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Behind the Scenes of Hot Austin Music Venues: From Amphitheaters to X Games - Q&A with Austin Live Event Guru | PART TWO

Paul Thornton has been one of the most innovative leaders in the live event industry since starting his first company, Bravo Entertainment, in 1995. At its height, Bravo produced roughly 700 live music events annually throughout the country. 

Part Two in this XLIVE Interview Series

He is now the President of TAG Presents, which forms half of Austins Paragon Presents partnership. Under Pauls leadership, TAG designed and managed the Pollstar award winning Austin360 Amphitheater in addition to bringing the X Games to Austin and organizing the Austin Fan Fest during the Formula 1 US Grand Prix.

XLIVE sat down with Paul to discuss his background in the live event business, the keys to brand integration in live music venues, and his views on the future of live event technology.

Are there any particular in-venue tech trends that you believe will have a significant impact on how we attend concerts and interact with our favorite musicians in the future?

Virtual Reality is going to be a big one but I think you are going to see VR built more into smaller venues in the early stages. I also believe we will see more technological aease for the fan experience. Thats everything from making the ticket scanning process more efficient to how all  in-venue concessions will be on-demand through mobile orders that can be picked up in minutes. Well also see something similar with regards to personalized merchandise for fans to have printed on-site and they will receive a simple push notification when their order is ready for pickup at the merch stand. 

Most importantly, I hope more venues will start to adopt collaborative online tools to truly listen and interact with fans on their insights to making the concert experience better. Millennials have a different idea of what makes a great concert experience from those of Gen X or Baby Boomers and more of those insights need to be incorporated into concert and venue experience designs going forward.

Sports has been another huge passion throughout the course of your career, including bringing the ESPN X Games to Austin and becoming a Partner in a local soccer team called the Austin Aztex. As someone with a great deal of experience working in both music and sports, how much crossover do you see from a fan engagement strategy standpoint between the two industries?

They are both about engaging the fan and hitting their emotional touchpoints with an authentic experience. There are different marketing approaches to pulling in much of the same audience to multiple sports games year after year versus promoting concerts which are much more artist focused. The venue for a sports team plays such a major role in the fan experience and success of a team, whereas many concerts can be performed even in a parking lot since the artist is the main draw. With that being said, I learned from the sports side how to take those important venue elements and build them into music venues to give the fans an even better experience. On the flip side, I learned from concerts how to use music and entertainment to supercharge the atmosphere at a sporting event. At the end of the day both are about the experience you give the fan, from the moment they hear about your show or game to the days after it happened and they are sharing their experiences from the event with their friends and family. In both music and sports I have found the big moments speak for themselves, but if you want to really develop loyal fans and an incredible experience you must learn how to create the dozens of little moments throughout the event. The accumulation of all the little moments can really become the make or break of how they remember, and feel about, your event.

One thing I did learn early in my career is that sports and music have to be treated together as a 1+1=3 effect. For instance, when you add great entertainment to sports it broadens the audience immeasurably to a much more mainstream audience. We hear all about the globalization of the sports industry but its easy to forget that the databases of musicians/artists often dwarf pro sports teams because of their international reach during the touring cycle. International audiences can also create additional exposure opportunities that can have a massive impact on the teams brand. This is something weve focused on at the TAG Presents company division - Working with sports teams and venues to broaden their brand and create new ancillary revenue streams through the inclusion of more fan focused entertainment activities. Through our work with the X Games in Austin (highest paid attendance in X Games history) and the creation of a Fan Fest at Formula 1 Austin, we have learned its not just about adding entertainment to a sporting event but the right entertainment that speaks authentically to the fans and brands and enhances the event. Its a fine line to learn how to celebrate and market music and sporting events without overshadowing the product with distractions that take place off stage or off-the-field. Ultimately its all about doing your due diligence to research music and sports fanbases so that you can identify the target audiences that are most likely to attend your event. That almost always ends up being the difference between earning the necessary revenue to make the event a success and falling short of your goals.

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