Four college football stadiums over five weeks, 16 musical artists, 21 hours of live music, and more than 95,000 people. It’s not a typical undertaking for most talent producers, as this sort of large-scale buying is more commonly done in business with the big-wigs, the nationally recognized companies like Live Nation or AEG; but for Neste Event Marketing, it was only a matter of time until the right opportunity arose and they tackled a venture of this degree. That’s where Basis Entertainment stepped in.
When Basis Entertainment owners Dave and Gary DeWaard brought the idea to Gil Cunningham, president of Neste Event Marketing, Gil saw it as another way to stand apart from competing buyers, to challenge the edges of his own business. From there, ideas, strategies, and endless phone calls unrolled for everyone involved.
Both teams knew they wanted to tap into the uniquely defined markets of college football stadiums. The first problem? A smaller city means a less populated market. And when they chose somewhere like Iowa City, which already competes with Des Moines and Cedar Rapids for live entertainment, the challenge then shifted to securing just the right lineup of artists to allure waves of people who suddenly decide they need that concert in their lives. The result was to kick off the first year’s stadium run at four universities, with a headliner distinct to each one.
It started with the Carolina Kickoff at Eastern Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. David Ray opened the show as crowds began rolling in and was followed by the emerging talents of the Harris Brothers, Amasa Hines and Margo Price. Eric Church and Kid Rock amped up the excitement even higher with each of their high-energy, enthralling performances and setlists full of fan favorites. This was somewhat of a hometown show to Church, a western North Carolina native, so he saw to it that when he closed out the night, the audience would be nearer for a more personal, deeper connected performance.
One week later, organizers ran full force into the University of Iowa in Iowa City for The Back Porch Revival. As many as 45,000 fans were packed in and riled up to see superstars Blake Shelton, Thomas Rhett, and Big & Rich, along with newcomers Tucker Beathard, Morgan Frazier and David Ray. Attendees were in for a treat when Iowa Natives Ashton Kutcher and Dallas Clark (NFL star and former Hawkeye) made a special appearance to call attention to Clark’s charity, The Native Fund, dedicated to “Iowans helping Iowans” in time of need and natural disaster. The Back Porch Revival set a standard for any and all future shows at Kinnick Stadium as the first-ever concert in its 87 year history.
Riding on the buzz of Iowa City, the festivities moved on over to Manhattan, Kansas, home of Kansas State University and the Wildcat Kickoff. Reaching another turning point, this was Bill Snyder Stadium’s first concert since Willie Nelson in 1987. Zac Brown Band, Train, Phillip Phillips, David Ray and Adley Stump played to an eager crowd, marking the unofficial beginning of K-State’s football season. Three shows down, one to go.
The Stadium Kickoff Series rounded out with the American Kickoff at Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. Train, Phillip Phillips, David Ray and Adley Stump were once again present, but this time it was Tim McGraw who owned the night. The concert signaled a stronger connection between the Academy and the Colorado Springs community, with the nonprofit Air Force Academy Athletic Corp. helping to bridge that gap.
After months of preparations, meetings and negotiations, the 2016 Kickoff Series finally came to a close. An achievement on multiple levels, each show lent its tests and rewards of hard work to Neste Event Marketing and Basis Entertainment; they also provided benefits to each city. Not only did Carolina Kickoff put Basis Entertainment on the map for their live event management at college stadiums, but it also helped ignite the changing landscape of Greenville’s growing music scene. They later made history in Iowa City with the stadium’s very first concert, and ultimately revitalized K-State’s stadium opportunity for concerts when they ended the nearly three-decade-old drought without one. And this was only the first year. Six more stadium shows are expected in 2017.