This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Ron Bension, President and CEO, ASM Global.
Nobody knows more about the convention business than ASM Global.
Nobody knows more about arenas than ASM Global.
Nobody knows more about the stadium business than ASM Global.
Practically nobody knows ASM Global, headquartered in Los Angeles.
Other than its 61,000 employees and its 325 clients worldwide, which includes arenas, stadiums, convention, and exhibit centers, and performing arts venues.
As a venue manager, ASM Global provides strategy and management, sales, marketing, event booking and programming, construction and design consulting, pre-opening services, supported by an unmatched portfolio of information and a database from which ASM and its clients can draw upon to understand individual markets.
ASM Global also offers food and beverage operations through its concession and catering companies.
With venues ranging from Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas to Mercedes Benz Arena in Berlin to The Greek Theater in Los Angeles to Coca-Cola Music Hall in Puerto Rico to McCormick Place & Soldier Field in Chicago to the Shenzhen World Exhibition and Conference Centre in Shenzhen, China, ASM Global’s client folder is unparalleled.
Then why the anonymity?
Think back nearly two years ago, a few months prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic. ASM Global was formed in 2019 through the merger of AEG Facilities, the venue management affiliate of Anschutz Entertainment Group, Inc., and SMG, an Onex portfolio company.
It wasn’t until last March that ASM Global appointed one of the most influential business managers of our generation as president and CEO, Ron Bension.
Possessed with keen observational, marketing, and team-building skills, an executive who is apt to quickly understand products, team members, challenges, and the value proposition of a business, Bension has an industry-wide reputation for being laser-focused on combining strategic insights with managerial innovations, and fostering entrepreneurial cultures.
Bension brought to the table over four decades of deep management experience, including, a lengthy tenure at Live Nation as president of House of Blues Entertainment, and president of Venue Nation, a division of Live Nation.
Previously, he held top executive roles at Tickets.com, TicketsNow, Sega GameWorks, WMG’s Sportsnet, and Universal Parks and Resorts.
Under Bension’s governance this year, ASM Global has become a fast Japanese train.
Consider that ASM Global has:
*Signed a long-term lease to manage the historic Södra Teatern, as well as an adjacent restaurant, nightclub and outdoor terrace, in Stockholm.
*Reached an agreement with Italy’s Cantù Arena to co-manage, and oversee the development of the nearly 6,000-seat facility which will be completed in late 2023.
*Signed on to manage not one but two venues in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The facilities, the 20,000-seat Jeddah Arena, and the International Convention Centre Jeddah which have a planned opening date of December, 2025.
*Signed a content deal with The Nashville Superspeedway.
*Extended its agreement for 10 years to manage BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford, Illinois, including agreeing to play an Integral role in renovating the arena.
*Added management of Capital One Hall, the heart of Capital One Center, a new 24.5-acre, mixed-use urban redevelopment in Tysons, Virginia.
*Signed a deal with Texas A&M University to bring additional live entertainment to Kyle Field and Reed Arena.
*Struck a deal with Taconic Capital Advisors to assume operation of the historic downtown San Diego landmark, Spreckels Theatre.
*Partnered with Mobilitie to deploy its 5G mobile data technology to its concert and event venues.
*Announced ASM Global Acts, a new corporate social platform to centralize the company’s philanthropic endeavors.
*Announced the ASM Global Acts Scholarship which will provide key educational assistance and career development opportunities for students from diverse and under-resourced communities.
And 2021 is not yet over.
One of the things about reading about your career is…
(Laughing) You have too much time on your hands.
Well, you came up through the ranks. You had lengthy executive runs at Universal Parks and Resorts, and Venue Nation (a division of Live Nation Entertainment), but you also distinguished yourself at TicketsNow, Tickets.com, Sega GameWorks, and briefly at Prolink Solutions.
What makes people want to hire you? What do you bring to the table?
Jim (Yeager) said I would have to do this (interview). I find it uncomfortable to do this (talk about myself), but I will try my best to answer directly. I think over my career I have become more comfortable with it.
(Jim Yeager is the founder and president of the boutique public relations and marketing firm, breakwhitelight, with clients in arts, entertainment, fashion, legal, and nonprofits sectors).
I have been able to quickly access the value proposition of a business–what is its essence—and quickly been able to identify the really strong folks who believe in whatever the mission is going to be and then focus people. I think the most important part of my job is to keep people focused on what the goals are. Being able to quickly understand that, and then set out clear achievable goals, I think has been what has made me successful. I think people hire me because I have a track record of doing that. I was lucky enough to be asked to come, and work at ASM. I think that many of the opportunities that I’ve been able to leverage in my career are available here at ASM.
There’s no question that your past experience led you on a path to running ASM Global.
I saw an opportunity at ASM Global. It ticked every box and everything that I love to do. That I am really, really good at. Then, as I dug deeper to understand the people, the team, the value proposition that ASM has, and can have, and looking to leverage everything that I’ve learned, and done, it is the perfect opportunity for me. It’s been an incredibly wonderful transition, and we are doing great things.
We really are.
It has just been a great run so far. I am so happy with the results. The new businesses that we continue to sign up. The unbelievable results that we are getting in corporate sponsorships. The work that we are doing on the marketing and CRM (customer relations management), our content development with John Boyle (as Global Chief Content Officer), it has just been a good run, and I am looking forward to continuing to build on what I was able to inherit.
ASM Global was formed in October 2019 from the merger of AEG Facilities, and SMG, just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, the company has this year outpaced all predictions.
We are building an incredible organization. We are growing the business. We are exposing the benefits of doing business with ASM Global to the world. And with our Savor food group. It is just fun being here. There are a lot of moving parts, and I have managed a lot of moving parts a lot of times. We just have great people who are embracing the challenges, seeing the opportunities, and delivering on those expectations for ASM Global as a company, and for their clients locally.
Would 2021 be considered a honeymoon period for the company?
There’s no more honeymoon as far as I am concerned.
Other than to its 61,000 employees, and its 25 venue clients, ASM Global is virtually unknown.
ASM Global is going to have its second anniversary next month. It is the biggest company that nobody knows about. But we signed 30 new deals during a global pandemic. I think that is a testament to the company’s reputation, its ability to drive financial, and content wins, and results to its partners. What is great about this company, and what drew me to it, is the global aspects of it; the footprint is second to none, and it provides our portfolio, our family of venues, with business intelligence from around the world about conventions, about arenas, about stadiums, and about content. A purchasing leverage, and a content acquisition leverage. What is really cool is combining that global scale and power with impeccable local execution. We have boots on the ground in every venue that we operate. They are members of the community.
The general managers and teams get up every single morning wondering, “What can do I do better at my venue for my client, my municipality, for my fan, for my band, my content, my exhibitor?” That means you get the benefits of ASM’s global scale and business intelligence combined with best-in-class execution at a local level that is pretty powerful. It’s nice to have a platform where I can bring it all home like this. That can play both big and small, and be the best in class at both.
You mentioned the food services company Savor.
I don’t think anybody has ever heard of it which is a shame on us.
I haven’t heard of it.
Exactly, it’s bigger than Spectra.
ASM also operates Premier and CGC Event Caterers. But you are the guy who apparently knows how to make perfect French fries. While at House of Blues, you spent months traveling to more than a dozen cities, sampling fries, and refining the optimal French fry, a Russet potato sliced to a width of five millimeters.
Oh my gawd. That was attention to detail. It had nothing to do with anything else.
I was just teasing you.
Yeah. You and everybody else. But that is true.
Savor services many major venues.
Yes. We provide food services to the best convention centers in the world. Moscone Center (San Francisco), McCormick Place (Chicago), and the Long Beach Convention Center.
This is an incredible company. So one of my great challenges, but also the thing I love is being able to say, “We have the goods, and can compete at any level.” Savor is pretty damn good, you couple Savor with our operational execution, and revenue-generating capabilities, it could prove to be a formidable company.
Was your experience in running the ticketing companies, TicketsNow.com, and Tickets.com helpful for assessing facilities, including how to run them, and what the programming should be?
Yeah, I would actually relate it to the other businesses. With Universal Studios, we literally built three cities (with theme parks) in Osaka (Japan), Orlando, Florida, and Hollywood. So you understand all aspects of creating visitor-centric venues. And then clearly at GameWorks, where we recreated the brand and built it up again, and at Live Nation where we took kind of a ragtag portfolio of 30 venues and built it up to be the world’s biggest portfolio of 87 clubs and theatres around the country. And that is what brought me to ASM is their staggering number of venues and their incredible growth.
With Apollo Capital, Wasserstein Perella & Co. (sometimes referred to as “Wasserella”), and Southbrook Corp., you worked (1997-1999) with private equity firms on acquisitions of theme parks, and entertainment attraction companies. Did you find that experience helpful to your later work?
Working with private equity does tend to hone your skills. It’s bringing all your skills, and you better be smart. You better be able to think on your feet, and you better have some gravitas and ability, and be able to deliver. I think that was the value, and I think being more entrepreneurial in that regard allows you to think of things differently.
At age 15, you started at Universal Studios sweeping floors. You rose through the ranks, and eventually caught the eye of legendary MCA chief Lew Wasserman, who ran Universal at the time.
The late Lew Wasserman–who has been described as “the last of the legendary movie moguls,” and “arguably the most powerful, and influential Hollywood titan in the four decades after World War II”–made you president of the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park in 1987 when you were only 33.
In 1990, you became chairman and CEO of Universal Parks & Resorts and were a pivotal member of the team that oversaw the openings of Universal Hollywood, Universal Orlando Resort, and Universal Studios Osaka Japan
Becoming president of the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park at age 33 is quite a feat.
(Laughing) It was a lack of judgment on Lew’s part.
No, no, no.
Lew never had a lack of judgment. Look, I started at Universal sweeping floors. That was my first job. The second job was hosing out the Universal Amphitheater (also known as the Gibson Amphitheater) before they put a roof on it.
After each late-night showing of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
(Laughing) That’s right. I saw almost every one of those shows that summer and the sight of Ted Neely on stage (in the title role) comes back to me vividly. So I did every job that there was to do there, and I learned from the best; whether it was Jay Stein (president of MCA/Universal) who headed up the theme park division for years or [MCA president and COO] Sid Sheinberg or Lew. I was lucky. They gave me the opportunity to fail. And sometimes I did fail, but rather than stepping on my head, they let me learn from it. One of my most memorable and, appreciative jobs was working for Lew, Sid, and Jay at MCA. I learned so much.
Lew and Sid worked together for 36 years. According to Skip Paul, who served as a senior executive at MCA under Sid Sheinberg and Lew Wasserman from 1985 to 1995, “There was no daylight between the two of them. They were different in style, and temperament, but they were also complementary. They were two different instruments in the same band.”
You’ve hit a little soft spot nerve with me. I can’t tell you how appreciative I was of the opportunity that Lew and Sid gave me, and the trust that they had in me. Mind you, I was pretty good, but at the same time, they trusted me, and they allowed me to fly, and I owe a great deal of my success, then and now, to what I learned from them, and what they allowed me to do.
When Universal was first considering building a theme park in Orlando, It was a big step. The Universal Studios tour in Hollywood was not even a stand-alone theme park yet. To buy land, build a theme park, and compete with Disney was daunting. But Lew and Sid believed in it. And by the time Disney announced it was building the Disney-MGM Studios theme park in Orlando, Universal didn’t even blink.
That expansion into theme parks proved to be immensely successful for Universal although there were difficult times along the way.
As I said before, we built cities. When you build a city you learn everything. You learn marketing, You learn financing. You learn IP development. You learn patents. You learn everything that you need to learn to be successful. And that is what has shaped my career, and why I am so excited to be at ASM Global. I am able to leverage all of that learning, and all of that experience working with the greatest venues in the world.
(Matsushita Electrical Industrial Company of Japan acquired MCA in November 1990. Matsushita was the largest manufacturer of home electronics in the world under the Panasonic brand and had created the VHS format.
In 1992, Matsushita said it had spent $200 million on Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Florida theme parks and would invest another $200 million in 1993.
(The investment would include Fievel’s Interactive Playland, The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, and the rock n’ roll-themed Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue. Universal Studios Hollywood would add a $10 million ‘Backdraft’ fire attraction and a $60 million Back To The Future ride; while the Florida park would open a Jaws attraction.)
Then Seagram bought a controlling interest from Matsushita.
Conflicts between Matsushita and MCA’s executives over strategic expansion hampered the company’s tenure of ownership. In 1995, Matsushita sold an 80% interest in MCA to Seagram Company Ltd. for $5.7 billion. The company was renamed Universal Studios, thus consolidating the various entertainment companies, including the music recording companies, under one name.
You walked away in 1996, saying that you did not see to eye-to-eye with Seagram, a company that had no history overseeing an entertainment conglomerate or running theme parks.
What differences did you find from working earlier with the less formal MCA team, then Matsushita, followed by Seagram? Reportedly, Edgar Bronfman, Jr., chairman of Seagram, led the company through decisions which the board, Bronfman family members, and many shareholders questioned.
I was there through ’96. I did two years with Seagram. I did 23 years with MCA. It is a bit of a jaded comparison but, that said, I distilled it down to Lou and Sid allowed you to run your business. It was very entrepreneurial and that is one of the things that I appreciate the most. I treat every dollar we spend like it’s my own. And Lou and Sid instilled in you the ability to run your business, and you fought for your business. You learned how to make proposals, and your proposals and decisions were judged on their merit. To a certain degree, early in with Seagram, it was more familia (meaning family). It’s a different culture. Look after 25 years, I walked out with my head held high. It was a great run, and I don’t look back at my Seagram’s time or my MCA time as anything else, but an incredible opportunity that very few people in the world get.
Who did you report to at Seagram?
You have crossed paths with Irving Azoff numerous times, At MCA, as well as when you were CEO of TicketsNow.com, the secondary ticketing division of Ticketmaster Entertainment.
Irving and I have worked together for many years, and he’s another good friend from my MCA days.
Was it difficult to leave Live Nation after a decade?
Oh no. As I said, this is what I do. And I am learning. I didn’t know much about the convention business, but I am learning. As I said, I’m a pretty quick study, and we have great people here.
In 2018, when you were president at Venue Nation and president of House of Blues Entertainment, 10 venues were added to Live Nation. In some ways, you are now doing an extension of what you did there, but on a grander international canvas.
Yeah, on a much bigger scale, both in numbers and in geographics. I won’t say it’s more of the same because it’s not. There are more moving parts. There’s more components to it. We have a lot of municipalities that are our clients. So there are nuances. Fundamentally, this is a build and operate business, and whether we invest–which we are doing, and will continue to do–and co-owning some of these buildings or managing or signing leases as we did with Södra Teatern in Stockholm, we are in this business to continue to grow and continue to provide incredible results, financially, and operationally with content, and marketing, to our clients. It’s not unlike other operating businesses and not unlike what we did at Live Nation.
Understand why I asked the question. While at Venues Live Nation, and president of President House of Blues Entertainment, you grew opportunities in secondary or tertiary markets in 2018; adding 10 venues, including in: Portland, Cleveland, and New Orleans, while taking over management of the historic Queen Theatre in Wilmington Delaware, and The Depot in Salt Lake City, and two Denver venues, spending over $2 million refurbishing The Summit, and Marquee; and opening The Van Buren in Phoenix.
There was a lot of turbulence in the live music sector in America at the time, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit,
Live Nation with 153 venues purchased House of Blues Entertainment in 2006 for $350 million, which led to House of Blues’ 8 amphitheaters and 10 clubs–including the famed location on Sunset Boulevard—being combined with 23 other Live Nation mid-sized venues, including the Fillmore in San Francisco, Gramercy Theatre in New York and St. Andrew’s Hall in Detroit. However, the chain drifted as Live Nation diverted its attention to other matters, including its 2010 merger with Ticketmaster.
You came along in 2011 and revitalized the 13-club House of Blues chain to its roots as a top destination for live music, good food, and service. As a result, House of Blues expanded to 78 venues under direct control, and 50 other venues working on an exclusive basis.
Look, that was a good run. Live Nation is now our biggest client, and I loved my 11 years there. But I think that ultimately it was about the same thing I am saying about ASM Global. We were able to provide a better product, and execute. It is what I was saying earlier, if you can do that developers and municipalities clearly will knock on your door. Or when you knock on their door, you will get a hefty level of consideration because you are able to provide results. That is what ASM Global does, and my job here is to understand that and to continue to put more resources against where our wins are.
A good example of ASM Global’s local power is Stockholm Live, a subsidiary that operates five arenas in Sweden’s capital. Stockholm Live operates Friends Arena, Tele2 Arena, Hovet, Annexet and the newly renamed Avicii Arena (formerly Ericsson Globe which opened in 1989), Including the tourist attraction SkyView attraction that takes you to the top of the world’s largest spherical building.
How great to have five venues in the city.
We’ve got a tremendous footprint in Stockholm with Stockholm Live, and the five venues. Look we now have also five venues in Södra Teatern which is a historic theatre and is just fantastic. It has a rooftop beer garden. It is just a beautiful place.
(The Södra Teatern, built in 1852, is one of Stockholm’s oldest active theaters. Under the long-term lease agreement signed with the property owners, brothers Jakob and Mattias Johansson, ASM Global manages the building that houses the theater, as well as a restaurant, nightclub and outdoor terrace).
We’ve got a tremendous footprint in Europe as well with the Manchester AO Arena, We have an arena in Wembley (known as SSE Arena Wembley since 2014). It’s just a lot of historic places. Over the pandemic that is when we signed up Södra Teatern. That’s when we signed up for the Newcastle Gateshead Quays Arena (which will open in 2023).
(In the UK, ASM Gobal also operates Newcastle Utilita Arena, Hull Bonus Arena, Leeds First Direct Arena, and the Glasgow SS Hydro Arena).
(ASM Global was chosen to operate the all-new sports and entertainment campus, situated on the Newcastle Gateshead waterfront at Gateshead Quays, opposite the iconic Gateshead Millennium Bridge, and only minutes from Newcastle’s city center.
ASM Gobal is set to run a new 3,500 capacity entertainment and events venue planned for Becketwell Derby, which will be forward funded and owned by Derby City Council.
ASM Gobal was selected to co-manage operations, run the commercialization, and oversee the development of a new 6,000-seat arena in Cantù, Italy which will be completed in late 2023. It will be the new home of Pallacanestro Cantù, the professional basketball team in Italy’s Lega Basket Serie A.)
Amazingly, these deals have all been finalized recently
Yep, we are a force to reckon with. We have an incredible team of people. And more importantly, we are adding to our team. We are not standing still. We have hired additional business development people. We are bringing onboard a new commercial officer, Jason Oberlander from Learfield, and we hired John Boyle from Insomniac as Global Chief Content Officer to head up our content and booking division.
(John Boyle was a key principle of Insomniac Events, and is best known as the organizer of the Electronic Daisy Carnival, spearheading its global expansion, and launching festivals in Mexico City, London, São Paulo, New Delhi, Shanghai, and Tokyo. He most recently served as president of Live Nation Japan.)
John, being in charge of content for ASM Global, is a major step forward.
We are building a team around John. We feel that we have the footprint. We have the venues to be able to drive additional content to our venues whether that is working with more promoters. We are already known as the best content provider in the industry, and we are doubling down.
We are already Live Nation’s and AEG’s biggest producer around the world. But there are a lot of other promoters out in the marketplace that I think could benefit from an association with ASM Global. We are looking to acquire content, partner in content, J/V in content, and work with the family of content providers, exhibitors, and IP holders. We have a portfolio of incredible venues and must-play locations. We are growing our global partnership section of the business which is corporate sponsors and the like and doing some incredible work.
We run Coca-Cola Music Hall in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is the best complex in the marketplace. It just opened (with Puerto Rican singer, Ednita Nazario who held the first event at the venue on Aug. 14th, 2021). and is playing to sold-out crowds. We have incredible corporate relationships with the partners that we put in place. As ASM is, since I’ve come on board, we know what we need to do. We know what we are known for, and what we are doing is doubling down on our investment in our talent, our internal talent to leverage our content acquisitions, our corporate sponsorships, our marketing, our technology. That’s where we are headed.
ASM Global has struck a deal with Taconic Capital Advisors to assume operation of the historic downtown San Diego landmark, Spreckels Theatre. The 1,463-seat, six-story venue will receive a major refurb through a joint venture sponsored by affiliates of Taconic Capital Advisors and Triangle Capital Group with an eye toward bringing the Spreckels back to its historical significance while offering a compelling option for office and retail tenants looking for a differentiated experience
Has the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled an erratic live music environment in the past decade along with the dominance of two promoter giants – Live Nation and AEG Live – led to a number of independent venue owners, particularily with traditional theatre operations, to reasses their stakes in their markets and, perhaps, seek partnerships for programming and operations.
I don’t think the pandemic gets credit for our success.
No, no, no. Just that economic condition, increased competition, and a demographic makeover over during the past decade have contributed to a tightening in some markets.
Yes, perhaps over a 10 year period, that could be a macro issue. But a lot of our clients are municipalities. I think it all comes down to the ability to execute. The ability to understand the client’s wants. What the needs of the building are, and to leverage our global assets at a local level to achieve those results. What we do, and I think why we are so successful, is that we bring financial success, food, and beverage successes, content successes, operational successes to our partners. That gets a lot of credit. If we were not as good as we are and we didn’t get results and wins I’m not sure that we would have 325 venues under our belt or have almost 30 venues added during the pandemic.
The U.S. faces a further demographic makeover which will put pressure on the live music sector. 2030 will mark a demographic turning point for America. Beginning that year, all baby boomers will be older than 65. One in every five Americans is projected to be of retirement age.
(By 2034, older adults will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history.)
Music may be ubiquitous, and if you want to see an artist perform that you have heard via different sources, there is only one way to see them, and that is live, at a very precise time. Many couples don’t want to see an act in a dingy club with poor sightlines coming on stage after 10 PM.
We have already seen shifts in America’s live sector with jazz, folk, and clubs either disappearing or readjusting their entertainment.
Obviously, there is still room for mid-size venues. People still want to go out and have a good time but they also want clear sightlines. and quality music. And they aren’t likely to be concerned about overpaying for those things. Maybe overpaying is the wrong word.
I get what you are saying. You get what you pay for. (They) want an enhanced experience which is one thing that I truly believe in. I think you hit the nail on the head. Whether it’s demographics or age or whatever it may be. I went to the Kings of Leon at The Forum (in Inglewood, California on Sept. 21st with Cold War Kids) and I had a great time. but, at the same time, I said I would rather have seen XYZ band at The Fillmore than do that.
I’m at a point in my life where I want a more intimate experience and I am willing to pay for it.
I think that is what we are doing at ASM. We are really doing that (providing a good live music experience) I don’t think that has been part of this company’s culture in the past, but we are looking for elevated experiences. I am talking to our GMs around the world, and saying, “We need to provide the best level of service, and an opportunity for an enhanced experience. People want VIP experiences. They want comfortable seats.” And that’s provided for them. Bunker suites (high-end hospitality space with premium amenities common in stadiums and arenas) are on their way out. The industry needs to provide a more intimate, smaller, and comfortable experience with great service, and great sightlines. We do a lot of consulting for potential venue partners, and we are pushing that agenda because we believe that is where the marketing is going.
Among the venues in the ASM Global portfolio is the Shenzhen World Exhibition and Conference Centre in Shenzhen, China which opened in 2019. One of the world’s largest exhibition and convention centers, the exhibition hall is operated and managed by Shenzhen Zhaohua International Convention, and Exhibition Operation Co. (co-founded by China Merchants Shekou and Overseas Chinese Town), and ASM Global.
China’s influence on the global music business is growing, and labels and artist managers from around the world are recognizing the potential to engage with a large group of new fans there while unlocking revenue opportunities.
The Chinese authorities, however, are uneasy with large crowds. After a series of regulatory actions to stem the growing scale and influence of tech companies in China — including Tencent Music Entertainment — the Chinese government is determined to tame “fan club chaos.” As a result, artists now face stringent censorship, and penalties if they run afoul of authorities.
Live Nation has been operating in China since 2005, and AEG has been there since 2011.
And so are we.
We have the Kai Tak Sports Park (in Kowloon, Hong Kong) and, as you said, we are in Shenzhen. We work side by side with them (AEG) as an operating partner. Kai Tak is 5 different sports facilities in a huge overall complex with dozens of acres of activity, vents centers, and retail. This is a huge project. We are in on the ground. I think that we have 7 or 8 people there right now.
(Kai TakSports Park, expected to be completed in 2023, will be the largest sports infrastructure in Hong Kong. The centerpiece is a 50,000 seat Main Stadium which features a fully retractable roof, a flexible pitch system, and a South Stand window overlooking Victoria Harbour.
The state-of-the-art facility is designed around a Sports Avenue that runs through the precinct to all parts of the Sports Park. It will end at a harbor front promenade. A network of elevated walkways will also connect Kai Tak Sports Park with the neighborhood and transportation hubs.)
Are there further opportunities for ASM Global in Southeast Asia?
I think that there is. We are opening an office in Singapore. Look these are not easy markets to enter, but I think that we have the global expertise to be able to add a lot of value. Nobody knows more about the convention business than us. Nobody knows more about the arena business than us. Nobody knows more about the stadium business than us. And that isn’t being arrogant. It’s just we have a portfolio of information and database that we can draw upon to understand these markets. We have been doing it for years. It is not as if the company opened up last week. And people value that, and whether they value it in China more than the Middle East or more than Australia or Italy, I don’t know, but when we make a deal, and we enter a market we deliver.
We think that the greater Asian market is an area we can bring our expertise and provide value to another region of potential clients. We are very big in the Middle East as you know. We are opening up in Bahrain (Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Centre, adjacent to the Bahrain International Circuit, opening in 2022). We are in Australia. We have a tremendous footprint there with the International Convention Centre Sydney. So there is a lot of activity. We are opening up in Saudi Arabia, the Jeddah Arena which has a 20,000 capacity (and is slated to open in December 2025)
So we will continue to broaden our footprint, and enter the markets that we think that we can add value to. Again I think that is part of the value proposition for ASM Global which is that the scale and everything that provides a potential client but the local…We have a team of people in the Middle East that are worried about those venues. We don’t do it on remote control. We do it with boots on the ground and that’s our promise. That is our value proposition. You get the benefits of scale with a local market team that does nothing but try to improve the business for our client.
Would your company consider going into the casino business?
I don’t know if the casino business is a business for ASM Global. We have affiliations with casinos. Obviously, our allegiance is staying in Las Vegas. But I think where the opportunity is, perhaps, is in sports betting, and not that we would beg that business, but providing opportunities and answers for that which I think is a huge opportunity for our venues. But I don’t see us in the casino business but I do see us being affiliated. We are doing some work in Macau right now. We work on the live entertainment aspects an awfully lot.
A new multi-year agreement with Mobilitie now extends to ASM Global international venue network advanced 5G connectivity solutions beyond Mobilitie’s neutral-host wireless networks at several ASM Global properties, including Coliseo de Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico Convention Center venues.
We are extending where they have capabilities. I think that it is a bigger picture. What we want to do is be a technological leader, and we are aligning with the best in class providers of venue-based technology; whether it’s mobility and their 5G and Wi-Fi service, and expand that, and offer that technology to our venues that need it; introducing Honeywell (a leader in the Internet of Things) and their building system, and their ability to save companies huge amounts of money on electricity and power; and upgrading amenities.
Some of these venues are 20 and 30 years old.
Being able to bring Honeywell into the room, and put together a proposal that benefits our client, is what we want to do. We are working with a company called PopID (the first U.S. facial recognition payment network for verifying an individual’s identity based on their face for applications) which is space technology for entry and, also for purchases. These are cutting-edge technologies. We don’t claim to know everything about what is going on with these cutting-edge technologies. We would rather partner with the most cutting-edge technology, and introduce them to our partners around the world.
Mobilitie’s 5G architecture will also improve broadcast production and immersive viewing experiences from ASM Global arenas, stadiums, and convention centers, as well as more seamlessly integrate new technologies such as Augmented Reality, and Virtual Reality.
I recently profiled Andrew Dreskin, CEO of Flymachine, a company which is blending in-person, and virtual experiences to create an IRL/virtual hybrid events, a way for bands, and venues to reach greater audiences. With ASM Global having access to venues around the world, you are perfectly set up to be able to deliver a high-quality global programming to your clients.
There are all sorts of rights issues associated with that, but is something that we are actively pursuing providing streaming at our venues, where we can participate in the activity of streaming as an event. We want to do that. But you understand that there are all sorts of issues there and, whether that is an area we want to spend a great deal of time on, or again, or do we want to work with the experts and say our buildings are streaming capable here is a potential play opportunity that gives us a leg up on, perhaps, the competition. That is what I think is our goal.
Where are you originally from?
I was born in Brooklyn, but I was raised in Los Angles. I tell people that I was raised in Los Angeles by New Yorkers. My dad drove a cab, and my mom worked at a bank. I have been here most of my life.
Where did you go to university?
I went to Cal State LA (California State University, Los Angeles). I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Don’t ask me why, but I went to night school for 3 ½ years after dropping out and working full-time. It is one of my proudest accomplishments because I didn’t have to do it, and it was hard.
So you are a working-class kid.
Yeah, I guess. I’m a lucky working-class kid.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-80. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is a co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide,” and a Lifetime Member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.