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All in. All day: From the Tigers to Steely Dan, Ilitch and 313 Presents to host events at six venues on same day

By David Broughton
The 15,000-seat Pine Knob Music Theatre, owned by Pistons Sports & Entertainment, and the Ilitch-owned Detroit Red Wings share several corporate sponsors, such as United Wholesale Mortgage.313 presents

If all goes well on Saturday, June 18, Howard Handler will start his day driving to the Pistons Sports & Entertainment-owned Pine Knob Music Theatre, about 40 miles northwest of his place in the city, which will host a Steely Dan concert that night. Levy, the venue’s concessionaire, will start serving breakfast for the crew at 8 a.m.

Then it’s a 15-mile trip down I-75 to Meadow Brook Amphitheatre on the campus of Oakland University, where the Flogging Molly crew will begin loading in at 10 a.m.

He’ll continue southwest another 17 miles to the Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre, where the Lee Brice “Label Me Proud Tour 2022” crew will have already been unloading for a few hours.

As he heads back downtown to Little Caesars Arena (where the VIP check-in for the Maverick City Music and Kirk Franklin “Kingdom Tour” begins at 3:45) and the Fox Theatre (where comedian Leanne Morgan will perform), he’ll be tuning in to the Rangers-Tigers game that begins at Comerica Park starting at 4:10. That marks the 26th annual Negro Leagues Tribute Game, which always draws a big crowd.

“And if the timing works out and I’m feeling really crazy, I’ll head back to Pine Knob, because I’m a big Steely Dan fan,” Handler said.

Three hundred miles.

Six different entertainment venues.

Handler, a Detroit native, is the president of 313 Presents, the joint venture between Ilitch Sports & Entertainment and the Detroit Pistons, which manages entertainment operations for the Ilitch-owned Comerica Park, the Fox Theatre and Little Caesars Arena, as well as the area’s Meadow Brook Amphitheatre, the Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre and Pine Knob Music Theatre.

Saturday night, all six of the venues under his purview will be simultaneously hosting a live event, a first for the company. 

Irish punk band Flogging Molly will play at the 7,700-seat Meadow Brook Amphitheatre on the campus of Oakland University.313 presents

Handler joined the company in 2019 after a career that included serving as senior vice president of marketing at Viacom, where he headed promotion for MTV; senior vice president of marketing and fan development at the NFL; MLS CMO for six years; five years as CMO for Virgin Mobile and five years as a brand manager at Quaker Oats.

Ilitch Sports & Entertainment President and CEO Chris McGowan, in partnership with Handler, will oversee about 3,000 people working the events, excluding anyone that comes with the tours, such as stagehands and promoters.

“From our side, for every show there is a core group of 10 people (one each in production; booking; accounting; marketing; communications; security; box office; guest relations; parking; and concessions) that are the leaders. They are dedicated to the event from the second it is booked. So the Steely Dan show, for example, has been booked since 2019 and has had a team from our side ever since. We work with the tour to create a specific computer-assisted design for each show.”

Handler says the most critical part comes when the word “DOORS” is communicated to all staff: the amphitheaters open 90 minutes before a show, the three indoor venues open an hour prior.

“That's the big adrenaline charge.”

By the end of the weekend — Josh Groban performs on Friday at Pine Knob and  there is a Tigers game and a jazz concert Sunday — the group will have hosted 36 events in 19 days, including a potential 200,000 fans this weekend, if every event is a sellout. In an era where staffing shortages continue to plague the industry, 313 Presents is in a strong position because 75% of its staff are employees of the company, and just one quarter is contracted, according to Mike Hartnett, Ilitch S&E’s vice president of venue security.

Hartnett will oversee a security staff of about 500 Saturday from the company’s major command post embedded inside the ballpark/arena/Fox Theatre footprint.

The biggest difference in running multiple events simultaneously, he said, is the “increased volume of communication.”

Hartnett spent 21 years at the FBI, most recently as the Crisis Management Unit Chief at Quantico, Va. He earned his Juris Doctor from Boston College and practiced corporate, bankruptcy and litigation law for 12 years for a Boston law firm prior to his FBI career.

313 Presents’ event production crew will arrive at the Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre at 4 a.m. Saturday to begin setting up for Live Nation’s Lee Brice “Label Me Proud Tour 2022” show.313 presents

Chris McGowan, Ilitch S&E President and CEO, will spend 3-4 innings at the ballpark then walk over to the arena and the theater. He joined the company in January following nine years as president/CEO of the Portland Trail Blazers (in 2018, he was named to the additional role of CEO of Vulcan Sports & Entertainment, including the Seattle Seahawks). He also spent 16 years at AEG and played a key role in opening Crypto.com Arena.

Like Hartnett, he said he is not worried about not having enough labor, as data shows the venue staff has a very low no-show/call-off rate.

“But coming from the arena world, I spend a lot more time monitoring weather than I ever did!,” he said.

Levy handles food and beverage concessions as well as backstage catering for Pine Knob Music Theatre, Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre, Meadow Brook Amphitheatre and the Fox Theatre. Delaware North has those responsibilities at the ballpark and arena.

Those staff get in as early as 5 a.m. to prepare breakfast for the specific tours at all venues on the same day. Their main focus is to serve and cater to the various artists/bands/tours/crews three meals a day.

From the fan side, the two concessionaires project that their combined sales  — excluding the Tigers game — will include roughly 21,000 beers, 6,500 hard seltzers, 4,000 pretzels and 2,000 hot dogs.

And having six venues under one umbrella allows for multiple assets for brands to activate with. For example, in addition to naming rights of Comerica Park since the ballpark’s inception, Comerica is also a partner of the Fox Theatre and is the presenting sponsor of the 20th annual Negro Leagues Weekend. United Wholesale Mortgage is a partner of the Red Wings and Pine Knob Music Theatre.

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