The Hot Seat: Paul Sergeant

Published in The Music Network

 

Decorated venues manager Paul Sergeant is the new GM of Sydney’s 21,000-capacity Acer Arena. Australian venues operator AEG Ogden appointed Sergeant as the successor to David Humphreys, who will manage the company’s Perth Arena when it opens in 2012. Sergeant, who in 2007 was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to the events industry, is already well known to the Australian industry having served as GM of the AEG Ogden-managed Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane between 2007 and 2009.

How’s business?
Really healthy. Ticket sales are strong, the Australian dollar is encouraging. It’s very much a buoyant events market.

So how’s Australia’s live market faring with the business in Europe?
Europe generally is a lot more depressed than it is here. There’s still product around, of course. But it’s a tough market. The areas that seem to be suffering most in Europe seem to the corporate sector, corporate hospitality and sponsorships. Ticketing is holding up reasonably well, but other areas are being decimated. Here, the market by comparison is a lot more buoyant.

You arrived at Acer Arena in September. Are you planning to ‘shake-it-up’?
My challenge is to identify where we can move onto the next level. For the staff here, it’s no good to them if we’re a top three venue in the world by chance. I’ve just completed a one-on-one survey with all the staff, to gather their thoughts on what we can do to move ourselves up to the next level. You can never sit still in this business or you’re going to die.

What are the big challenges facing arenas Down Under?
The practices of unauthorised ticket reselling and scalping is still a big issue. There are some people who try to “legitimise” that business. We’re strongly opposed to that at AEG Ogden. We’ve got more home-grown scalpers now probably than ever before, because the Internet has opened up that marketplace. Other than that, the events business is ticking along nicely. The economy has not been impacted as much here by the GFC as a lot of places in the world. But for us, it’s just to make sure we don’t overcook things. We must make sure we keep our feet on the ground as a business.

How many shows a year can you realistically do without “overcooking”?
We’re doing somewhere between 85 and 110. This year the vast majority of those, about 70%, have been music-led. It’s our strongest performer without a shadow of a doubt. There’s probably still a bit of space for us. It’s good for us to see a mix of concerts, sport, and family shows developing into next year. That helps us make sure we share the exposure, the risk. We’re doing well in terms of the number of shows, considering where we physically sit in the world.

You’ve an OBE. I don’t suppose many venue operators receive those?
I think it stands for “Other Blokes’ Efforts” (laughs). While I’m humble to have been awarded an OBE, I think it’s recognition for all the people I’ve worked with. I’ve done 3,000 events, it soon clocks up. In the sport and entertainment business, there’s something going on all the time. It’s wonderful to be involved in it.

What lessons learned in the UK will you bring to Australia?
Our responsibility is to look after (the audience), make sure they enjoy that experience and when they go away they’re really pleased. People put the show on, that’s what promoter and the artist does. But we touch a lot of things around that. It’s also making sure we work with the promoter and crews who come in so that they have a good experience. When people come to a venue, they should be treated no differently than if they’re going to the cinema, theme park, or shopping mall. They spend their hard-earned cash and they’re here to have a bloody good time.

Sydney has two big arenas – Acer and the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Is it working?
Yes. There are 4.5 million people in Sydney so it’s a big marketplace. Coming from London, in my day you had Wembley Arena, London Arena and Earl’s Court; they were the competitive venues in town. So I’m used to dealing in those types of market. We’re very much focused on our business and what we can do to grow it. We’re perfectly positioned in the geographical centre of Sydney. While we’re far away from the CBD, we’ve got a great demographic to tap into.

Will the ARIA awards be coming back anytime soon?
The ARIAs were here before my time. It’s something we’ll probably need to consider.

Do you see a time when the duopoly of Ticketmaster, Ticketek is smashed open?
It’s a tough industry, ticketing. And it’s an expensive one. The likes of Ticketek and Ticketmaster have invested massively in the IT and infrastructure in the business over the years. And now we see Foxtix knocking on the door. It’ll be an interesting 12 months watching the outcome of that. “The practices of unauthorised ticket reselling and scalping is still a big issue”.


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