Stadium boss loves a challenge

Dunedin Venues Management Ltd chief executive Terry Davies is looking forward to another big year...
Dunedin Venues Management Ltd chief executive Terry Davies is looking forward to another big year. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Dunedin Venues Management Ltd’s chief executive Terry Davies is the Otago Daily Times’ Business Leader of the Year. He talks to Sally Rae.

It is all about pink for Terry Davies.

The fire-cracker boss of Dunedin Venues Management Ltd, which has Forsyth Barr Stadium among its suite of venues, is preparing for another huge year.

Among the acts to perform at the stadium in 2018 are global superstars Pink and Ed Sheeran — and Mr Davies (57) has a clear favourite.

"I’ve got to say, I’m a Pink fan. I love Ed because he sells so many tickets and he’s so popular [but] Pink’s number one for me."

From when he first started at DVML in 2014, Mr Davies always believed Pink would be the most dynamic act in the stadium.

"We have a uniqueness here. You know acts are going to work at certain venues ... for her, I always thought she would be the best," he said.

It was shaping up to be a "massive year", with not only Ed Sheeran and Pink  but also consummate performer Robbie Williams and Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters.

It’s a far cry from when Mr Davies took on the role — after the departure of two chief executives in quick succession — and was questioned why he was taking on a "poisoned chalice".

"I thinking we’re punching above our weight, which is good ... we’re getting our fundamentals right," he said.

Mr Davies has always candidly acknowledged how the role initially came with "baggage". The stadium development was controversial and staff were "beaten up" when he arrived; ‘‘smashed’’ by being told how useless the stadium was.

But he also acknowledged the challenge ahead was a drawcard for him.

"I wouldn’t have come just to walk in and do a maintenance job. I like to come in, resurrect, revamp, renew, reconnect, build value," he said.

And that has certainly been achieved, with DVML now bringing in millions of dollars with the associated economic spin-offs for the region.

Already, it has been touted that the Ed Sheeran shows could mean an injection of more than $50 million into Dunedin and the wider region.

When Mr Davies started, revenue was about $8 million, now it was  almost $14million and he wanted it to reach $25million.

That meant it would require new facilities, new ventures and new projects.

"We want to double it again, simple as that."

And it was not all about the stadium; the Dunedin Centre was running at about 20% capacity when he started and now it was 60% plus.

So just how do Mr Davies and the rest of the DVML team — he is quick to point out  it is very much a team effort — manage to secure global superstars and convince their promoters to head to the Deep South?

When he started, there was talk about Dunedin being geographically disadvantaged and also the costs associated with getting to Otago as a down side to attracting events and performers.

But once promoters or concert providers could see what could be delivered and that tickets would sell, it was a "no-brainer".

To end up selling as many tickets to Ed Sheeran as there were residents of the city just showed "build it and they will come".

"Which I don’t fully believe ... [but]  it’s certainly relevant here," Mr Davies said.

With 70% of the tickets being purchased from outside the city, the economic spin-offs for Dunedin were "amazing".

From when the doors were opened to the end of 2018, that figure was estimated at $250million, and would possibly end up more than $270million as concerts after July next year had not been factored in.

There were two key pillars — delivering economic benefits and what DVML staff called pride of city.

Bringing in such high profile performers put Dunedin on the map and provided an opportunity to showcase the city to thousands of people,  Mr Davies said.

But it was not easy; it was an environment in which they were having to compete in a global scale. Pink was performing in the likes of Rome, London and Sydney and DVML was also competing against every other city in New Zealand that wanted her.

Fans wanted a great experience so it was about offering a quality experience and understanding what was uniquely brilliant about Dunedin so they wanted to come back.But getting top acts was a long and quite convoluted process.

"When I first started here, there were those in the city that would say, ‘don’t think you’re going to get the likes of Ed Sheeran here. We’re Dunedin. We’re only 100,000 people. We are where we are," he said.

If that was the thinking, then that was what you would get.

"I’ve always said, ‘That’s rubbish, we can get any artist", he said matter-of-factly.

DVML knew it had the facilities — he believed the stadium was probably the most unusual in the southern hemisphere because of its structure — and could handle the calibre of acts. So key drivers began with building relationships with the promoters — getting them to the stadium to have a look and see for themselves. All the "big boys" in the industry were invited and came to the Rod Stewart concert in the stadium in 2015 to check out the venue.

Then it was about managing costs — it had to be cost-effective to bring acts or events to the region.

DVML had made it very clear it wanted Dunedin to be the destination in the South Island for major events from big promoters, whether it was rugby or concerts.

Mr Davies said  the length of the runway at Dunedin Airport was not an issue.

"We’re not making any excuses about runways or hotel rooms. It is what it is," he said.

Once relationships were built with promoters, trust was established along with a cost-effective deal delivered and tickets sold. Then trickier elements came into play.

Timelines for tours had to be fitted into. Some promoters had their own ticket agencies and would favour their own ticketing providers — there were various other elements at play.

As soon as Mr Davies got his feet under the desk at DVML, he and the team started to think about the main drivers and how to start to break barriers to make it easier to secure events.

It had taken this time to start to see some of those results. Even now, work was being done to secure events three or four years ahead.

Far from resting on its laurels, DVML needed to continue to work harder in what was a challenging business and there were plenty of challenges to keep him interested in the role.

What Mr Davies liked was the great team of senior management who shared the same vision and were very forward-thinking.

They were not in the business of concerts and rugby; they were in the experience business and wanted to deliver a great experience.

And that was whether it was someone walking off the street to say hello and have a look at the stadium, a customer experiencing a concert, or a promoter coming in.

It was a vibrant group and they were always thinking of new products.

"We’re innovators," he said.

Asked how he reacted when the final sign-off was given on such a performer as Pink, he said: "To be honest ...  I get a bit of a rush."

But then, it had to be a somewhat stifled rush as it was embargoed. Already, he knew of some acts for later next year but could not reveal them.

What he liked about the DVML group was they were "not really driven by personal egos out of winning Pink". Rather it was "tick it off" as something that was great for the city.

They were always thinking what the impact of an event would be  on the city and what they could win next for that. He was driven by  a desire to put Dunedin firmly on the map.

"I’m not afraid to say we’re clearly going to become the feature destination in the South Island. We’ll do whatever it takes to do that. It’s not ‘haven’t I done well or we’ve done well’, this is about the city," he said.

His job had been a challenge on a lot of fronts. The English-born former professional cricketer, who previously worked as an event and venue manager in Australia, said his background had always been moving into small companies that were underdone, or he was given new licence.

"I’m not smart. What I am pretty good at is understanding a product and taking it to market. This isn’t dissimilar.

"I’m a bit innovative, I’m a bit crazy, a bit of an ideas person [who] says pick it up and run with it."

Mr Davies was well settled in Dunedin, which he described as a "great place" — "I love the feel of the city" — and he enjoyed the people.

Unfortunately, he did not have an opportunity to enjoy any of the events held under the DVML umbrella. The only time he got to enjoy a sporting fixture or concert was outside  work.

Running through his mind was always a multitude of things — were guests getting a good experience, what about health and safety, had there been any light or sound failures, had anyone fallen down the stairs, was the ticketing correct?

"It’s business. You’re always working," he said.

Looking at the quality and array of performances being offered, it showed they were touching or crossing over all demographics.

There was a feeling initially that the stadium was a "rugby stadium for those rugby people" but it was "so far from that".

Rugby was very important but there was also that array of community events. People had moved on from "Look at the stadium, what a dud" to "What’s next?" he said.

"Who knows where we’ll end up?"

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