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Will Parkview Field rock?

TinCaps President Mike Nutter says the new park has huge potential as a concert venue

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2009-09-21


Mike Nutter, President and General Manager of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, has been with the minor league organization since 1999, and he’s had to deal with some high pressure situations during that time.

The situation late last month, where the headliner Good Charlotte pulled out of their show at Parkview Field less than 48 hours before the event, probably doesn’t rank as his worst problem, but it certainly wasn’t a good day. After all, the Good Charlotte concert, with Metro Station and Cobra Starship also on the bill, was only the second concert at Parkview Field with a “national name” attached to it; with very healthy attendance for TinCaps games, it would have been the proverbial icing on the cake for other events at Parkview Field to prove popular and lucrative.

“They called the promoter the day before the event and said ‘we’re not coming’,” recounts Nutter. “To be blunt, my reaction was ‘oh my God!’”

For the record, rumors of slack ticket sales weren’t the reason for Good Charlotte’s cancellation. In fact, according to Nutter, ticket sales were doing “pretty good” at $36.50 a pop for general admission seating. The promoter, Mike the Pike Productions, had targeted the high school demographic, and was doing some pretty aggressive marketing to reach that crowd. “We were hoping to sell a lot of tickets the week of the show,” Nutter says. “You know, what’s your incentive to buy a ticket early if it’s all general admission?”

Sales were starting to pick up, but the week of the show DJ AM — a friend of the band and former boyfriend of Nicole Richie, who now has two children with Good Charlotte singer Joel Madden — died in New York, and Good Charlotte pulled out of the show. Mark Newbauer of Mike the Pike Productions tried to take it all in stride. “This business requires a lot of grace under pressure,” he says. “It was a little startling, since they cancelled the day before, but as upsetting as it was, it’s a totally reasonable excuse.”

And not all was lost. Not by a long shot. “Were people disappointed? Sure. When the headliner doesn’t show, there’s no question,” Nutter says. But to make up for the cancellation, anyone who had paid for a ticket but decided not to go after the headliner pulled out got a full refund. Also, tickets were lowered the last two days to $21.50. “Anyone who bought a ticket and still wanted to come got the $15 back,” Nutter says.

They wound up with a respectable 3800+ concert-goers that night, according to Nutter (and it probably helped that Cobra Starship, one of the openers, actually has a big hit these days). The first national name concert at Parkview Stadium, with Christian rock band Mercy Me, had sold even better. Nutter said they were expecting to sell around 5,000 tickets at an $11/ticket price, and ended up selling over 6,000. The TinCaps worked with Trinity Communications to make that show happen. “Those guys are the best at what they do for Christian-based entertainment,” Nutter says.

And there was supposed to have been another concert at Parkview Field, this one before the other two. A July 3rd show with Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, and John Mellencamp came this close to happening. Jam Productions, a Chicago-based company who have been putting on outdoor Bob Dylan shows in minor league ballparks for several years now (they brought Dylan to the old park out by the coliseum a few years ago), had to abandon the project because of routing issues. “We had a deal in place this year — agreed upon but not signed, cause the guys at Jam Productions are good friends of mine, so I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking them — but it was going to be Dylan, Nelson, and John Mellencamp for July 3, and the routing changed, and they needed to go July 4 to South Bend,” says Nutter.

Believe it or not, Parkview Field was designed and built with concerts in mind. Baseball is first, of course, but when the park was first proposed, one of the facilities other uses was as a venue for music concerts. “Very much so,” Nutter says. “There’s a room right out of the first base dugout that literally has enough juice to power — and I’m not exaggerating — a U2 concert. Seriously. You have to run the cable a couple hundred feet, but all the power and all the juice is right there.” In other words, if touring companies can just “plug in,” it makes the venue that much more attractive.

“The other thing: the ramp in the left field corner right off of Ewing, we can get any 18-wheeler down that,” he adds. “That’s not always the case in some of the older stadiums.”

True, power for a major concert is rarely as simple as just “plugging in,” but telling an act yeah, we want you, but you’re going to need a day of load-in time and you’re going to have to do some logistical work to get the power right… well, thanks but no thanks, they’re on to the next market.

And bringing concerts to Parkview Field works out for the City. The cool thing is, the way the venue works with the City is that once we get to a certain point, the City gets a buck on everybody that comes here,” Nutter explains. “So for the two concerts we did, we put about $10,000 in to that improvement/maintenance fund for this place.

For Mike the Pike Productions, the Good Charlotte show was the company’s first foray into concert promotion. Mark Newbauer started the company with his sister Beth in 2002 with a focus on making films. Originally from Fort Wayne, they started the company in LA and came back to the area in 2003 to, as Newbauer puts it, “get the word out about tax incentives and the benefits of film production overall, in addition to the fact that it’s very cost effective to shoot in the Midwest.”

Mark is currently in Fort Wayne, while his sister is at the LA office. “One of us is always in Los Angeles, working and harvesting relationships,” he says. Mike the Pike recently bought the film rights to George RR Martin’s werewolf novella Skintrade, and is currently developing a movie production that will shoot in Indiana in the summer of 2010.

Newbauer says many business contacts encouraged them to get into concert/event promotion. “It’s very much like putting a film together, except for the most part the cost is lower, and the turnaround for profits is a lot faster,” he explains. “In many cases, it’s the same contact, the same agencies, and sort of the same process.”

With one foot in Fort Wayne, Newbauer says he followed the progress of Parkview Field closely, and sees it as a huge opportunity. “I know a lot of people, for one reason or another, were upset about the fact that we had a baseball stadium going in downtown,” he says. “We always try to see the big picture and I was really happy hearing that the field was going in, with the caveat being, I hope they do a lot of stuff there, not just baseball. I probably would have joined the upset group had it just been a baseball stadium, though that has proven pretty effective. But for me, this was an opportunity to bring some name acts to town, and the stadium, having that kind of ‘new car smell’ to it… to us, it was kind of a no-brainer.”

Newbauer says he wants to lock in at least two or three dates for concerts at Parkview Field for next year, and Mike Nutter says that, for their part, they’re going to get more aggressive in pursuing potential acts and getting the park in front of promoters. Nutter says a lot of people in the concert/event business simply don’t know about Parkview Field yet, but at the same time, a brand new, concert-friendly stadium, conveniently located in between major markets… it’s a pretty promotable concept, and an attractive one. “What promoters have seen with the minor league venues was that if they know in, say, May, that there was going to be a major concert in July or August, they can do their marketing like they usually do, but in addition, we do stuff on the video board, we can get our message in front of a few hundred thousand TinCaps fans for nothing, because we’re partners on the show.”

“When we knew we were coming downtown, we felt that there was a chance, hopefully, that we could have two or three big shows per year,” Nutter says. “I think that’s a realistic number. I hear people say ‘you guys should have five!’ Well, we’d love 10, but I’m trying to be realistic. We want to temper our enthusiasm. We’re not in play November through March. But if we’re looking at five or six months, is it a hope of ours to have 2, 3, 4 major acts? Yeah, absolutely.”

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