Rockin’ Rod Stewart created another successful event at the Dunedin Stadium. The people came to Dunedin in their thousands. I did not attend myself, but from all observations they enjoyed a weekend break; filled our motels and hotels, dined out at our cafes and restaurants, took the opportunity to shop up for winter and to top it off Rod apparently lived right up to their expectations.
Well mostly. Again there were a few niggles about the suitability of our venue for concerts. Sound issues still persist. Even up close apparently Rod’s microphone was completely dominated by the rest of the bands’ microphones. From halfway down the pitch right to the back seats the visibility of the performer is pretty well non-existent and those in the two main stands have to keep looking sideways to watch the performance. Lets face it, it is a rugby stadium not a concert venue.
To declare my bias, while I enjoy a great concert as much as the next person, rugby is my primary interest in the Stadium, but I know we do need to make this stadium about more than rugby. The whole community is paying for it and so the whole community needs to be getting enjoyment from it.
And to be fair, it was pre-sold as a multi purpose venue, not just a rugby venue. The ongoing costs and losses incurred still irritate many in our community and I guess that is because they feel disenfranchised. They have a point when we continually hear these niggles about poor viewing and poor sound simply making the Stadium not suitable as a concert venue. So, if the venue is not ideal for concert-goers why did we secure three top acts this year? Well just look at the numbers for the promoters. Around 25,000 at Rod Stewart in Dunedin. He then went onto Auckland playing at Vector Arena with a capacity of 12,000. He did two performances there to get the same crowd as Dunedin in one concert. Before Dunedin he was in Australia he played at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre with a tiered seating capacity of 11,000 (plus additional standing capacity ) and even in Sydney, a city the size of the whole of NZ, he played at the Hope Estate outdoor amphitheatre in Hunter Valley with a maximum capacity of 20,000.
And our first mega concert at the Stadium, Elton John, flew in and out from Sydney to perform at Dunedin Stadium to a crowd of 35,500. But in Sydney he was performing at the Lyric Theatre which has a seating capacity of just 2,000. In 2012 Elton John opened the ‘state of the art’ Perth Arena to an audience of 15,000. It sold out and he did two performances. The Arena can hold over 50,000 for a sporting event, but as a true multi-purpose venue, the concert section of the arena, to ensure top quality sound, has a maximum capacity of 15,000.
With audiences of 30,000, Dunedin Stadium is certainly an attractive proposition for the promoters. But do we really have to compromise a concert experience to continually deliver those levels of numbers? The performer located at the end of the rugby pitch, 20,000 people viewing him from side-on progressively from a few metres away from the stage to over a hundred metres away, a few thousand seated progressively along a hundred + metre grass pitch and all at the same level, and Mitre 10 end stand which is well over 100 metres from the stage.
Dunedin always seems to have this ‘target’ of a 30,000+ audience which we seem to think we must deliver to get the acts here. We got there with Elton John, we will get there with Fleetwood Mac. But do we really need to make such a compromise in the concert experience to attract such acts to Dunedin when we compare the seating capacities of other venues they perform at in Auckland and Australia?
Imagine for example that we put the stage/ sound shell on the pitch facing the Speight’s Stand:
- We have a seating capacity of 10,500 (similar to Auckland and Brisbane).
- The performer is facing the audience.
- The sound is directed straight to the audience.
- The seating is tiered.
- The proximity of the stand gives the audience a real intimacy with the performer.
- Food and beverages are readily accessible at one of the hospitality lounges immediately behind the stand.
What a show that would be.
At $200 average per seat this is a revenue of over $2 million dollars for the night which is still not a bad night’s work. And if we can sell 20 or 30,000 seats then an extra show or two can be put on. Rod arrived in town on Thursday for the Saturday show. He could have easily put on a Friday/ Saturday performance.
Mega events are all well and good, but if you simply cannot deliver a mega experience then they simply will not be sustainable. Add to the concert experience the other big niggle from this Rod Stewart concert, that many motels not only charged premium rates in this low season period, but also put minimum stays of 2 and 3 nights, and people will soon be looking at the relative benefits of Auckland or Brisbane with more appropriately designed venues, more intimate experiences and more competitive accommodation.
I really think that if we want to make concert events a sustainable business for Dunedin, we need to think very carefully about the balance between audience numbers and experience delivery.