When venue management companies AEG Facilities and SMG merged at the end of 2019, combining management for 300 venues, Dana DuFine didn’t print out a list of the 112 arenas and 24 stadiums that would now be the focus of her new position as vp global content and development for the new company, ASM Global. Instead, she examined a world map with dots that designated each venue, then considered how they could work together.
“I saw connectivity,” she remembers. “I saw that we had a presence in every major market in North America. I call it one-stop shopping. We’re not missing that one key market artists needed to complete their tour. We have it all.”
Months later, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the hundreds of dots on her map brought thousands of new challenges as DuFine and her five North American regional managers were quickly forced to scale back, reschedule and ultimately refund 2020 tours planned across the United States and in foreign cities like Stockholm; Brisbane, Australia; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
After studying at UCLA, the Los Angeles native got her start in New York with John Silva and John Cutcliffe’s Gold Mountain Management, then ran Mercury Records for Danny Goldberg. In 2000, she returned to L.A. to work in music supervision before linking up with Irving Azoff, with whom she managed late Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland and, later, his supergroup Velvet Revolver. In 2014, Azoff connected DuFine with James Dolan to remotely manage New York’s Madison Square Garden, and soon she was jetting across the country every other week. “Venues have specific needs for help and resources, and we facilitate that 24/7,” she says. “That’s part of the deal, and coming from the management side, I was prepared for life always on call.”
Today, DuFine’s commuting is limited to short trips from her living room to the shade of a flowering camellia tree in the backyard of her Beverly Hills home, where she works at rescheduling shows across the globe and “taking the temperature” in local markets. “My mornings always start at six,” she says. “Today, we had a programming call with all the European venues that are under ASM Global where we discussed what’s happening with tours, the pandemic and any industry updates. I do the same once a week for South America and make sure information flows so that everybody has an opportunity to communicate and learn what’s going on in their region and what’s going on in North America.
“I have no doubt we’re coming back strong,” she adds. “But it’s going to take everything we got.”
When the pandemic hit in March and concerts across the world were quickly canceled, how long did you expect the shutdown would last?
I thought we would be through this by June. We had a plan in place to return in the summer, and never in our wildest dreams did we think it would go on this long. We were making a lot of progress in those first few months. We created the Venue Shield program [for coronavirus mitigation], and we had a plan to make sure all of our fans, artists and crews were going to be safe. But every time we turned around, it was out of control again.
Is that why you keep pushing dates back?
That’s all we can do. We want the promoters and agents to know we’re in this with them. So many of these conversations are just taking the temperature in the market: “What’s happening in the U.S. and what’s happening in Europe, and when can we start in Australia?”
Now that vaccines are being distributed, when is the music business expecting concerts to return?
Before the new year, Live Nation and AEG each said amphitheaters and stadiums would be good in summer , arenas in the fall, and that’s when we would be able to do business [at 100%]. If you ask them today, they might be scratching their heads. I believe in President Biden and his plan to deliver 100 million vaccines in his first 100 days. If that happens, we should be in really good shape come March and April to be able to announce tours. The demand is there: 85% of tickets that were sold for tours in 2020 that have been rescheduled — multiple times at this point — have been retained by customers. In this economy, that’s very telling.
How did the merger of AEG and SMG — the world’s two biggest facility management companies — change your job?
I felt lucky that we were going to have additional venues throughout all territories because I had this concept — which I had been doing at AEG prior to the merger — called “cross-venue programming.” I would go to Gary Gersh [AEG Global Touring president of global touring and talent] and say, “If you bring a show to Gila River Arena [in Glendale, Ariz.] or Oakland [Calif.] or the Target Center in Minneapolis, you’re going to be able to make more because we’re going to be able to offer you better deals.” When we merged, it made that opportunity even greater. We now have a building in every territory that an artist would want to play.
Because ASM is under the same corporate umbrella as AEG Global Touring, are ASM buildings guaranteed a certain amount of shows each year from AEG Global?
It would be a lot easier if I were, but I’m not. I’m Switzerland: neutral. And that goes both ways. I deal and treat [independent promoter] Premier Concerts the same way I treat Live Nation or AEG. There’s always chatter that one building is paying more or getting a better rebate than someone else. And it’s really not true. Every tour is different, every venue is different, and deals can never be exactly the same.
ASM manages 112 arenas, 24 stadiums and over 174 convention centers, theaters and outdoor amphitheaters. How do you keep the calendars full in so many venues?
With ASM, I work with promoters, agents, managers and business managers to help bring their tours to our buildings. The job has changed during the pandemic, but typically I will hear about a tour being put together, like the Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe stadium tour [for 2020 that has been pushed to 2021]. So I called [Artist Group International CEO] Dennis Arfa and [Live Nation co-president of North American touring] Rick Franks and said, “I’m in. What stadiums of ours can participate in this tour?” I was one of the first true believers: I was ready to buy it, I was ready to co-promote it, I was ready to do whatever it took so ASM Global could have as many of these shows as possible.
With budgets sure to be tight this year, will promoters lean on the buildings to provide more marketing support in their local markets?
Yes — and when we can, we’re helping AEG Global Touring make the pitch with all the marketing assets we have at our disposal. For the Luke Combs tour, I worked very closely with Cody [Lauzier, senior vp global touring and talent] at AEG Global Touring, going through the assets of every AEG venue to put together a model that we could present to Combs’ agents showing how we could support the initial on-sales, and then continue to support the tour with promotion so that we’re able to continue selling tickets. That’s the environment we’re heading into — everyone is going to have to work together to make sure every single ticket gets sold.