The reason: The area is considered a “C” market for top entertainers.
In the region, Atlanta is an “A” market, Columbia is a “B” market and the Augusta area – Richmond, Columbia and Aiken counties – is a “C” market, said Monty Jones Jr., the general manager of the Augusta Entertainment Complex.
Factors such as the size of venues, median income, ticket sales and total shows determine how a market ranks. Though the ranking system isn’t formal, it’s an unwritten rule among promoters, who decide where to bring shows.
“We’re a big enough town where we could at least be a ‘B’ market, but we’re not quite there yet,” Jones said.
To get there, Augusta will need a much bigger venue to consistently bring in big acts, said Kent Dunn, the vice president and general manager of Beasley Broadcasting of Augusta.
He would like to see more seats added to James Brown Arena. The arena, which seats 8,700, has the largest capacity of all the entertainment venues in the market. The next largest is Lady Antebellum Pavilion, which has a lawn seating capacity of 8,000.
In contrast, five venues in Atlanta have seating capacities dwarfing those of Augusta. They include the Georgia Dome at 80,000-plus and Philips Arena at 21,000.
Columbia can attract big-name acts because it has Colonial Life Arena, which seats 19,000 for concerts.
The bigger acts gravitate toward larger markets because they are typically trying to drive record sales during tours, said Carlos Larraz, the president of Annapolis, Md.-based National Artists Corp., which promotes acts nationwide.
“They can get higher ticket prices in those markets,” Larraz said. “There’s more people that will go to see them, and the impact of their concerts is a little bit bigger, just by virtue of the fact that there’s bigger venues. Acts are paid based on a guaranteed amount, plus a percentage of ticket sales. Their opportunity is bigger in a bigger market.”
Most big acts do about 30 or 40 shows a year, and because they play in a limited number of markets, they’re “going to go where they think they can make the most money and have the best accommodations,” said Gary Bongiovanni, the editor of Pollstar, a trade publication covering the concert industry.
“Typically that’s going to be bigger markets with newer buildings,” he said.
Some smaller markets, such as Lincoln, Neb.; Des Moines, Iowa; Tulsa, Okla.; and several markets in Texas, attract these acts because they all have new arenas. James Brown Arena, formerly the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center, opened in 1979.
“That makes it a little harder to compete if your facility is older,” Bongiovanni said. “The tourists tend to go where the more modern buildings are, unless the local population is exceptionally strong in supporting the shows that go in there.”
When a big-name act comes to Augusta, it’s typically on a weekday. Even Lady Antebellum, which has local ties in Lakeside High School graduates Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, played its two May shows at James Brown Arena on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Elton John concert was on a Tuesday in March.
Larraz said big acts usually want to play in bigger markets on Friday and Saturday. Acts such as Lady Antebellum come to smaller cities because they have a fan base there and promoters ask them to come, he said.
Augusta is generally considered a good market for country music artists, but even that has limitations. Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, who recently played in Atlanta, booked shows only in major markets with stadiums that could seat 50,000 to 60,000, said Julia Karrenbauer, the director of business development for the Georgia Dome.
A bright spot for Augusta, Larraz said, is the arena’s management. Global Spectrum began operating the complex in 2008 after a string of managers were fired by the county coliseum authority for poor performance.
“I think in Monty Jones what you have is a very knowledgeable person who is plugged into the local media,” said Larazz, who has brought acts such as New Edition and Lynyrd Skynyrd to Augusta in recent years. “That has really been the motivator for me bringing shows there, plus I do a lot of business with Global Spectrum. … Global Spectrum has brought a lot of that traffic into the market.”
Cher Best, of the Fatz and Cher Morning Show on WKSP-FM (96.3), agreed, and she said she believes there is potential for Augusta to move up from its C-market status.
“When you look at the success of what Global Spectrum has done and also the success of what’s going on in Columbia County at the Lady Antebellum amphitheater, you can see the interest in the market for quality entertainment on many different levels and genres has grown,” she said. “My premise has always been if you give people what they want, they’ll go and see it.”
For Augusta to move up in market rankings, residents need to continue to support shows, Jones said.
“We’re getting bigger shows … because the public comes out and supports different things,” he said. “That allows us to do that.”