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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

A side-by-side look at Greenfield Lake amphitheater proposals from AEG and Live Nation

The Hugh Morton Amphitheater at Greenfield Lake is a popular, and financially successful, city-owned venue. The world's two largest concert producers want to take over operations. Here's what they're proposing.

The Wilmington Strong Hurricane Florence Relief Concert at the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater on Saturday night. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
The Hugh Morton Amphitheater at Greenfield Lake, a city-owned venue, is one of the region’s most popular places to see a concert. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

WILMINGTON — The City of Wilmington has turned over the proposals from AEG and Live Nation to operate the Hugh Morton Amphitheater, also known as Greenfield Lake Amphitheater, showing the two companies’ approach to ticketing, concessions, noise mitigation, current litigation, and other issues.

The city issued a request for proposals (RFP) in October, twice pushing back the deadline for proposals. After the window to submit proposals closed on December 3, 2019, Port City Daily requested the submissions from all interested parties, along with emails between the city and submitters.

On New Year’s Eve, the city turned over proposals from AEG Presents and Live Nation (a request for email communication regarding the RFP is still outstanding). According to city emails, legal staff removed several pages of material from the proposals.

According to Deputy City Attorney Meredith Everhart, “there were only 2 pages removed from each one, primarily relating to the finances of the applicants, and those 2 pages will be made public at the time that the recommended proposal is brought to City Council to consider awarding the contract.”

The redactions mean that the expected financial arrangements — and potential profit to the city — remain unknown. City staff also removed AEG’s response to an RFP question about ongoing litigation, but not Live Nation’s. The offices of the city clerk and city attorney have not yet responded to an email sent seeking clarification on the statutory reason for redacting this material.

Beyond these issues, the proposals touch on a range of issues, detailed below. Live Nation’s 33-page proposal, dated Nov. 19, and AEG’s 198-page proposal, dated Dec. 3, can be both be found at the end of this article.

[Disclosure: Live Nation’s proposal includes Beau Gunn as a third-party consultant. Gunn is the general manager of 98.3 The Penguin which is owned by Local Voice Media, the parent company of Port City Daily.]

Ticketing

AEG proposes to use its wholly-owned subsidiary AXS to handle ticketing. In addition to online and phone ticketing, AEG proposes to set up a box office on event days (this box office will sell ‘day of’ tickets, as well as tickets for upcoming shows if available).

Live Nation proposes to handle box office and ticketing in-house; the proposal does not specify if Live Nation will use Ticketmaster (which merged with Live Nation in 2010). Currently, tickets for Live Nation shows produced at Hugh Morton are handled through Eventbrite (which acquired Ticketfly in 2017 and merged it into Eventbrite’s services the following year).

Concessions

AEG proposes to partner with Spectrum Concessions, a Texas-based company that works with many venue owners and managers (including AEG, Live Nation, and others). AEG promises “innovative, unique, and locally sourced food and beverage offerings” including a new program of “creative mixology.” The proposal also promises “seasonal and locally sourced food.”

Live Nation proposes to “evaluate the current concessionaire’s operations, fan satisfaction towards concessions, and the existing financial terms of the concession agreement.” Live Nation would then retain the current food and beverage set-up or issue a “culinary RFP” for a new operator, which would “incorporate local restaurateurs and local, sustainable food choices.” Live Nation’s proposal notes that the company would evaluate incorporating concessions at Hugh Morton with existing plans for a food and beverage program at the North Waterfront Park venue.

Neither RFP specifically addresses food trucks — several local trucks currently operate inside the venue for events — or details on alcohol options or pricing.

Noise complaints and mitigation

AEG proposes to maintain a ‘Dispatch Center’ to gather information about potential complaints and a three-step plan to respond “generally within 5 minutes on concert nights” to community concerns.

In cases of ongoing noise issues, AEG proposes to send personnel to the property where the complaint is being filed from to monitor the decibel level.

In its proposal, Live Nation points to a history of managing outdoor venues, and the “importance of a successful noise mitigation plan.”

Live Nation promises to “engage surrounding business and residents with communications that solidify The Hugh Morton Amphitheater as the entertainment venue of choice and its role in the greater Wilmington community” and to “monitor, track and work to resolve all customer and community concerns, issues and comments.”

Both companies have been made aware of the city’s recently updated noise ordinance.

Artists

As the first- and second-largest companies in the industry, Live Nation and AEG both own and/or operate major venues and have produced shows for top-selling artists.

Locally, Live Nation has produced a majority of the shows at Hugh Morton Amphitheater over the last few years. In 2019 Live Nation produced 44 shows, including Lukas Nelson, Michael Franti, and many others (a letter of recommendation written by Franti is included in Live Nation’s proposal).

AEG has also produced Hugh Morton concerts, including “Fitz and the Tantrums, Future Island, ZZ Ward, and Jack’s Mannequin.” AEG noted it also produced shows at now-defunct downtown Wilmington venues The Soapbox and Ziggy’s By the Sea.

Current litigation

The City of Wilmington’s RFP asked for any proposal to address current litigation involving the applicant. Both companies responded to the issue, but only one response was made public by the city.

AEG has one page of its proposal dedicated to ‘current litigation’ but the City of Wilmington redacted it from the proposal (page 17 of the proposal). Neither the city clerk’s office or the city attorney’s office have responded to a request for clarification as to what state statute protected this information.

Live Nation stated that there “are no current on-going litigation issues” relating to the North Carolina operating offices.

The company did not specifically address litigation against the umbrella Live Nation company, but stated, “as part of an organization that is the leading concert and tour promoter, live music venue operator, ticketing service provider, and artist management firm in the world, Live Nation, is occasionally party to the normal levels of litigation, all of which being appropriate given the size and breadth of operations of the company.”

Live Nation’s proposal does not address recent tension between the company and the U.S. Department of Justice, which accused Live Nation of repeatedly violating a regulatory agreement blocking anti-trust practices; the agreement was part of Live Nation’s 2010 merger deal with Ticketmaster.

The DOJ’s investigation stemmed from complaints from competitors (including AEG) that Live Nation violated the agreement when it used its control of touring acts to retaliate against venues that refused to use Ticketmaster. On Dec. 19, 2019, the DOJ settled with Live Nation. The settlement, which the DOJ called the strongest anti-trust enforcement in two decades, required Live Nation to repay the DOJ’s investigative costs, but did not include a fine. The settlement extends the agreement, set to expire this year, to 2025.

Live Nation did release a short statement: “We have reached an agreement in principle with the Department of Justice to extend and clarify the consent decree. We believe this is the best outcome for our business, clients, and shareholders as we turn our focus to 2020 initiatives.”

Civic events, community relations

Both proposals include provisions to ensure the availability of the amphitheater for city-approved civic events. AEG also specifically mentions Cape Fear Shakespeare of the Green and Azalea festival events. Live Nation mentions the possibility of moving additional city events from around the city to Hugh Morton Amphitheater, as well as emphasizing that it will seek to balance events at the amphitheater with the enjoyable of Greenfield Lake Park as a whole.

AEG also included a “university commitment,” proposing to “engage the University of North Carolina Wilmington to create opportunities for students.” AEG proposed creating paid internships for UNCW students, as well as participating in the university’s speaker series.

What’s next

Both AEG and Live Nation are expected to make proposals to city staff next week; staff will then select a ‘preferred proposal’ and send it to city council for a vote. The issue is not yet on council’s calendar, but earlier city documents, including the RFP, indicating city staff expected a vote in January.

Hugh Morton RFP response – AEG – Port City Daily by Ben Schachtman on Scribd

Hugh Morton RFP response – Live Nation – Port City Daily by Ben Schachtman on Scribd


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

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