Leadership / 08.13.19
Hooray for the Hollywood Bowl
Some people have so-called “bucket lists” of things they want to do and places they want to see before the Grim Reaper comes knocking. Baseball fans, for instance, often plan cross-country trips in which they attend games at some of the most historic Major League Baseball stadiums — from Fenway Park in Boston to Wrigley Field in Chicago to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Movie fanatics love planning trips to famous filming sites, hitting everything from Devils Tower in Wyoming (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) to the Iowa farm and cornfield where “Field of Dreams” was shot.
Music fans are no less committed. They might follow their favorite artist or group on a current tour or take a couple of weeks and see live performances at some of the nation’s most legendary venues. The Grand Ole Opry in Tennessee is a must for many, as are Radio City Music Hall and the Apollo Theater in New York City. But in terms of outdoor venues, few have more allure than the Hollywood Bowl in Southern California.
The legendary amphitheater is located in the Hollywood Hills neighborhood of L.A. and is owned by the County of Los Angeles. It is known worldwide for its band shell, a distinctive set of arches that graced the venue from 1929 through 2003 and were replaced with a larger shell starting in the 2004 season. The setting is magical for many, with concerts performed against the backdrop of the Hollywood Hills and the famed Hollywood sign just to the northeast.
One of the Bowl’s biggest fans and supporters is a true insider, Joe Carter. “When I first moved to L.A. in July 1990, my parents lived here at the time,” he says. “On my first night, they took me to see Mel Tormé and Cleo Laine at the Bowl. Yes, I know that ages me! It was 100 degrees that day, and my mother said to bring a sweater. Having just moved here from Baltimore, that seemed crazy, but I did. We arrived at the Bowl, and the air was already cooler than I had anticipated, and everyone was in a good mood. We then had a lovely meal in our seats before the concert and turned toward the stage. The orchestra played and the performers improvised with each other, and it was really a lovely first experience.
“I fell in love with the Bowl that night,” he says. “I attended many concerts at the Bowl over the years. And who knew that 19 years later, I would be hired as the Director of Sales and Customer Experience and make my living ensuring that people can have that same type of experience every night?” Those experiences have ranged from live performances by everyone from Cher, the Rolling Stones and Kanye West to “Weird Al” Yankovic, the Muppets and Iranian music legend Googoosh.
The Bowl is also the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which Carter handles ticket sales for in both its regulars and summer seasons. The difference couldn’t be greater, he says. “Selling 17,500 tickets per night versus selling 2,254 tickets per night at Walt Disney Concert Hall completely changes the marketing dynamics, as well as the operational staffing needs.” For the Hollywood Bowl performances, he adds, “programming is more mainstream in focus, and marketing efforts are much larger, utilizing large social campaigns, digital marketing platforms, as well as expanded radio campaigns."
He continues, “As our pricing is much lower in general at the Bowl than at Walt Disney Concert Hall — as in 40% of tickets can be under $25 at the Bowl for key events, and our popular $1 seats are available for all weeknight classical and jazz concerts — we don’t create major discount promotions. Although we do work with Goldstar, TodayTix, Travelzoo and other partners with special offers throughout the season.”
One of the most popular concerts to date has been the L.A. Philharmonic’s “Star Wars Nights.” “The first 1,000 attendees at our [last] Star Wars Night received a free lightsaber,” Carter says. “And we sold thousands more, as well. So, as the battle scenes showed on the big screen, thousands of lightsabers would light up and bounce to the beat of the iconic John Williams score.”
Due to limited backstage availability, Carter and his staff rarely do any VIP packaging at the Bowl. “Our focus is on traditional subscription packages — weekends, jazz, classical, world — and create-your-own packages of five or more concerts in a season,” he says.
That said, half-price tickets are made available for children for the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra’s concerts July 2-4. Carter’s crew also works with the county in providing thousands of free tickets to the community throughout the summer. “Our prices in general are lower than the other summer venues throughout the area,” he says. “As a county park, it is important to us that the Bowl is accessible to all L.A. residents regardless of household income.”
For those attending the Hollywood Bowl for the first time, arriving early is key. Traffic can be very heavy, especially for sold-out concerts. As a result, patrons are encouraged to take advantage of the Bowl’s shuttle lots to de-stress the experience as much as possible. Although special limits apply for certain concerts, fans can generally bring their own food and beverages into the venue, too.
“That makes the overall experience tailored to your own taste — be it a Subway sandwich, a boxed meal prepared at [the many] restaurants and grocery stores in the city, pre-ordered food service in the box seats, or make a reservation at one of our restaurants,” Carter says. “Also, we have 14 picnic areas within the grounds, which allow for great spaces to gather with friends and family prior to a concert.”
Amenities like those have made the Hollywood Bowl the Top Amphitheatre for the second consecutive year at the Billboard Awards and the Best Major Outdoor Concert Venue for the 14th year in a row at the Pollstar Awards. Looking ahead, Carter expects the move toward mobile ticketing will continue. “We aren’t yet a fully mobile ticket venue,” he says, “but we hope to get there soon if only to help reduce fraud. With the advent of new technologies, new variations of fraud continue to create issues for high-demand concerts.”
For ticketing professionals like Carter, though, it’s all about delivering the best and most easygoing experience possible for the paying public. This holds true whether welcoming Linkin Park and its emotional tribute concert for Chester Bennington or the night the L.A. Philharmonic performed the soundtrack to Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” live while the movie played on big screen. “It was the first time I’ve ever seen 17,000 people stay to the end of a film’s credits to give a standing ovation to the musicians!” he says.
Carter concludes, “There is just a great communal happiness that permeates the air at the Bowl. People chat with each other, share stories and sometimes even food with their neighbors. It really is a cherished part of life in Los Angeles.” Then, he thought for a few seconds and remembered his mom’s advice from back in 1990. “Just always bring a sweater or a blanket! The temperature really can drop 20 degrees from when you leave your home to the end of the concert!”
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Tags: Theater , Musicals , Consumer Preferences , Venues