Business & Real Estate

Sacramento nightclub Ace of Spades sold to Live Nation

Concert-goers cross R Street as the doors open at the Ace of Spades music venue in October 2013. Fans line up across the street for hours before the nightclub opens.
Concert-goers cross R Street as the doors open at the Ace of Spades music venue in October 2013. Fans line up across the street for hours before the nightclub opens. Bee file 2013

Sacramento’s up-and-coming R Street entertainment district just got another shot in the arm – the nightclub that serves as one of the corridor’s anchor tenants has been sold to a leading national concert promoter and venue operator.

Ace of Spades, the 1,000-person venue that has hosted such acts as Snoop Dogg and Jimmy Eat World, was sold to Live Nation Entertainment Inc. in a deal announced Tuesday. While it will retain its name, Ace of Spades will become part of Live Nation’s House of Blues Entertainment division. Concert industry experts said the sale likely will make it easier to attract more top talent to the venue.

The deal represents a major move by Los Angeles-based Live Nation into Sacramento, and it might not be its last. Ace of Spades co-founder Bret Bair, who had owned the venue since 2010 with partner Eric Rushing, said Live Nation is exploring downtown Sacramento in hopes of opening a second, larger venue.

Ace of Spades has been immensely popular in recent years, drawing large lines of people stretching along R Street and around the corner. The club sold 98,901 tickets last year, making it the 36th most successful club venue in the world, according to Pollstar magazine, which tracks the concert industry.

The club has added energy to the revival of R Street, which in recent years has been transformed from an unsightly collection of dilapidated industrial buildings into a promising stretch of restaurants, bars, shops and lofts at the southern edge of downtown.

Bair said the club’s success prompted numerous purchase offers from national concert promoters eager to cash in on the growth of the Sacramento market.

“Hey, (Live Nation) is the best at what they do and we said, ‘Let’s go with them,’ ” he said. Bair and Rushing will go to work for Live Nation.

The sale price was not disclosed.

“Sacramento is the next logical move for us in California,” said Ben Weeden, the chief operating officer of House of Blues, in a prepared statement. “It is a vibrant music market with a very engaged population base that we think is underserved at the club and theater level.” He cited Ace of Spades’ “extraordinary track record.”

Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, said the purchase is a positive for Ace of Spades and the R Street district. He said Live Nation’s national connections will make it easier to land big-name performers, particularly those who have shows scheduled at Live Nation venues in the Bay Area and are looking for additional bookings in Northern California.

“It’s a good thing for Sacramento because there’s any number of shows that could be tied in with what’s going on in San Francisco,” Bongiovanni said.

He added that it’s a tribute to Ace of Spades and its track record that it isn’t being rebranded.

“They believe the existing brand is strong enough,” Bongiovanni said. Pollstar’s figures show Ace of Spades was the third most popular nightclub in California last year, based on ticket sales.

Bair said he and his partner figured big concert operators would be coming into the market, and they decided now would be a good time to sell.

“While we had five years of success, we knew the day was coming when we would have competition from other companies that would be willing to absorb losses,” he said. “We weren’t in that position.”

Bair said Live Nation is looking at locations for a larger, 2,500-plus capacity club downtown that would be able to bring in bigger acts.

“There are several locations that have been earmarked,” he said. “They’re very aggressive about getting that next site.”

He added that a larger venue would enable Sacramento to draw top performers – “the same people that play at the Fillmore in San Francisco and the House of Blues in Anaheim.”

Jake Favour, a Sacramento design and development consultant, said he is working with Live Nation to identify a new site that could be branded under the House of Blues or Fillmore name and could be open within two years. Live Nation operates 12 clubs under the House of Blues brand and seven under the Fillmore brand, including the iconic venue in San Francisco.

“They know with the forthcoming arena that now is a great time economically to move into the marketplace,” he said, referring to the scheduled October opening of Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento.

Jim Yeager, a spokesman for Live Nation’s House of Blues division, didn’t comment specifically on the search for a second downtown location. But, he said: “In all of the markets we are in, all over the country, we are always looking at new venues.”

Live Nation also owns and operates Toyota Amphitheatre near Wheatland, formerly known as Sleep Train Amphitheatre.

Ace of Spades, which was called Empire before the sale to Bair and Rushing, is known for its eclectic selection of music, including rock, country, hip-hop and reggae. That’s not likely to change under the new ownership, Bair said.

“Don’t be fooled by the name,” he said of House of Blues. “They have more blues than we do, but their programming is otherwise about the same as ours.”