Georgia Dome Goes All in on Concerts
BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
In June 2011, Carl Adkins, general manager of the Georgia Dome, hopped on a plane to Philadelphia with a specific mission: to meet with veteran concert promoter Louis Messina and convince him that Kenny Chesney should play the Atlanta venue.
Messina, who also handles Taylor Swift and George Strait among others, agreed that the Atlanta market would support a Chesney stadium show and the country Goliath made his first Dome appearance — with Tim McGraw, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals and Jake Owen sharing the bill — in June 2012.
This past summer, Chesney sold almost 45,000 tickets on his third trip to the venue since 2012. A few months later, Taylor Swift topped out at 56,000 on her massive “1989” tour. In between, the Dave Grohl-fronted Foo Fighters stormed the city with a 20,000-capacity concert at Centennial Olympic Park, which, along with the Georgia World Congress Center, College Football Hall of Fame and the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, falls under the umbrella of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority in Atlanta.
In just a few years, Adkins and his team at the Georgia Dome have resuscitated stadium concert business in the city, which, prior to Adkins’ visit with Messina, consisted of a Metallica performance in 2000 and U2 in 2009.
Adkins admits that with those early shows, “we hadn’t clearly defined what we wanted to accomplish.”
During the mid-2000s, acts including Bon Jovi, Green Day, the Dave Matthews Band, the Police, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Atlanta’s own Sugarland were filling stadiums in other cities, but, said Adkins, “for some reason bypassed us.”
After the success of the Chesney experiment of 2012 — the show played to more than 44,000 people with revenue close to $4 million — the Georgia Dome’s name was back in circulation among concert promoters to the point of landing two major Live Nation-produced tours — Jay Z and Beyonce in July 2014 and, three months later, One Direction with then-emerging 5 Seconds of Summer.
But Adkins wanted to escalate the momentum; in summer 2014, he created an eight-member Event Development Team comprised of employees of the Georgia Dome, Centennial Olympic Park and the Georgia World Congress Center.
Julia Karrenbauer, director of business development for the Georgia Dome since 2011, heads the squad and is proud of the work they’ve accomplished, especially this year’s trio of concerts that are all among the top six global tours of 2015, according to concert industry bible Pollstar.
“For us, it’s day-to-day business, but when you take a step back, it’s pretty impressive when you see all of the venues and tours out there,” she said. “It speaks a lot to our staff and the trust promoters have that we’re going to produce a great show for them. We do world-class events every day, but these music events are different.”
In addition to working with mega concert promoters such as Live Nation and Messina, the Event Development Team has developed a snug relationship with Rival Entertainment. The Atlanta-based promoter was responsible for last year’s trio of Outkast concerts at Centennial Olympic Park, as well as the Foo Fighters gig, which was in the works for about a year and a half.
“They’ve been a great partner for the park,” Karrenbauer said. “We’ve really grown with them and they’ve grown with us.”
In May, the park will also host the 2016 Shaky Knees Festival, the three-day indie rock event that is moving from Central Park, as well as its new companion festival, Shaky Beats.
Adkins surmised that at least one big concert is slated for the Georgia Dome next year and about three to five will take place in the park.
With the opening of the Falcons’ Mercedes-Benz Stadium looming in 2017, the Event Development Team is optimistic about continuing its concert hot streak, even though the venue will be operated in-house by the Falcons Stadium Company instead of the GWCCA.
“There will be opportunities for us to help produce events there. We absolutely feel we have the experience and the resources to be a benefit to the team,” Karrenbauer said, in a sentiment echoed by Adkins.
In noting that the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium has already secured the College Football National Championship in 2018 and the Final Four in 2020, stadium general manager Scott Jenkins said the venue will “not only be a big draw for sporting events, but for a variety of marquee events including concerts. … We look forward to continuing discussions with the country’s largest concert and event promoters about hosting world-class entertainment at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for years to come.”
While some concertgoers might favor the Dome’s omnipresent roof — at least it means air conditioning during those June concerts — the retractable roof planned for Mercedes-Benz Stadium might be preferred by some artists.
Adkins confirmed that one reason the Rolling Stones opted to perform at Georgia Tech this summer instead of the Dome was because they were adamant about playing outdoors. But most acts, including Swift and One Direction, didn’t need to make any special modifications to fit their production into the Dome space.
The Event Development Team is moving forward with a sense of purpose, knowing that it helped attract more than 100,000 concert fans to the Georgia Dome and Centennial Olympic Park in 2015.
“There’s passion there. There’s fire. And with that sort of attitude, you’re going to succeed,” Adkins said. “We’re all in.”