This post has been updated. See note below for details.
When officials at Madison Square Garden Entertainment were recently deciding who should be first to perform at the revamped Forum when it opens Jan. 15, they turned to the Eagles, a band that had played the storied Inglewood arena several times during its heyday.
But while the Forum's appeal to veteran performers and concert-goers was easy to see, could the venue attract younger acts who've grown up seeing today's hottest shows about 10 miles away at L.A.'s Staples Center?
FOR THE RECORD:
The Forum: In the Oct. 24 Calendar section, an article about the revitalization of the Forum in Inglewood said that rival Staples Center is owned and operated by Anschutz Entertainment Group's AEG Live, and that it opened in 2000. Staples is owned and operated by AEG, the parent of AEG Live, and it opened in 1999.
MSG officials just answered that question with an announcement of three bookings that demonstrate this is not your father's Forum. The venue, which cost $100 million to refurbish, will host Justin Timberlake's 20/20 Experience World Tour on Jan. 20, then the Las Vegas rock band Imagine Dragons for a Valentine's Day concert followed by Dutch DJ Armin Van Buuren on May 9.
"We'll be the first young band to come into that room," said Imagine Dragons' manager, Mac Reynolds. "Hopefully it's a new beginning for the place, and for the band it's a chance for us to sit down and kind of bask in a little bit of that history. The guys are big Led Zeppelin fans, and they know Zeppelin played there 15 or 16 times."
The bookings of contemporary hit makers signal a heating up of the competition between the Forum and downtown's Staples Center, which is owned and operated by the Anschutz Entertainment Group's AEG Live. Staples has dominated the arena-level concert scene in Los Angeles since it opened in 2000.
An AEG official once said that the Forum would be relegated to competing with "B-level" venues, but more recently executives at the company have adopted a less-dismissive tone when commenting about their competitor.
MSG purchased the Forum last year for a relatively bargain price of $23.5 million from the Faithful Central Baptist Church, but the company is pumping nearly $75 million into a top-to-bottom revitalization effort.
One facet of the resuscitated Forum that MSG officials are emphasizing to potential clients is the absence of sports franchises that once were a fundamental part of its identity — both the Lakers and the Kings had long called it home. Those franchises typically are the reason sports arenas are built, and they provide a major chunk of the revenue that keeps the doors open. Without resident sports teams this time around, the Forum is being retooled with music and other forms of live entertainment as the top priority.
"They're investing a lot of money in making the Forum a permanent concert venue, which is going to give it some advantages," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert industry-tracking publication Pollstar. "That won't take it out of Inglewood, but it will affect the quality of the shows they can put in there.
"This is really new ground for a building that size to be purposed strictly for music," he said. "I can't think of another situation where that's occurred. It's a bold move, but it's one that might work in that marketplace."
Timberlake will play the Forum on the heels of stops on the first leg of his U.S. tour at rival Staples Center in Los Angeles on Nov. 26 and the Honda Center in Anaheim on Nov. 27. Van Buuren adds electronic dance music to the Forum's musical menu.
"It's always been our goal and our intention to book a wide variety of acts," said Melissa Ormond, president of MSG Entertainment, the MSG Co. division responsible for venues and entertainment bookings. "If you think about the acts that played the Forum back in the heyday of the '70s, '80s and '90s, there were always cutting-edge contemporary acts combined with more legendary iconic acts...
"It's important to bring longtime fans back as well as to introduce the new Forum to a whole new audience."
Of competition with Staples Center and other Southland arenas, Ormond said, "There are a lot of shows to go around and a lot of fans who want to see shows. I think this is going to grow the market, make for a healthier market and I see this only as a good thing for everyone."
Acts who have committed to play the Forum acknowledge that they're taking a risk going into a facility sight unseen — and sound unheard.
"If a Vegas band can't roll the dice, who can?" Imagine Dragons' Reynolds said with a chuckle. "It is sort of a gamble, but the people who are doing it have a great track record. Madison Square Garden is one of the most iconic names in the music business when it comes to venues. We haven't played MSG in New York, but you don't have to have played the venue to know the reputation.
"We're really excited about the room. When you play rooms this size you want to have a place where you can connect with fans and it still feels like a concert. Sometimes you can get lost in the space of the bigger places…. It's a great concept, with no [corporate luxury] suites so it's very music-centered for a room that big. There are a lot of things about it that made it a slam dunk for us."
For the record: An earlier edition of this post stated that Staples Center opened in 2000 and that it is owned and operated by Anschutz Entertainment Group's AEG Live. It opened in 1999 and is owned and oeprated by the Anschutz Entertainment Group.