Don’t be confused: Sean Saadeh, the executive vice president of entertainment at the Prudential Center, is thrilled that the arena recently came in at No. 5 in the world in Pollstar’s 2022 rankings for concert venues.
With gross revenues of approximately $85 million in 2022, the Prudential Center again showed it can compete in the tri-state area (only Madison Square Garden was higher) and everywhere else.
But, as happy as he was with the ranking, Saadeh may be prouder of the reputation the Pru Center is gaining among artists — and it’s a reputation that is spurred by the Jersey crowds.
“The ranking is a testament to the building and the artists that play here, but it’s also a testament to our communities,” he said. “They are really passionate.
“We often get that comment from touring shows — even artists who have played a different building in the marketplace. They say: ‘We come over to Jersey, and the fans are just off the chart. They bring it every time.’
“You need that dynamic to be successful.”
Of course, you also need top acts, especially in this market.
Saadeh lists four New York venues as competitors: MSG, Barclays Center in Brooklyn, UBS Arena in Elmont, New York, and Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island.
He said he’s willing to take all of them on. In addition to the fan base, he feels the New Jersey location is a plus — noting that New Jersey, on its own, would be the fourth-largest market in the country.
And, being away from the other four is an advantage, too.
“We like our positioning here,” he said. “This is a very unique market in the sense that you’ve got rivers and tunnels and bridges, so it’s never easy to get around.”
This helps the Prudential Center, Saadeh said.
“The market has been such a strong market that it becomes an incremental play to other venues within New York,” he said. “When I think of New York and New Jersey as a combined market, you could easily say that, 80% of the time, an artist could play New York City, whether that’s Barclays or MSG, and also play us.
“The question is: How many plays are in the marketplace? That’s where we all compete — for that second, third or fourth show in the market.”
That being said, Prudential Center has proven it can be a No. 1 option in the market, too. As one of the first to embrace K-pop, it has long been the leader in that genre. BTS made the Pru Center its only East Coast stop a few years back. The reputation the venue earned from that helped it earn a two-night stay from Blackpink in November.
The arena also has a long history of embracing hip-hop and Latin artists, too, Saadeh said.
“I like how we’re positioned, in that we really have a market that can support any genre of music or event,” he said.
It’s part of the reason for the high ranking, although it must be noted that a number of variables beyond the control of the venue impacts the ranking. (The Pru Center was ranked No. 10 by Billboard.)
For one, events involving sports — whether it’s the New Jersey Devils, Seton Hall basketball or various combat sports (MMA, boxing, wrestling) do not count in this ranking. Family events, which have a lower price point, do.
The price of tickets, which leads to the revenue total, is ultimately controlled by the artist.
Then there this: The cutoff date for the 2022 figures differs by a few weeks in the two main rankings.
Saadeh said he doesn’t get too caught up in the metrics; he’s prouder of what the high ranking truly signifies.
“Our business has grown because people have continued to embrace the Prudential Center,” he said. “We can bring the events, but we can’t force people to come out.
“The community here has really supported us. And I will be eternally grateful for that.”
ROI-NJ spoke with Saadeh on a number of issues relating to concerts at the Prudential Center and the industry in general. Here is more of the interview, edited for clarity.
ROI-NJ: Talk a little more about the battle for acts in this market.
Sean Saadeh: There is stiff competition about where our artists play, and a lot of factors involved. Where there’s exclusivity is always dependent on what’s the right play at that time for that artist — they make those decisions.
ROI: This market is so strong; why wouldn’t artists play multiple shows at multiple venues?
SS: Artists need to continue on to other markets; they can’t just stick around and play 20 shows in the New York area, although they probably could. They’ll decide something like, ‘We can give three or four shows to this market,’ and then they have to decide, where’s the right play in the right venue? That’s where the competition comes in.
ROI: OK, but what about the extended stays. Harry Styles played 15 shows at MSG this summer. Billy Joel has had a monthly date at MSG for years. Is that something that the Pru Center would want to do? How impactful would that be on the business model?
SS: I think it works for certain artists in certain venues. We have consistent business that comes through every year, it’s just not in the vein of Harry Styles. We do TSO (Trans-Siberian Orchestra) every year for two shows. We do Marc Anthony every year. We have all the SBS (Spanish Broadcasting System) radio shows that come through every year.
With Bad Bunny, Ricardo Arjona, Marc Anthony, Karol G and a host of others, the Prudential Center is becoming the leading venue for Latin artists on East Coast.
So, there’s consistency of content that comes through, it’s just not necessarily the 15 shows that Harry Styles does. Could Bruce do 15 shows? Of course he could. But that’s up to Bruce to decide what’s right for him.
Residencies, especially those in Las Vegas, typically do very well in markets that have a lot of tourism — because you can’t sustain it locally, forever. A lot of people that are coming to Billy Joel shows in Manhattan are coming from outside Manhattan, and they’re going to other shows.
That’s not to say that it couldn’t work in in Newark and at the Prudential Center — and it’s something that we continue to strive for — but it’s not the be all, end all of what we think is a successful venue.
For us, we’re really strong at selling tickets and providing the best quality, live entertainment product out there.
ROI: Talk about selling tickets. Does it matter what day the event is on? How big a difference is there between a weekday and weeknight show? Is that a big part of the booking process?
SS: It depends on the artist. For certain artists, some of the Latin acts, some of the hip hop and R&B, a Friday, Saturday is a better play. Country tends to do better on weekends.
But we did K-pop (Blackpink) on a Monday-Tuesday. And Elton John could play any day of the week.
It really depends on the artists and what they’re trying to achieve. But it can factor into how a tour is routed.
ROI: Let’s turn to perhaps the biggest event of 2022 — which was held on a Sunday. The MTV Video Music Awards came to the Prudential Center in August, marking the second time the venue has been the host. How does that help the arena?
SS: It’s a big-time moment. It brings the biggest and best artists out and it’s always a little edgy, which brings a lot of interest to the event. This is an event that is talked about throughout the year.
A lot of times, you have an event with some buzz around it, but then it quickly dies down. The VMAs are something that gets talked about throughout the year. It’s kind of the gift that keeps on giving. Because of that, it keeps the building front and center as it relates to where artists want to play — and keeps us front and center as it relates to how the industry looks at the building and perceives the building.
I think doing big-time events always contributes to artists wanting to play this venue — and artists wanting to come back to this venue over the years.
ROI: Coming back. We can’t hear that phrase without thinking about fans simply coming back in the first place after the pandemic. Talk about the return?
SS: We anticipated that the fans would continue to be interested in coming to see live events right after COVID. I think people were missing that live experience. We’re happy that we can provide it.
ROI: How far can you take it? Is there a chance for the arena to pass $100 million in sales on concerts in 2023?
SS: We always strive to do better, we always strive to bring the biggest and the best events and we’ll continue to do that. Can we get to $100 million? I don’t know — but I know that’s not our top concern.
We do know that the business is strong, we know that touring is strong, we know that there’s a great market here. So, we’ll continue to try to grow the business. And, as this market becomes even stronger with a lot of people that moved into the market after the pandemic, I think we’ll continue to see strong results. That’s always the goal.