AEG has inked a long-term booking and concert promotion agreement for the historic Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, the former home of the first U.S. Open Tennis Championship. AEG-owned Madison House Presents will exclusively present 15 to 20 shows a year at the 13,000-capacity stadium still owned and operated by the West Side Tennis Club. AEG will lead a renovation and redesign of the stadium's concourse, seating and concessions and create new "speakeasy" VIP areas with hidden entry points, including a suite that can only be accessed via secret passage through a fake port-a-potty.
"We're really lucky someone hasn't taken a leak in there," jokes Madison House's Mike Luba, who spearheaded the renovations, which include reconfiguring the floor to create "one of the largest GA seating sections in North America," he tells Billboard. Madison House also reconfigured the entry concourse and gave it a more open, functional feel and expanded the number of VIP spaces from four to nine.
"We went back to the original architectural drawings of the stadium," Luba tells Billboard, embracing the 10 decades of history at the stadium where Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson became the first African-Americans to win the U.S. Open. Forest Hills Stadium was used as a filming location for Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train and Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums and has hosted concerts by the Rolling Stones, the Doors, Bob Dylan and the Beatles, who famously landed a helicopter on the court in 1964. The U.S. Open tournament left for Flushing Meadows in 1977, and the facility's 38 courts and stadium are now operated by the 125-year-old West Side Tennis Club, one of New York's oldest.
"People are playing tennis on the grass courts behind the stadium all the way up until the show starts," Luba says. "You have an old-school, legendary tennis club that's running at full speed while The Who is sound checking. I like to joke that it has the feeling of a Caddyshack gone berserk."
The exclusive booking agreement expands on a relationship first formed four years ago with a Mumford and Sons concert.
"We did one show the first season, then we did five (in 2014) and then we did nine (in 2015)," he said. "Then we got up to 12 or 14 last year and this year we're going to do 16 to 20," with plans to cap the number of shows at 20. This year's concerts include the xx with Sampha (May 19 & 20), two nights of the Chainsmokers (June 9 & 10), Jack Johnson (June 14), Sigur Ros (June 17), Dispatch with Guster (July 6), My Morning Jacket with Gary Clark Jr. (July 15) and two nights of the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (July 26-27). A full concert lineup is available at foresthillsstadium.com.
Terms of the deal weren't released, but Luba tells Billboard the agreement goes past 2030 and that Forest Hills will serve as the summer home for the New York Pops with director and conductor Steven Reineke leading a June 8 performance honoring the music of John Williams.
The stadium deal also expands AEG's footprint in the New York market -- earlier this year AEG announced it had acquired indie promoter Bowery Presents and earlier this month purchased Manhattan's Webster Hall in a joint venture with Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment. The Forest Hills Stadium deal now gives AEG an outdoor space that can compete against Live Nation's 15,000-capacity Jones Beach Amphitheater on Long Island and possibly pick off a few shows from Madison Square Garden.
"The real beauty is it was designed almost pre-electricity -- If you're in the last seat, furthest from the front of the stage, you're only half the distance of a comparable seat in the Garden," Luba says. "And it was designed to watch little human beings playing tennis and hear line calls. It's acoustically perfect."
AEG-owned AXS will ticket the venue while Flash Seats will power digital ticket delivery and entry and operate a secure marketplace for ticket resale. AEG will also consider plans to operate the venue in the off-season, potentially as a haunted house during Halloween and an ice-rink during winter months.
"The goal is to keep it as a community center that runs all year long," he said, later adding, "It has such incredible history in its bones, and the West Side Tennis Club has done a wonderful job of preserving this unknown oasis in Queens for the next generation."