As the General Manager of State Farm Arena in Hidalgo, Texas, Marc Solis doesn’t have much time to be a fan of the acts that come through his doors. Between checking on the artists, managers, promoters, fans, and safety and security, Solis rarely gets to take in the performances that hit his 6,500-cap arena.
“You do get to see bits and pieces of it. If it’s a good, smooth-running, I can see all of about maybe 10 minutes of an artist. A lot of the time I have to go to another facility in another market to just enjoy it as a fan,” Solis told Amplify. “GM’s like to have a good time too. We just have to go to another venue for it.”
Solis explained that the typical day in his building includes visiting with his directors and making sure everyone remains on task. His time to enjoy performances is very limited with the number of responsibilities.
“When you see an act at your building it is really cool. You get to see it in your building and you get to meet some of the people on the tour side and all the stuff that goes into it,” Solis said. “When you can go to another venue and see that same show, you appreciate it from a fan’s perspective. I try to look at it as a fan. I’m not trying to see behind the curtain.”
Solis entered the industry because of his love of live music, but the Texas native found his expertise in running a building where the talent comes to him. Amplify sat down with Solis to talk about starting out with heavy metal bands and ending up in a largely Latin market.
How did you get started?
I was 17 and straight out of high school. A buddy and I started promoting local heavy metal acts in San Antonio. Our little company grew and we started doing a lot of your King Diamond, Slayer, Metal Church, Lizzy Bordon. That type of stuff was big in the mid to late ‘80s. Bigger bands like Van Halen were dominating the airwaves back then. We were just young kids and thought, ‘This music business sounds fun. We can do this.’ We started to promote our local heavy metal bands and after doing that for several shows, Metal Blade Records reached out and said, ‘Why don’t you try promoting some of our acts?’
Did you know what you were doing in the beginning?
Starting out you really don’t know much. There wasn’t a school for how to promote events. You just got out there and did it. That was our schooling there. The schooling was also getting taken advantage of. Our very first show we filled a ballroom with about 1,500 kids at an average of $5 a ticket for some local bands and we lost money. Everyone saw us coming. We were such novices. The sound company overcharged us. The venue operator overcharged us. We thought, ‘It costs that much? Okay. Sure.’ We were definitely taken advantage of and you just learn. You figure it out fairly quickly after you lose money.
Were you able to find any mentors in the business after that?
I had a guy named Bill Angelini that took me under his wing and showed me the ropes on how to make money promoting shows in smaller venues. I also worked a lot with Andy Somers (agent) and Brain Slagel at Metal Blade Records. They both showed a young kid how to buy talent.
As a venue operator, I have learned from many people. Joe Romano, SVP at SMG, Latin promoter Lazaro Megret. Bob Roux showed me how to properly scale a show to sell. He really cares about the artist and fans. Louis Messina gave me a clinic (on his bus) one night after a George Strait concert on making sure my event flows “Flawlessly” to ensure it is a great experience for artist and fan.
How did you get interested in the business side of music?
My first concert was KISS in ’77 or ’78 at the old Hemisfair Arena in San Antonio. I fell in love with the live experience then. I was a grade school kid and going to see this band. This live show to me was freaking awesome and seeing the fans really into it. I was really into it. Just feeling that energy left a lasting impression on me, one that made me think ‘I’ve got to do this.’ I’m not a musician. I’m not a singer. I suck at that, so what can I do? Lo and behold the heavy metal bands which create an opportunity for all these rock bands that are coming up and we jumped on that bandwagon. Turned out to be a nice career.
What was your next move after promoting heavy metal bands?
The heavy metal bands were getting bigger and more popular. I was a little burnt out on it and I didn’t have the capital to go onto the next level. So a buddy of mine was going to start touring a laser show choreographed to the music of Pink Floyd. I wasn’t a huge Pink Floyd fan at the time, but the idea of routing the tour and picking the venue and the markets and going to the shows seemed like a great learning experience. Because of that I’ve been to every state in the U.S. except Alaska. That show is still touring today.
I was on the road for a bit and looking for another challenge. A buddy of mine became the president of a hockey team and he was looking for someone to be the right hand guy to handle the marketing and the sales aspect. I didn’t know anything about hockey but I get to go back home to San Antonio. It was hockey in a town that had never seen it and I thought it might be kind of cool. It turned out to be great. The Iguanas had huge success in San Antonio and in minor league hockey. I brought another hockey club to San Antonio in ’97 called the San Antonio Dragons and they are part of the now defunct International Hockey League.
How did you move to running venues from there?
Touring with the laser show, I met a lot of venue operators. I was always fascinated with their business and the variety of talent that they would have come through their building — and they didn’t have to travel. Everything came to them. There’s some stability there. There was an opportunity in Laredo, Texas. They were building a brand new arena and they were starting a minor league hockey team, which I was familiar with. I sent my resume over to SMG and I got hired as the Asst. General Manager of the then Laredo Entertainment Center, but I was the Executive Vice President of the Laredo Bucks Hockey club. And that’s the arch of how I got to where I am today.
There’s a lot of competition when running a venue in Texas. It’s such a big market. How is the State Farm Arena doing in Hidalgo?
My last count, there were at least 25 facilities in Texas of 5,000 seats or more that are going after the same piece of business. That includes all your major arenas in the area. In Texas a tour will hit Dallas and Houston, maybe San Antonio or Austin. If there are any extra dates, we have to fight against 20 plus other facilities. It is my job to make sure we “stand out.” I am constantly in contact with our promoters and agents and recently State Farm Arena has been consistently ranking in the Top 200 Arena’s globally (according to Pollstar year-end rankings). This despite the fact that we are smaller arena in a secondary market.
Does your unique market, being located so close to the border, help you stand out?
In the Rio Grande Valley, which is a wide territory, the population is a little over 1.2 million on the U.S. side. On the Mexican side, the number that everybody uses is three million along the same piece of real estate across the border. Out of the three million there’s about half a million that routinely cross the border to do business in the U.S. or they have dual residency. Those numbers combined, that’s a lot of people to reach.
The other unique thing about our market is that we can get a higher ticket price for our shows. A lot of people look at it and think, I don’t have to drive to another market that is three or four hours away, so it saves us the trip. So they are willing to pay a little more to see some great talent. Agents are surprised when they see the average ticket prices we can get. The market can support it. Everything has to be priced right. You don’t want to price gouge people. That’s not going to work.
Does that make Latin your biggest genre?
Yes. Anything Latin sells. But the fan is always asking for other genres. In the past few years and prior to my tenure here, we’ve done George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Aerosmith, Def Leopard, Elton John, just a variety of talent. People seem to respond really well to that level of talent.llI have a few signed guitars by George Strait and Reba McIntyre.
Are the signed guitars that something the State Farm Arena does or is that a personal thing?
It’s a little bit of both. When the opportunity presents itself, I’ll try to get one for the building and one for myself. Some artists are not into doing that and that’s perfectly fine. Other times when they are it’s a great momento to remember the show. I have a few, but the George Strait/Reba guitar and the George Jones and Merle Haggard ones stand out.
Is your collection at home or in your office?
I have it at home. I have my man cave at home with the guitars proudly displayed. My wife built these nice cabinets for them and they are all in great condition and well-kept. When the opportunity presents itself and I’m able to do that, that’s great. If the artist isn’t in to doing that, then you let the artist be and you’re just glad to have them in your facility.
Is there any artist you haven’t worked with yet that you would like to host?
I’ve always been a fan of Paul McCartney. In the last two years we put out a couple of offers for Sir Paul McCartney to play our building. I think at some point in time it will happen. I know he likes to play new places and we have a huge opportunity here because he’s got a tremendous amount of fans in Mexico that would certainly make the drive. It would be a huge thing if Sir Paul were to play our market. I saw him at the Alamodome when it first opened up and he put on an amazing show. What a great thrill it would be to be a part of that.
The other one who is also a gentleman and puts on a hell of a show is Garth Brooks. He’s an animal on stage. I’ve had the opportunity to see him many years ago. Buddies of mine from other venues have said he’s an amazing person and so down-to-earth.
As a GM, do you find you have the opportunity to actually enjoy a show?
It’s tough. We all get to see bits and pieces. I have to travel to other buildings in other cities to see the shows and just be a fan. When you are the GM of a facility safety and security is first and foremost for your patrons and your back of house clients. You have to make sure the event runs as flawless as possible. You’re constantly moving around.
Do you do foresee safety and security continuing to be a big focus for the industry in the coming years?
Definitely safety and security. It is something that we are tackling now. All arenas have magnetometers and the clear bag policy is getting implemented in a lot of places. I see that trickling down to just about everyone at some point in the near future. We’ve got bag size limitations and all bags are searched. We do bring in some canine units on specific shows when requested. This is something that our industry is tackling and it is very real. It’s a threat that you have to stay in the forefront of. You have some people that, unfortunately, want to try to disrupt our quality of life.
Live Nation is the largest concert promoter on the planet and they are taking this thing extremely seriously. All promoters are. AEG Presents, everyone is looking at this thing. WWE’s protocols are as strong as an NFL game. From a venue standpoint, we have to be open-minded. We have to be consistent with our security procedures. If you come in here for a rock concert, a Latin show, Disney on Ice, or a high school graduation our security procedures don’t change. We’ve got to be right all the time. The bad guys only have to be right one time.
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