Sacramento Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive was making an impassioned sales pitch to some of the concert industry’s most influential movers and shakers. The setting was San Francisco’s Marriott Marquis hotel, and Ranadive was serving as a keynote speaker at Pollstar Live, an annual conference hosted by the concert trade publication Pollstar.
In front of about 800 people – concert promoters, booking agents and venue managers from around the country – Ranadive in February delivered an hourlong speech entitled “Arena 3.0: The Coliseum for the 21st Century,” during which he listed the new Golden 1 Center’s virtues including its unique architecture, hologram technology capabilities and “unparalleled” computer network.
“We think this will be one of the prime spots for any performer,” Ranadive said. “If you look in the entire world and say, ‘Which are the three or four places I have to perform,’ we believe our Golden 1 Center will be one of them.”
Ranadive’s speech may have ended in enthusiastic applause, but the true test of his promotional abilities will come over the next few months as Golden 1 Center continues to add acts to its concert calendar.
The $557 million arena makes its debut on Tuesday with Paul McCartney, one of the most celebrated musicians in pop music history. Nine other shows are booked on the arena’s calendar, including sold-out concerts from Maroon 5 on Oct. 15 and Jimmy Buffett on Oct. 20. However, some of the season’s biggest arena tours already have decided to bypass Sacramento. Among them: Kanye West, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Latin superstar Marc Anthony.
Sacramento long has been considered a conservative town for concerts, a market where classic rock and country tend to draw well. The city hosts A-list performers on occasion – Justin Bieber played Sleep Train Arena in March, and McCartney twice performed at the Kings’ former arena. But attracting top concert headliners to Sacramento hasn’t always been a slam dunk, and seeing an alt-rock band like Radiohead or a megaperformer like Beyonce generally has meant taking a trip to the Bay Area.
The operators of Golden 1 Center are using the arena’s music-minded innovations to challenge that perception. The building boasts technological and acoustical considerations far beyond those of the former Arco Arena, long dubbed by locals as “Echo Arena” for its dismal sound. Acoustic panels hang around Golden 1 Center to absorb sound, preventing bass and guitar riffs from bouncing around the room and contributing to a cavernous feel. The speaker system is electronically focused, which means sound can be directed in various intensities around the arena instead of just being blasted from a few main spots.
In a recent media tour of Golden 1 Center, Kings Team President Chris Granger described the arena’s new sound system as “the same sound system they use at the Grammys.”
“The older generation of arenas were for basketball and hockey, and nobody gave a thought to acoustics,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar. “Now, touring artists are a major component of financial success, so that’s taken into consideration when designing a building instead of going back later to make adjustments.”
Golden 1 Center also was geared with more flexibility as a concert space compared to its predecessor in Natomas. The downtown arena is equipped with extensive rigging and power sources around the building, which allow a concert stage to be configured in different areas instead of a single fixed location. Golden 1 Center also is equipped with a loading bay that can accommodate four semis hauling concert equipment, a fixture that was missing at the previous arena.
But some of the features that Ranadive touted at Pollstar Live are still a work in progress. Golden 1 Center is billed as the first indoor-outdoor arena, with 40-foot hangar doors that could be opened for concerts and allow the public in the outside plaza to experience aspects of the performance. Ranadive explained that performers would have the ability to move between inside and outside Golden 1 Center.
Ranadive also mentioned the arena would have its own recording studio. “So after Beyonce performs, if she wants to lay down some tracks with DeMarcus Cousins, she can do that,” Ranadive said before offering a showman’s smile.
However, the recording studio has yet to be built. And the indoor-outdoor aspect at Golden 1 Center also is more of a long-term vision than a current reality. No concerts on the arena’s calendar, whether it’s McCartney or Ariana Grande (March 26), have plans to open the hangar doors. Once the logistics are worked out, using the indoor-outdoor approach would have to be approved first by the artist.
But even if all the arena’s bells and whistles are not fully functional, that new-arena smell can be enticing to musicians looking to make tour stops that will feature them at the sonic best.
“Artists like to play the brand-new buildings,” Bongiovanni said. “One thing we know … is that the shows that go into those buildings do better than they would if the building’s been around for a while. I expect Sacramento will see a significant increase in A-level shows coming to town.”
Locals are more apt to attend concerts in new arenas due to the excitement surrounding their opening. Maroon 5, for example, drew a less-than-half-capacity crowd of about 7,000 to Sleep Train Arena in 2007. But the band’s show at Golden 1, which has capacity for 17,500 people, has sold out.
Opening a world-class arena is just one step in attracting concerts by the likes of U2 and other top draws. Juan Rodriguez, general manager for Golden 1 Center, likens the booking process to playing chess. Many moving parts are in play, whether a tour is geared specifically for the upper tier of media markets (Sacramento is currently No. 20), or simply if the arena is available on a given night. Kings games take up more than 40 spots on its regular season calendar.
“It happens often that you don’t have the (right) date available,” Rodriguez said. “We have basketball games every year, then the artists have a challenge of routing. It’s not like they can just bounce from Miami to California overnight. And there’s also shows that we haven’t announced, and the date’s on hold for a (different) artist. Sometimes it doesn’t always work in our favor. But the energy is there.”
The 10 concerts booked so far target key demographics. Buffett, McCartney and Stevie Nicks are solid draws for baby boomers, while Grande and Twenty One Pilots (Feb. 11) are geared for their kids and grandkids. Maná from Mexico (Nov. 9) is one of the marquee acts in Latin music, and Eric Church (March 30) ranks as a popular headliner on the country circuit.
Eric Rushing, co-founder of the downtown live music club Ace of Spades, was in the audience during Ranadive’s Pollstar presentation. He said he hopes Golden 1 Center’s impact on the local concert market will trickle down to clubs like Ace of Spades, which can hold about 1,000 concertgoers.
“We’re going to get skipped on some things, but (Sacramento) is giving San Francisco a run for the market,” Rushing said. “If our market becomes bigger and more people see Sacramento on the routing, more developing acts will want to come and play the smaller rooms.”
Hardly shy about his belief that the arena’s rising tide will lift the entire region, Ranadive played a video during his Pollstar speech that called Sacramento the “next great American city” as images of Beyonce and Coldplay flashed on the screen.
“From the performer’s point of view,” he said, “this is going to be like no other venue.”