Big deal for the Big Dome
Major makeover is its answer to serious challenge from new concert venuesBy Pocholo Concepcion
Philippine Daily Inquirer
As the live music scene heats up further and more foreign performers regularly include Manila in their tour dates, the need for competitive concert venues has risen.
At present there are only two major venues—the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City and the SM Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena in Pasay—that can accommodate crowds of 10,000 or more.
A third one—the 50,000-capacity Philippine Arena in Bulacan—is being built by the Iglesia ni Cristo for its congregation but will likewise be available for entertainment and sports events. It is set to open in 2014.
The presence of MOA Arena and soon-to-open Philippine Arena has posed a serious challenge to Smart Araneta. The latter, also known as the Big Dome, is in the midst of a makeover that it calls “extreme transformation.”
In 2011, while construction of the MOA Arena was in full swing, the Big Dome entered into a five-year “naming rights deal” with Smart Communications that changed its name to Smart Araneta Coliseum. The partnership would allow Smart exclusive rights to promote its products and services in the venue, while the Big Dome gets cash to refurbish its facilities.
But Uniprom (United Promotions Inc.), the company formed by the Aranetas to operate the Big Dome, has been pouring in more money for its makeover.
The Big Dome was inaugurated on March 16, 1960, with the World Junior Lightweight boxing match between the Philippines’ Gabriel “Flash” Elorde and the United States’ Harold Gomes. It first underwent renovation in 1999.
Widely regarded as the venue of choice of most major concert promoters for more than 50 years, the Big Dome now faces tough competition from MOA Arena—whose opening was rushed to accommodate pop superstar Lady Gaga’s two-night concert last May 21 and 22.
But while MOA Arena has the world-famous circus act Cirque Du Soleil booked starting Aug. 9, a number of gigs by popular music artists are also lined up at the Big Dome: Smashing Pumpkins (Aug. 7); Snow Patrol (Aug. 9); Tears for Fears (Aug. 10 and 11); Maroon 5 (Sept. 18); American Idol 2012 (Sept. 21); and The Fray (Nov. 10).
This year’s facelift of the Big Dome will cost more than P1 billion, Uniprom chief operating officer Michael Noah told the Inquirer.
Asked about the stiff competition, Noah said: “The Big Dome’s success has also opened up a world of opportunity for others in the entertainment industry, including competing venues. It has also given us the impetus to keep on improving our facilities and upgrading our look. We regard competition as a good thing. It is our way of cementing our niche as the venue of choice in the country.”
Renovation work started at the Big Dome’s Green Gate last March. This part of the Big Dome will have a more elegant facade in the form of a grand cathedral ceiling atrium, said Noah.
There will also be ticket scanners at the turnstiles for quicker and more efficient audience entry; new food kiosks; wider concourses; an art museum; and a new parking facility for 1,500 cars with access points to the Big Dome.
Noah also promised “new luxurious seats.” At present, the Big Dome has 14,500 seats, but Noah said, “We’ll be adding more. We’re looking at the general admission area so people don’t have to stand.”
Renovation work is taking a lot of time because the Big Dome has to remain open for its current clients, said Veana Araneta Fores, who is also active in running the venue.
Asked what the Big Dome can offer vis-a-vis the MOA Arena’s special audience boxes for corporate sponsors, which cost P10 million per box, Noah said: “What we have are ‘virtual boxes’ which are available for exclusive club members of the Big Dome. Unlike typical boxes where seats are static and you can’t move around, club members actually get to pick seats where they want to sit … And there are high-end amenities to go with that, like valet parking, food, drinks, special treatment. Those seats are theirs for every event.”
But what excites Noah even more is the Big Dome’s online ticket-selling service—ticketnet.com.ph—which now allows buyers to print their tickets even at home after paying through their credit cards.
He recalled that the day after the service was launched last month, they were able to sell P4 million pesos worth of tickets to the Snow Patrol concert. “That concert wasn’t even advertised yet; no TV or print announcement,” he observed.
There are two things that make the Big Dome stand out from its competitors, Noah said: “One, the sight lines (the view of the action). The place has a classic coliseum design, like the Colosseum in Rome. It has a sliding, not steep, incline.
“Two, it has a rich history and we’re going to capture it in its renovation. We don’t want to destroy the heritage. We want the upgrades to be user-friendly and still maintain the history of the building. There will be no radical design change. The building is fine.”
Although this major makeover is behind schedule, it is expected to be fully completed by December.
Noah recounted that he was in Indianapolis when he first heard about the Big Dome. “I was working at the box office, during the closed-circuit broadcast of the Ali-Frazier ‘Thrilla in Manila.’”
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