Events gurus know when to hold them, when to walk away

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The high risk game of concert promotion looks an unlikely play for newsmedia companies looking for brand diversification.

Yet a US publisher is doing exactly that, taking on a Kenny Rogers country concert in the process and scoring a 3104-ticket sell-out, the only one on his tour.

"It's a complicated but rewarding business," Altoona, Pennsylvania, Mirror general manager Ray Eckenode told delegates at this week's America East Media Business & Technology Conference. But while he admitted the Rogers concert was "a little scary", tribute shows presented less risk, and later speakers were to talk of an "exploding" events market.

Nor was that the sort of explosion alluded to by those who had cautiously followed the example of Ed Sheeran and U2 in cancelling events during civic unrest.

Better served was Billy Penn's Chris Klewson, who cited the success of a with-alcohol '40 under 40'-style event, and reported that it was "incredibly popular to invite people and give them plaques".

Jason Taylor of Gatehouse Live said events attracted new customers and drew revenue from different 'buckets' to those used by sponsors for advertising. They also combat perceptions: "Nobody can say you're dying when there events can make more than US$200,000," he says.

A school sports event called 'All Star Preps' - 44 of which had been held, with guest stars including Venus and Serena Williams - had brought revenue between $100,000-200,00 each.

Nor was success limited to publishers in large towns and cities. In Dewey, Oklahoma, when a Christmas event "blizzard" hit town, shutting a whole street - "snow's cheap, it's only water," says Taylor - the 4000 town population swelled by 50 per cent, sending a message that the local paper was "alive and well".

Gatehouse Live's team of 12 people - including Taylor, who also heads the publisher's western division - mounted 344 events last year... plus one for the benefit of America East delegates and exhibitors.

What was described by Rebecca Capparelli as a "big megaphone" for the paper was also helping it to a treasure trove of data: "If you're giving them a wow event with celebrity guests, they'll even tell you their shoe size," he says.

Philadelphia public radio and TV station WHYY's Eric Walters said "begathons" - membership events with pledge times - raised $250-350,000 a year, while civic events were free, "but still didn't have to lose money".

The realisation that there's money in ticketing has also led another publisher to set up a specialised business, MyNorth Media's GeoTix platform, which was to be seen in the AmEast aisles.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: Gatehouse Live brings AcroLive action to their America East presentation and (top) Jason Taylor and Rebecca Capparelli

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