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Business Observer Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021 1 month ago

Arena seeks to bring in big-time national concerts

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A new partnership sets the stage for the next act at Hertz Arena.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributor

Oak View Group Facilities officials first approached Hertz Arena executives several years ago about working together. A Pennsylvania-based venue management and event programming company, Oak View saw a lot of potential at the Estero sports and entertainment facility.

“We’ve been growing significantly in venues across the country,” says Doug Higgons, senior vice president of OVG Facilities. “Pre-pandemic, we were going through a market-by-market look at facilities to figure out where we think we can make a mark. Hertz Arena came to the list.”

The timing wasn’t right then. But a lot has happened at Hertz Arena since those first conversations. The Hoffmann Family of Cos., prolific Southwest Florida real estate developers and entrepreneurs, purchased the site in August 2019 and began a slew of improvements and renovations. The arena got a new center-hung scoreboard and upgraded equipment, while the 24 luxury suites were completely gutted and redone. The sports pub and Hertz #1 Club also got refreshes. “Millions and millions of dollars were poured into the building,” says Scott Bryant, general manager/senior executive vice president of Hertz Arena.

'The key is that our booking people are in the room when tours are being routed. And that’s the difference.’ Doug Higgons, Oak View Group Facilities

With the extensive facelift complete, the 7,200-seat arena is ready to start a new push to increase the number of concerts it hosts. So it reached back out to OVG Facilities to see if Higgons and his team were still interested in teaming up. They were, and the two entities announced their new partnership in September.

“I’m very confident OVG will help us get to where we need to be with more concerts,” says Bryant, 57. “We’re just excited about the relationship starting.”

Hertz Arena, under the name Germain Arena from 2004-2018, and, before that, TECO Energy Arena, has hosted more than 300 different entertainment events since it opened in 1998. A diverse lineup of acts has taken the stage there over the years, ranging from Elton John, Barry Manilow and Cher to Guns N’ Roses, Sting and Godsmack. Lots of country artists have played at Hertz Arena, too, including Hank Williams Jr., Willie Nelson, Keith Urban, Luke Bryan and Miranda Lambert. The arena’s also played host to Cirque du Soleil, Disney on Ice and the Harlem Globetrotters and is the home ice for professional minor-league hockey team the Florida Everblades.

Courtesy. Doug Higgons

It had a strong track record from which it could build more. But Bryant and his team did all the booking themselves, and knew they had some limitations on what they could achieve. OVG Facilities, on the other hand, has a broader reach thanks to its booking relationships at places like CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska; Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky; and the Thompson-Boling Arena on the campus of the University of Tennessee. “We’re just making sure that we’re telling the arena’s success story…and that Hertz Arena is being represented,” says Higgons.

Stefania Pifferi. Scott Bryant, general manager/senior executive vice president of Hertz Arena in Estero, says the venue is primed to land big acts with its new management partner, Oak View Group Facilities.

OVG Facilities also has a lot of connections due to its pedigree. Its parent company, Oak View Group, was founded in 2015. One co-founder is entertainment executive and industry icon Irving Azoff, who’s managed musical acts like the Eagles, Steely Dan and Bon Jovi and has served stints as chairman and CEO of Ticketmaster Entertainment and executive chairman of Live Nation Entertainment. The other co-founder is Tim Leiweke, a longtime sports executive who’s the former president and CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Los Angeles Kings, the Los Angeles Galaxy and the L.A. Live entertainment complex. Leiweke remains CEO of OVG, whole Azoff is on the board. (Leiweke’s brother Tod Leiweke, also a sports executive, was a top official for the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2010-2015.)

“Scott and his team have done a great job in booking the facility,” says Higgons, 51. “They’ve had a number of significant acts and they’re very busy. But we felt like we could move the needle even further. The key is that our booking people are in the room when tours are being routed. And that’s the difference.”

The arena has other things working in its favor. In addition to the recent renovations, it’s conveniently located right off Interstate 75 between fast-growing Fort Myers and Naples. “This market is super excited about good concerts,” says Bryant.

He also says the arena’s smaller size and layout means concertgoers get a good experience no matter where they sit. “We’re not multitiered where you’re sitting up in the nosebleeds touching the ceiling like at some huge arenas,” he says. “There really isn’t a bad seat in the house.”

OVG Facilities has its own track record of success from which to draw. After partnering with Rupp Arena in Lexington, for example, it increased bookings more than 100%. Officials see Hertz Arena as the next place it can have a big impact.

“It’s one of these situations where it’s the right fit at the right time,” says Higgons. “We only look at opportunities where we know we can make a difference, and this is that perfect scenario where we’ve got a great team on the ground there doing a great job. Now we just need to add on top of that.”

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