Swift victory: How Lucas Oil Stadium became a stop on history’s biggest tour

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Taylor Swift on the debut night of “The Eras Tour,” March 17 in Phoenix. She’ll bring her show to Indianapolis Nov. 1-3, 2024. (AP photo)

In some ways, the work to land three Taylor Swift concerts at Lucas Oil Stadium next year began 15 years ago when country star Kenny Chesney headlined the first concert in the building a month after it opened.

In September 2008, Chesney was an established “stadium act” who could sell more than 50,000 tickets in cities across the United States. Swift was a 19-year-old preparing her sophomore album, “Fearless.”

What Chesney and Swift have in common is concert promoter Louis Messina, who’s placed four Chesney tours (2008, 2009, 2012 and 2015) and now two Swift tours (2018 and 2024) in Lucas Oil Stadium.

Eric Neuburger

Eric Neuburger, director of Lucas Oil Stadium, said early successes with Chesney helped Indianapolis become part of Swift’s record-breaking “The Eras Tour.” The music superstar is scheduled to perform Nov. 1-3, 2024, at the NFL stadium.

“There’s a long history there and a long history of trust,” Neuburger said of Lucas Oil Stadium and the Texas-based Messina Touring Group. “This is a show we wanted to be a part of for a long time. … I think relying on relationships and reputation has really helped us in order to get this one in place.”

“Reputation” served as the name of Swift’s 2018 tour, which still holds the record for most attendees—55,729—at a Lucas Oil Stadium concert.

But any statistic credited to Swift on her first stadium tour has been obliterated by “The Eras Tour.” Designed as an overview of Swift’s 10 studio albums, “Eras” is projected to be the first concert tour in history to sell more than $1 billion in tickets, according to Pollstar magazine.

“From a tourism perspective, there’s not a city in the nation that does not want to host Taylor Swift,” said Chris Gahl, executive vice president for Visit Indy. “To be on that list of stops drives incremental, impactful tourism-related spending and social and traditional media exposure that’s impossible to calculate.”

This year, Indianapolis was on the outside looking in while Swift headlined multiple dates at 20 stadiums in the United States. In the Midwest, Swift performed in Chicago (June 2-4), Detroit (June 9-10), Minneapolis (June 23-24), Cincinnati (June 30 and July 1) and Kansas City (July 7-8) this summer.

Neuburger said Lucas Oil Stadium was in preliminary discussions to host a Swift performance in 2023, but Indianapolis didn’t make the schedule when the tour plan shifted from visiting multiple cities each week to setting up camp to present multiple concerts in a single city.

“This is a generational show,” Neuburger said. “When you’re doing six nights in Los Angeles, it changes the whole ballgame. Some of the things we work against to win some of these [concerts] are our own successes, and that’s the Lucas Oil Stadium schedule.”

The calendar challenge

Lucas Oil Stadium hosts more than 200 events per year, which poses a challenge when seeking open dates for concerts.

The Colts have top priority in the building, Neuburger said, and it’s a safe bet the team will play on the road or have a bye date on Nov. 3, 2024.

According to the NFL, the league surveys teams each January to collect information about events that could create scheduling conflicts.

“What governs our relationship with the NFL and the Colts is the lease between the Capital Improvement Board and the Colts,” Neuburger said. “It spells out exactly what we need to provide each year in advance while they are scheduling and then what happens once the schedule is announced. [The Swift shows] fit within those tolerances outlined in that lease.”

Meanwhile, the stadium is scheduling conventions more than a decade into the future, Neuburger said. The 2024 FFA Convention is set for Oct. 23-26. Once that event wraps up, attention will turn to “The Eras Tour” and trucks that will bring Swift’s stage, LED screens and equipment to Indianapolis.

This will actually be her third stop at the stadium. Swift made her Lucas Oil debut in 2008, playing a private concert for FFA Convention attendees.

With a concert capacity of more than 55,000, Lucas Oil Stadium is considered the largest concert venue in central Indiana. (The Rolling Stones attracted an estimated crowd of 50,000 when the band played the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 4, 2016.)

“The number of artists who actually can do stadium shows is relatively small,” Neuburger said.

Among those artists, some can play dozens of shows, such as Swift, and others are restricted to fewer shows because their popularity has a ceiling.

“They are looking at geography a little bit differently,” Neuburger said. “We have strong music markets in proximity to Indianapolis: Chicago, Detroit, Nashville and others. We are always competing, in a good way, with those folks. Some of the things we’re trying to do to make us even more attractive is to be that trustworthy partner and develop long relationships with these promoters.”

The four Chesney tours and two Swift tours promoted by the Messina Touring Group account for more than half of the 11 public-ticketed concerts that have been staged at the stadium. The other five: One Direction (2015), U2 (2017), Guns N’ Roses (2021), Motley Crue and Def Leppard (2022) and Luke Combs (April 1, 2023).

What we missed

Although the Swift concerts already represent a 2024 highlight for the Indianapolis entertainment scene, some of 2023’s biggest tours don’t include Indianapolis dates.

Beyonce performed July 17 at Louisville’s L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium, Bruce Springsteen is playing two shows this week at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, and Messina Touring Group client Ed Sheeran played Nashville’s Nissan Stadium and Chicago’s Soldier Field in July.

Geno Shelton

Geno Shelton, an Indianapolis-based concert promoter who presented his first show in 1992, said concerts skip certain cities for multiple reasons.

“The availability of the building is one,” he said. “Another is track record. From a track-record standpoint, does it make more sense for me to play Cincinnati and draw from Louisville, Dayton and Indianapolis or try to play all of these cities? Promoters are finding it doesn’t make sense to play all the cities.”

On Sept. 22, Shelton will promote the Circle City Classic Cabaret Soul Jam at Butler University’s Clowes Hall, featuring old-school R&B groups the Manhattans, the Dramatics, Blue Magic and Heatwave.

Shelton said Indianapolis needs more concert venues to attract more touring acts, but he added that the math might become tricky after a planned 3,400-capacity arena opens in Noblesville and a 3,000-capacity venue arrives with the renovation of the former Arrestee Processing Center near the intersection of East Market Street and College Avenue.

“It can be like the apartment situation,” he said. “You can build a million apartments, but you need the people to fill them. You can’t have a venue and not have an increase in the volume of people. That’s going to be interesting. Whoever has the hot venue is the one everyone’s going to use, and the other venues are going to suffer.”

The remainder of 2023 is shaping up well for the 24,000-capacity Ruoff Music Center in Noblesville and the 18,000-capacity Gainbridge Fieldhouse downtown.

Los Angeles-based Live Nation, the world’s biggest concert company, owns Ruoff and manages the live music schedule at the 6,000-capacity TCU Amphitheater at White River State Park.

Upcoming Ruoff highlights include Luke Bryan on Aug. 18, Pearl Jam on Sept. 10 and the Farm Aid benefit concert on Sept. 23. At Gainbridge Fieldhouse, farewell tours dominate the schedule: the Eagles (Oct. 9-10), Aerosmith (Oct. 29) and Kiss (Nov. 25).

Mel Raines

Gainbridge Fieldhouse “competes against every other major arena in the Midwest,” said Mel Raines, president of Pacers Sports & Entertainment, which manages the fieldhouse. “There’s Cleveland, Columbus, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Louisville, and certainly Chicago and Detroit. Not very many shows are going to play every one of those markets. But we’re doing our best to be competitive in terms of our rent and all of the other amenities we have in our building.”

As part of recent renovations at the NBA arena, Gainbridge Fieldhouse officials designed an artist compound of backstage dressing rooms and gathering spaces near the loading dock at the north end of the building.

“They walk straight into the star compound and then directly onto the stage,” Raines said of perks offered to performers.

Swift made an early-career appearance at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in 2007, when she performed as a supporting act for Messina Touring Group client George Strait. In 2008, she performed as a supporting act for Rascal Flatts at Ruoff Music Center.

‘Making memories’

Swift fans will have a chance to purchase tickets for the Lucas Oil Stadium shows at 11 a.m. Friday, when seats become available at ticketmaster.com.

Lynda Abshire

Noblesville resident Lynda Abshire said her daughter, 28-year-old Harmony Abshire, has a knack for finding tickets at the “last minute.” When the mother-and-daughter duo attended one of Swift’s shows in Cincinnati, Lynda said, Harmony purchased two secondary-market tickets a few days before the concert.

Lynda hadn’t previously caught a live performance by Swift, but Harmony ranks as a true “Swiftie.” The Texas resident attended seven “Eras” shows this summer, and she plans to see Swift next summer in Paris.

Traveling to attend concerts is a family tradition. Lynda attended last month’s Beyonce show in Louisville. On July 26, she attended a Pink show at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park. Although Pink didn’t bring her stadium tour to Indianapolis, she has a headlining date Nov. 7 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

“Making memories is something I’m all about,” Abshire said. “We’re so close to so many different cities. I’ve gone to Cincinnati and Chicago multiple times to see acts. It’s just easy. It’s nice to have those options if there’s not an Indianapolis stop or you can’t go on the Indianapolis date.”

Visit Cincy and the Cincinnati Regional Chamber’s Center for Research and Data estimated that people spent $92 million on hotels, concert tickets, transportation, food and beverages when “The Eras Tour” visited Cincinnati.

In 2024, Indianapolis will have its turn to reap an economic boost from Swift’s tour.

Visit Indy executive Gahl said he expects Indianapolis-area hotel rooms to be heavily booked when “The Eras Tour” comes to town. He said it’s premature to discuss November 2024 because hotels generally don’t make single rooms available for reservations more than a year in advance.

On the second night of Swift’s three-night stand at Nissan Stadium in May, hotels in Nashville, Tennessee, commanded an average nightly rate of $385.59. The rate set a record as the highest ever in Davidson County.

For comparison, Gahl said the national average nightly rate for hotel rooms in June was $158.40. In Indianapolis, the average in June was $132.56.

That’s the month when discussions about Swift coming to Lucas Oil Stadium “became much more serious,” said Neuburger, who became the stadium’s director in 2017.

He praised the building’s booking manager, Marcie Lapehn, for her role in locking in the Swift dates announced Aug. 3.

Four North American cities were added to the tour: Indianapolis, Toronto, Miami and New Orleans. Swift will perform six nights in Toronto and three nights each in Indianapolis, Miami and New Orleans.

To date, no artist has played more than one show of the same tour at Lucas Oil Stadium. It’s reasonable to predict three sold-out shows and overall attendance of more than 165,000.

Neuburger said a two-night stand was discussed with Messina Touring Group before a three-night stand was chosen.

“The demand speaks for itself,” he said. “There’s demand for it, and really, it’s up to the artist whether they want to spend that much time working. I think we all know this artist works tirelessly.”•

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One thought on “Swift victory: How Lucas Oil Stadium became a stop on history’s biggest tour

  1. Not sure if Indianapolis fans having to pay 10x face value due to Ticketmaster’s sham is a win? 🤷🏻‍♂️

    I’m sure most all local fans attempted to get the presale this week and most all didn’t receive access.

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