Phoenix-area music venues battle for concerts

The Valley is home to six full-sized arenas, more than a dozen theaters, and dozens of smaller venues.
Published: Feb. 5, 2023 at 10:13 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - The high number of music venues in the Phoenix area has created fierce competition for concerts with their high dollars tickets. However, music lovers are the beneficiaries of this “Arena War,” according to promoters and venue general managers who spoke to Arizona’s Family.

In the 1970′s, 80′s, and 90′s, ASU’s Sun Devil stadium was the premiere location in Arizona for stadium tours. In the mid-70′s, Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson filmed part of A Star is Born at the stadium. In the 80′s, The Rolling Stones and U2 shot concert films at Sun Devil Stadium. It brought major concert tours to Tempe. “As far as stadiums go, ASU was the only one here, so it won by default,” said Danny Zelisko, a longtime concert promoter.

Zelisko remembers those days well. He started Evening Star Productions, which lured big names to Phoenix from around the world. “I loved when I got Paul McCartney to play ASU for the first time,” said Zelisko. “That was my first big, big stadium show that I got on my own with nobody else’s help. Tickets were 30 bucks,” he said.

But that was then. The concert world has changed. “Things have gotten a little more corporatized, for obvious reasons. That’s where some of the money is,” said Dale Adams, the general manager of Glendale’s Desert Diamond Arena.

The arena is the former home of the Arizona Coyotes and is a major player in the competition for concerts. “Call it a friendly competitive competition,” said Adams. He told Arizona’s Family that all of the general managers of the local arenas knew each other.

The Valley is home to six full-sized arenas, more than a dozen theaters, and dozens of smaller venues. In addition, State Farm Stadium has replaced Sun Devil Stadium as the premiere venue for stadium concerts.

“Developing a positive reputation in the industry for giving that positive experience is a big part of what gets you future events and shows,” said Andy Gorchov, the general manager of State Farm Stadium. Gorchov says 2023 is shaping up to be the busiest year for concerts in the stadium’s history. “It’s all done locally. It’s not done at the corporate level, you know. We’re responsible locally here for booking the stadium and it does come down to relationships,” said Gorchov.

The sheer number of venues available in the Valley means there is usually space available for any act at any time. But a large number also carries some risk. “I don’t know that there’s enough inventory or content around for a building to be in business these days, unless they’re subsidized by a city,” said Zelisko.

At Desert Diamond Arena, they are adjusting to a future without a major sports team as a tenant. “I would say it’s more of an opportunity,” said Adams.

Adams says he now has more open dates for concerts, which are a top target for venues like his. “Concerts are important because there’s a lot of them out there. There’s a lot of music out there, probably than any other genre. But also they get the most demand for higher priced tickets, said Adams.

Zelisko knows he is no longer the “big dog” in the Phoenix market. “I had a great run as the number one dog from the 80′s through the 90′s into the 2000′s. And then things changed,” said Zelisko.

Names like Live Nation and AEG now control an outsized chunk of the major concert tours. But Zelisko says his long-standing connection to the music business and personal connection to the artists keeps him in business. “I get upset when somebody who I’ve worked with before, and nobody else has, and suddenly they’re playing somewhere else and I don’t even get a call. That pisses me off. That’s going to make me crazy,” said Zelisko.

The competition among venues is about to get even tougher. The Coyotes and the city of Tempe are planning to build a new arena near ASU. And Sun Devil Stadium is planning to get back into the stadium concert business.