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Business Observer Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020 11 months ago

Feld Entertainment finds it way back to the stage

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Using lessons from sports leagues and an epidemiologist, Feld Entertainment aims to get back to its core business: live shows.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

For a company built to put smiles on people’s faces — uplifting the human spirit is in its mission statement — Feld Entertainment has had a tough run.

The Manatee County-based global live performance giant shuttered all its shows worldwide in mid-March, when COVID-19 stay-at-home orders from Singapore to Sarasota sidelined the live entertainment industry. Feld Entertainment Chairman and CEO Ken Feld says March 12, when company leaders sat around a conference table in the firm’s Palmetto headquarters and made the shut-down call, is “a day I probably will never forget.”

‘We found multiple tests several times a week is the best way to slow the spread.’ Ken Feld, Feld Entertainment

With an eye toward creating happier memories for kids and families, the company is moving forward on a return to show business on a pair of fronts: Disney on Ice and Monster Trucks. The company recently started rehearsals at its sprawling facility for Disney on Ice. The tour begins Nov. 6 in Dallas and performances are scheduled for November and December in San Antonio and Des Moines, Iowa. The Monster Jam, meanwhile, hit AT&T Stadium outside Dallas, in Arlington, with two shows Oct. 24 and Oct. 25.  

Ken Feld says the company has been prepping in some way for a return to live entertainment almost since the day it stopped. It had eight to 10 senior leaders, on an informal task force, sorting through dozens of plans on how to best get back to business. The plan is to start things slow, Feld says, learning from how sports leagues have come back, in addition  to working with a consulting epidemiologist it hired. “We think this is the prudent way to do it, come out with one tour and see how it goes,” Feld says. “We are a logistic-heavy company used to doing things efficiently and quickly. We just have to remain nimble.”

Courtesy. Feld Entertainment recently started holding rehearsals at its facility in Palmetto, north Manatee County, for an upcoming Disney on Ice tour.

Feld Entertainment is also leaning on the experience of doing events in bubbles. One is with the Monster Energy AMA Supercross, a motorsports league the company operates that completed its season in June, all held in one site in Utah. The other is the WNBA, the women’s professional basketball league, which finished its season and playoffs inside the Feld facility. Teams stayed at IMG Academy in Bradenton.

One key lesson the company learned from the WNBA, says Feld, is to test for COVID-19 early and often. Performers and crew for Disney on Ice, for example, will be tested at least twice a week. On the road, the company will essentially take an entire a hotel, to control the environment. “We found multiple tests several times a week is the best way to slow the spread,” Feld says.

Beyond maintaining a safe environment for performers and crews, the company, says Feld, is doing a lot to protect fans. Masks will be required at all shows, and there will be a contactless, pre-order system for merchandise and food and beverages. Tickets will be sold in pods, where the focus will be only allowing families and pre-existing groups to sit together. For the Monster Truck shows, Feld says the company consulted with personnel at AT&T stadium, who have had fans in seats for Dallas Cowboys games.

Ken Feld.

Even the way the company handles marketing and ticket sales has a pandemic-led twist. On marketing, the normal six-to-nine month build-up to a tour coming to town has been replaced by four to five works. The shorter time frame, says Feld, is a nod to how quick the COVID-19 levels change in any given market. On selling tickets, he says the company is using a “lot of complicated algorithms” to create a socially distanced event where sight lines and views aren’t compromised.

Feld Entertainment called back about 100 people to work for the Disney on Ice tour. While that number is only a fraction of the 1,400 people the company let go in April, it’s a start on the way back. Letting so many people go at once, says Feld, was “the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced in my working life.” But he adds, given the bulk of its revenue is derived from life performances and related purchases, “we were also cognizant of the ultimate survival of the company.”

The company, Feld believes, is on the right track with the Disney on Ice tour. While the uncertainty of the pandemic is his biggest worry, Feld also says he feels positive about the return of live environment. “I believe there is a lot of pent-up demand,” Feld says. “People want to go out and see shows and when you think of live entertainment we want to be the number one company you think of.”

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