Booking boom lifts Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State

When the Bryce Jordan Center announced Friday that hip-hop legend Jay-Z would be coming to town in January, it was just another big moment in 2013 for the Penn State arena.

Bernie Punt, the BJC’s director of marketing, said bookings have more than doubled this fall over the same period a year ago.

A hot music scene, an upturn in the economy and word-of-mouth promotions have driven the trend, Punt said.

“We’ve never been so busy in our 18-year history,” Punt said, “and I couldn’t even begin to tell you why.”

And it’s not just the BJC that is enjoying an upswing.

The entertainment industry is moving away from sluggish days of the national recession, said Adam Vodofsky, marketing manager with Live Nation, a major entertainment company based in California. Live Nation owns Ticketmaster, and also represents numerous venues and performers.

“It helps when so many musicians and bands are having a hot year,” Vodofsky said. “Bands are just getting out on tour at the right time, and it’s easy to push musicians around to all sorts of local venues, like the Bryce Jordan Center.”

Punt said when students return for the fall, the Bryce Jordan Center generally has three to five concerts or other live shows scheduled. This year, he said, there are 12 shows lined up.

The BJC’s fall lineup includes the likes of OneRepublic, Bassnectar, BB King, Rod Stewart and Nine Inch Nails, Jeff Dunham and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Also on the way in late 2013 are Trans Siberian Orchestra, Keith Urban, Trailer Park Boys and Manheim Steamroller before Jay-Z performs on Jan. 31.

“Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are coming (Nov. 7). They really appeal to the college crowd,” Vodofsky said. “They’re super hot right now, won a couple awards at the VMAs (MTV Video Music Awards), and are all over.”

Vodofsky called Nine Inch Nails a band that is “on fire” heading toward their Oct. 19 local appearance.

For the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis concert, the BJC will be set up for around 9,000 people, Punt said. The arena can seat 12,000 for some shows, he said.

“With an act like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, they’re selling like hot cakes now that the students are back in town,” Punt said. “That’s one of our most popular shows this year, and we’re in the upper percentiles for sales for that concert.”

‘A good crowd’

Vodofsky said bookers and promoters deal with agents who work on scheduling tour dates for the artists.

“We know the BJC is a great venue and is growing in terms of popularity,” Vodofsky said. “(Promoters)’ll come to us and say, ‘I’m looking to come to the area for a couple tour dates, what can you recommend?’”

Vodofsky said Live Nation has been booking musical acts at the BJC that target college students and using its central location in the state as an advantage for attracting people from different regions.

He said when there are numerous concerts in and around Philadelphia, Live Nation will recommend the BJC or other nearby venues to boost the entertainer’s viewership.

“We don’t want another musical act to cloud another, so we’ll try to spread out the number of concerts in one area,” Vodofsky said. “And bands love college towns, because they’ll usually get a good crowd.”

Vodofsky said the BJC’s boost in shows has to do with both the busy music scene and indirect impact from Hurricane Sandy.

But Punt said last year’s hurricane both helped and hurt his venue.

“Shows were canceled because the guests were stuck in New York and were unable to get here, and a scheduling conflict prevented us from ever rescheduling,” Punt said.

Electronic music artist Pretty Lights was supposed to perform at the Jordan Center in late October but never made it.

On the other hand, Lady Gaga was scheduled for an Atlantic City stop but moved the show to the BJC because of storm damage in Atlantic City.

Lady Gaga’s tour was subsequently canceled when she suffered an injury. But the association of Lady Gaga and the BJC can make an impression in the minds of other artists and their representatives, Vodofsky said.

“All it takes is one time for a new musical act to come in, like the venue, continue to come and spread the word about it,” Vodofsky said. “It’s like that for small and large venues.”

‘Never been this busy’

Punt said most summers are slow for the BJC because outdoor concert venues get the bulk of the bookings. But by the fall, when the Penn State students swing back into town, activity is up.

Or at least used to be, before the economy tanked.

“In the summer of 2007, activity was almost dead,” Punt said. “Tours were down, and our activities were at an all-time low.”

At that point, Punt said jokingly that BJC management was trying to “bribe” promoters to help bring activity to the BJC by offering them Creamery ice cream.

“We were trying to do anything we could, but that was around the time banks collapsed and the economy took a turn for the worse,” Punt said. “Things were just going down for us.”

Steven Zellers, a labor market analyst at the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry who studies Centre County, said since the economic demise around 2008, there has been a slow upswing.

“When people have jobs, people are willing to spend,” he said. “It would seem as though people aren’t necessarily putting their needs ahead of their wants, but slowly spending on things they may once have cut back on.”

Entertainment is one of those things.

“Either way, it’s good for us,” Punt said. “We’ve never been this busy.”