Country music is big business for arena
There are just six events scheduled between now and the end of the year, a traditionally slow time for concerts and other shows when Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic are supposed to be drawing big crowds to the year-old arena.
Amway's business: country music.
Country's loyal fan base and the genre's large number of touring acts that can fill big arenas have Orlando and plenty of other cities vying to be Nashville outposts.
Here, where there is just one local country music radio station — K92 FM — that has been a challenge in the past.
The promotional power that radio provides can make all the difference when an artist is deciding on tour dates and locations.
"Country is one of those things that is still driven by radio … We kept hearing from promoters that they weren't happy with the station," said Allen Johnson, executive director of Orlando Venues. "That was the reason some shows weren't coming here."
Recently, though, Johnson has forged a new relationship with Debbie Morel, vice president and general manager for Cox Media Group in Orlando who oversees three stations, including K92.
The station dropped its policy of only promoting one event at a time, meaning more shows can get air-time, Johnson said. And Morel has personally stepped in to promise promoters and agents that the station would be supportive.
"She even got on the phone with me and a promoter to assure him," Johnson said.
Morel said the market can be challenging because the competition for people's entertainment dollars is fierce.
"In the last few months we have reconfirmed our commitment by embracing the shows that have come here," she said, "and as a result we've been rewarded with tons more."
As a result of their conversation, Johnson said, Orlando booked Jason Aldean, a country star who has emerged as a major touring act, for Jan. 22. Popular crooner George Strait will be in town on Feb. 11.
And this year, Amway hosted country artists such as Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw and, just last week, Sugarland.
Country music is so important to the arena's business because of how it's growing. It offers 12 to 15 acts who can sell out an arena the size of Amway, which is at least double the number with that kind of draw just five years ago, Johnson said.
Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar, which tracks revenue from concerts and shows, said that growth potential sets country apart.
"Country music has been a genre very successful in creating a new generation of headline acts," he said. "That's something the rock world seems to struggle with."
And country fans are often devoted enough to still purchase the entire album in this age where digital downloads of select singles permeates the industry.
Pollstar lists two country acts in its Top 10 for the first half of 2011. Kenny Chesney, who bypassed Orlando on his tour earlier this year, is No. 4 with $47 million, after powerhouses U2, Lady Gaga and Bon Jovi.
Taylor Swift, who included Orlando in the first leg of her tour in June, is No. 6 at $30 million.
"Country is very well represented" on the list, Bongiovanni said. "That's probably because they are priced more reasonably."
A better price point helps tickets sell, and that's exactly what Amway will need if the lockout persists and the Magic are no-shows.
The center closed its first fiscal year Sept. 30. While the final numbers aren't in, projections show that it generated enough money to break even or post a slight surplus, city of Orlando spokeswoman Heather Fagan said.
That could be harder next year if the NBA cancels more games. Then don't be surprised to find that Orlando has gone country.
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