R Entertainment said the company didn't bid in the second roundbecause its hands are full. The company works on events with the Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields, as well as with The Republic.
"It's an interesting time right now, what's going on between Chase Field and the county, but regardless, there’s great opportunities to bring incredible events" to the stadium, O'Donnell said. "I don't know that it's been underutilized. The current management team, I believe, has produced quite a few events."
Trying to hold onto his contract has been frustrating and expensive, Johnston said.
"Having gone through the bid twice, and the fact you had major bidders in here for the second time, and they looked at it and took a pass — I'm hoping it all comes down and we get it signed and we move forward with the great shows that we have booked," said Johnston, who spent hours talking to The Republic while sharing dozens of pages of business documentation.
Despite the uncertainty, he said, he has been able to book two other major artists next year and a third in 2019, he said. They have not yet been announced.
The Diamondbacks' veto threat is still on the table, Beus told The Republic in a brief interview. Beus declined to answer the newspaper's full list of questions.
If the county awards the contract to Johnston, "It puts us further in the hole," Beus said, referring to the $187 million in stadium repairs that the team alleges in a lawsuit the county must pay.
Booking non-baseball events is "the only way" to raise money for urgent upgrades to Chase Field, he said.
County officials counter there will be enough money over time from team rent and event revenues to make structural repairs for which they are responsible. The county says the team must pay for cosmetic options, such as suite renovations.
The Diamondbacks previously asked the county to give the team the booking manager contract while significantly decreasing the team's roughly $4 million a year rent and handing control of the stadium to the City of Phoenix. In exchange, the team offered to absorb the full stadium maintenance costs.
However, when the team had two opportunities to bid on the events contract this year, it did not participate.
Johnston, a cheerful former trumpet player who can spin a yarn about almost any celebrity since he first booked the Rolling Stones in 1968, acknowledges he has a lucrative contract. But he doubts the team would be more successful.
The Diamondbacks once held rights for daytime gatherings like corporate conferences and charity fundraisers but gave them up in 2004 after generating only about $8,000 gross a year, according to county officials, Johnston and documents. Johnston's company now grosses about $2 million from daytime events, he said.
"Teams themselves are generally not ideally suited for being concert promoters. ... And municipalities are usually not able to take the risks," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of the worldwide concert trade magazine Pollstar. "What they really need is someone savvy who can negotiate with people (in the business), take all the financial risk and get a percentage of the proceeds."
A similar dynamic has played out in Glendale, where Gila River Arena revenues rose sharply after AEG took over arena management from the Arizona Coyotes.
Johnston says he is hopeful things will work out at Chase Field.
"The hard part about all of this is, we are booking all of these things far beyond the end of our contract," Johnston said. "But I wanted to show good faith."