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Expanded scope moves 'the Pru' to top of charts

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The exterior of Newark's Prudential Center.
The exterior of Newark's Prudential Center. - ()

Ticket sales at Newark’s Prudential Center increased a whopping 56 percent year-over-year from 2016 to 2017, and Sean Saadeh says program diversification inspired by New Jersey’s makeup is at least partly responsible.

“We’re a very diverse market in New Jersey, so we embrace a lot of genres of music,” said Saadeh, who has been the arena’s executive vice president of entertainment programming for the last two and a half years.

Since a changing of the executive guard in 2013, when private equity fund managers Joshua Harris and David Blitzer purchased the lease for the center (and its tenant, the NHL’s New Jersey Devils), “the Pru Center,” as it has become known, has expanded the number of genres represented in its concert mix, with significant growth seen in K-pop (Saadeh calls the venue its East Coast home), R&B, rock and country music.

And as the Prudential Center’s array of concerts gets broader, so does its food program.

“We tailor certain foods and drinks toward certain shows. It might be a specialty drink for that show —or, if it’s a K-pop show, we might put out certain Korean food options. It might not be a financial win [for us], but it certainly improves the fan experience,” said Saadeh.

And as the fan experience improves, so do the Prudential Center’s rankings. In 2014, PollStar, a trade publication for the concert industry, ranked it No. 27 among the best venues in the world, and No. 9 nationally. Fast-forward three years, and Prudential Center now holds the No. 18 spot internationally, as well as the fourth spot stateside. Billboard’s yearly rankings show the Pru climbing from 17th internationally to 8th between 2014 and 2017.

Sean Saadeh
Sean Saadeh - ()

None of this is by accident.

“When [Harris and Blitzer] hired me on, we discussed strategy and how we wanted this business to look in three to five years,” said Saadeh.

The strategy had three parts: Invest in personnel; build up partnerships within the entertainment and sports world; and provide an amazing experience not just for fans, but for industry people, promoters, and artists to want to come back to.

There was a domino effect. With the right personnel, the Prudential Center was able to develop the right relationships with programming partners.

“[The team] is out and about — we go and visit our partners, agents, promoters, people who are making decisions on where artists will play in the marketplace,” said Saadeh. “We’re telling our story. We’re making sure we’re face-to-face with our partners so they get the whole story. We’ve been way more aggressive at doing that, and I think that’s really been a big part of our success.”

With the help of programming partners, such as Live Nation and AEG, the Prudential Center has been able to attract more quality talent and even multiday shows. Paul McCartney played twice in September, while country star Garth Brooks played three back-to-back December shows. K-pop superstars BTS performed twice in March to sold-out crowds.

When the 2017 numbers are done and dusted, the Prudential Center expects to achieve non-Devils attendance of over 1 million, up from 776,000 the previous year. Looking ahead, Saadeh said he expects 2018 to be just as good.

“We’re going to continue to focus on selling more tickets. How you handle a family show is different than how you handle a concert, and different concerts are handled different ways, so it’s just continuing to have great focus on individual shows and how we can capture each fan base more effectively,” he said.

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Gabrielle Saulsbery

Gabrielle Saulsbery

Albany, N.Y. native Gabrielle Saulsbery is a staff writer for NJBIZ and the newest thing in New Jersey. You can contact her at gsaulsbery@njbiz.com.

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