Celebrating 40 years: Rupp Arena, an ‘icon’
When you can announce a sales record and say when it will be beaten in practically the same breath, you know things are going well.
Such is the story of Rupp Arena concerts.
In September, Justin Timberlake launched the second leg of his current tour there, hauling in $2 million for the largest one-night gross in arena history. The announcement was accompanied by the promise that one Sir Paul McCartney will top that record when he plays Rupp in June, with an expected gross around $2.4 million.
And there are a whole lot of shows between now than then, including rap icon Snoop Dogg in December, James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt in February, Dierks Bentley in February, Mumford & Sons in March and Pink in May. There’s also the promise of renovations to the arena, including replacing upper-arena benches with seats, late next year.
If you were thinking concert business at Rupp is up, you are not imagining things. Bookings at the arena were up 100 percent in 2018 over 2017’s numbers.
“We have more of a focus on booking,” says David Farrar, director of booking for Oak View Group Facilities, which partnered with the Lexington Center corporation late last year.
Farrar, who books for some other arenas but is primarily focused on Lexington, came to town early this year after a four-year stint as the general manager of Santander Arena in Reading, Pennsylvania. He can testify first hand to the advantages of separating the roles of booking and facility manager.
“When you’re a GM, you’ve got a lot of other stuff going on, so you may book 10 percent of your day or 20 percent of your day, or if it’s really busy, zero,” Farrar says. “That’s what I’m doing all day.
“In a competitive market like this, it’s an all-the-time thing.”
The most recent evidence that the focus is paying off, aside from the sold-out Chris Stapleton concert late last month, is the latest facilities ranking from industry publication Pollstar. Rupp checked in at No. 30 in the magazine’s third-quarter United States ticket sales report, according to a Rupp Arena release, up eight slots from its mid-year ranking. Globally, Rupp moved up to 64 from 77.
While blockbuster shows like McCartney, Stapleton and Timberlake obviously attract a lot of attention, Farrar says that smaller shows and tapping new markets are also important. The Lexington Legends’ Whitaker Bank Ballpark discovered a somewhat untapped market for 1990s/early 2000s hip hop with a sold our concert by Nelly in the spring.
So, Rupp is bringing in Snoop Dogg Dec. 8, a show Farrar says is selling really well. The next weekend, Rupp will dip into Latin music with a Dec. 16 appearance by global star Ozuna, who is just starting to crack the U.S. market.
Farrar says Rupp has explored bringing in some current hip hop chart toppers, but timing is very important with those shows. For instance, promoters want to make sure the University of Kentucky is in session when a show like that comes through. Particulars like that are why booking is a full-time job, and relationships such as the Oak View Group are important to give venues inside tracks on coming tours and other opportunities.
“Like anything, so much of it is about connections and networking, and relationships and daily diligence,” Lexington Center director of marketing and communications Sheila Kenny says. She looks at Farrar and asks, “Do you have any open dates?”
Farrar replies, “I always have open dates.”
COMING TO RUPP
Here’s a look at upcoming shows at Rupp Arena.
Dec. 5: Halestorm and In This Moment.
Dec. 6: Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Dec. 7: Alabama.
Dec. 8: Snoop Dogg.
Dec. 16: Ozuna.
Feb. 21: Dierks Bentley
Feb. 27: James Taylor & His All-Star Band.
March 12: Mumford & Sons.
March 26: Impractical Jokers.
March 30: Monster Jam.
April 11-14: Disney on Ice presents Frozen.
April 25: MercyMe.
May 9: Pink.
June 1: Paul McCartney.
Call 859-233-3535 or visit rupparena.com for tickets and more information.