JPJ revisited: When sold out doesn’t mean totally full

After we ran our October 2007 cover story Entertainment overload: Can so many music venues make it? [published October 25, 2007], John Paul Jones Arena general manager Larry Wilson (picture left with JPJ's 2006 "Best New Concert Venue" award) took issue with the way we defined "sold out" when it came to measuring the success of shows at the venue. At the time, The Police, 2007's top-grossing concert tour, had not "sold out" the 16,000-seat arena, even though tickets had been on sale for more than a month. Eventually, the Police did sell out, Wilson says, but he points out that "sold out does not mean that the facility was totally full."

Huh? Let us explain...

In our story, we characterized the curtains used to cover the empty upper decks as the "muted black failure curtains" that hid the fact a show hadn't sold out the entire arena. But that may have been unfair. As Wilson explains, every show has a different max capacity, anywhere between 2,500 and 16,000, which is set by the promoter and the act, and that success is measured within those parameters.

"For example, Sugarland was sold out but our capacity was 6,200 for that show," he says. "The curtain is used to reduce the capacity of the arena in order for us to attract smaller shows that normally cannot sell out a full arena. We have many different seating configurations all the way from 2,500-16,000. It gives us an advantage when approaching promoters and agents on coming to Charlottesville to play."

Wilson admits that the Justin Timberlake and Bob Dylan shows didn't sell out (in addition, we noticed that the recent Blue Man Group show was sparsely attended, with whole sections of the lower decks empty), but says we "shouldn't get too hung up on the word 'sold out'.

"We have played shows that didn't sell out but were very successful," he says. "We did huge numbers for the Justin Timberlake show and Bob Dylan was another where we were within 200 tickets of a sell out."

Of the roughly 40-plus acts and 75-plus shows that JPJ has hosted since opening in 2006, Wilson says that 12 have been official sell outs, including Kenny Chesney, DMB(x2), Eric Clapton, High School Musical, George Strait, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rascal Flatts, Billy Joel, The Police, Sugarland, and the upcoming Bruce Springsteen show. In addition, Wilson says there have also been huge numbers for the twice postponed Van Halen show, and that while the Michael Buble and Keith Urban/Carrie Underwood shows have not sold out their capacities, he predicts they will by show time.

Apparently, tonight's Kid Rock show did not make the list.

Regardless, it appears that JPJ is holding its own on the concert front, despite our relatively small population and abundance of venues. As Pollstar magazine's Gary Bongiovanni told the Hook last October, JPJ's performance last year was "respectable," with 79,111 reported ticket sales during the first three quarters of 2007, ranking the arena 95th in ticket sales at venues nationwide, and putting it on par with similar-sized area venues like the Patriot Center at George Mason University and the Scope arena in Norfolk.

Still, Bongiovanni said the future success of the venue, as far as attracting major acts like The Police, would depend on whether the local population will support the programing with their wallets.

"If the market can't support that level of artist, that ticket price," he said of The Police concert, "then high-level acts like that won't be back."

5 comments

Can't we just be thankful that we get so much great music. Why do we have to over-analyze it? I am happy that I don't have to drive into the gridlock of a big city to see national acts. If Satellite closes, we might be in limbo for a while with acts on the national club circuit, since nobody seems to know when the Jefferson might reopen. Then is there a new story? "Where has it all gone?"

I say we just shut up and cross our fingers in the hopes that more great music continues to come to us. It's a blessing, not a curse.

Yes- I, and many others like me, are THRILLED that we now have all of these great acts in our backyard....

....but ticket prices are entirely too high for much of the music/event-loving community here. $93 for the Globetrotters-come on! How could a family afford that?

Truly, what bothers many folks more than the high ticket prices are the high fees like parking -- $18+ for Michael Buble...that plus a nosebleed ticket and fees puts the actual price over 70.00 for the top of section 311.

Oh my God, I agree with Dave McNair....it's snowing.

Golfer,

lol...I'll answer that if you tell me what this has to do with Artistic Bike racks:

¢Ã¢â??¬Ã?â??Sick of the Local Rambos¢Ã¢â??¬, I have read you're many responses posted on this board and the more that you post; the more I am convinced that you are a complete idiot and a pitiful individual.

http://www.readthehook.com/blog/index.php/2008/01/15/city-installs-artis...

And the newsworthiness of this story is???? The Hook must be scrounging for news....