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POP EYE

New Venue Is a Blockbuster, but Will It Be a Winner?

April 11, 1993|Steve Hochman

Can Southern California use another concert amphitheater?

Blockbuster, the Miami-based company best known for its video stores, is staking its considerable bankroll on it--and a survey of music industry executives in the area says the company will need every penny of it.

The Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion is under construction now on the site of the 1982 and '83 US Festivals near San Bernardino and is scheduled to open this summer. This will be Blockbuster's third amphitheater, joining existing ones in Phoenix, Ariz. and Charlotte, N.C.

Not only will the facility boast a 16,000-seat amphitheater, putting it in direct competition with the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa and the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, both only about 40 miles away, but it will also be usable for special festivals of more than 60,000 people, pitting it against the likes of Anaheim Stadium, the Rose Bowl and the Coliseum for the biggest concert events.

But the consensus is that Blockbuster has a tough job ahead.

"If they've got $15 million or $20 million to lose, more power to them," said one concert business executive, who asked that his name not be used.

"To get artists in the beginning they're going to have to overpay," said Brad Gelfond, head of the West Coast contemporary division for the William Morris agency, which handles concert bookings for many major pop artists. "Who's going to want to try an untested venue in a market that we don't know is real?"

But Alan Flexer, chief operating officer of Blockbuster's Amphitheatre Entertainment Corp., isn't worrying about the competition. He doesn't even consider it competition.

"We view this as a totally separate market--there are almost three million people in the Inland Empire and our studies show that 90% of them don't go to L.A. or Orange County for shows," he said. "It's a self-sustaining area where there is minimal or no competition."

In fact, he said, 20 headlining acts are already booked for the inaugural season, which is scheduled to begin with a July 4 weekend grand opening. An official announcement of the opening and summer schedule is expected in the next few weeks.

It's unprecedented to have three competing facilities so close, says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert trade magazine Pollstar.

"But when Irvine Meadows opened, it was difficult for people to see Orange County as a separate market from Los Angeles. Now it's no problem," Bongiovanni says. "If that could happen in San Bernardino, it could work."

The other question about the Pavilion has to do with who was chosen to book the events there. Conventional wisdom would have put betting money on Avalon Attractions, Nederlander or MCA Concerts, the three major promoters with established business in the area. Instead, Blockbuster signed on Delsener Slater Productions, a New York-based firm with no experience in Southern California.

"Blockbuster felt they needed someone who would advocate for their facility instead of striking a deal with someone who has their own buildings already," Bongiovanni says. Avalon books Irvine Meadows, Nederlander operates the Pacific and MCA owns the Universal Amphitheatre.

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