UPDATE 3:24 p.m. Oct. 2: The story has been updated to include a comment from Branson/Lakes Area Chamber President Jeff Seifried. The comment was mistakenly omitted from the original story.
After 13 seasons hosting “big name” shows in Branson, Up Close Concerts Owner and Promoter Bob Cannella has announced 2020 will be his final year booking in the “Live Show Capital of the Universe.”
“Next year will be our 14th year presenting national touring artists in Branson,” Cannella said in an email to the Branson Tri-Lakes News. “We have a few shows already announced and a couple more for which we have signed contracts but not yet announced, otherwise these will likely be our final events in town.
“We will be expanding our schedule at the beautiful Juanita K. Hammons Hall in Springfield and place many of the artists we feature in Branson at our Springfield location.”
Cannella said it was easy as a “business decision,” but not so from a personal level.
“We have hosted legends like Merle Haggard, Glen Campbell’s very emotional return to Branson after a long absence for his final Branson appearances as part of his ‘Goodbye Tour,’ Huey Lewis & The News, Jay Leno, David Spade, and hundreds more amazing entertainers,” Cannella said.
Cannella laid out several reasons for pulling out of the area.
“The people of Branson have been extraordinarily supportive of our events, yet unfortunately, the people who make the decisions about the way Branson is marketed and managed have put the town in a position from which it will be difficult to recover,” he said. “It would be foolish for us to continue to invest in the city when the tax dollars we generate are regularly misspent and frequently wasted.
“The Chamber/CVB needs to be held accountable for every dollar they spend. Continually spending money on research studies, focus groups, marketing surveys, etc. in the hope of answering the most simple questions indicates the current leadership is highly ineffective and unqualified. Giving close to $100,000 to a company to survey how to improve the Branson theater business is the height of incompetence.”
Cannella also referenced the fact the Chamber/CVB put together a “task force” to review the data and make recommendations over a 9-month period “adds another layer of insanity to the process.”
“This is what people do who don’t want to be held accountable for their decisions,” he said. “They spend money on research, focus groups, etc., and then if things don’t work they point to the research study to say it wasn’t their fault, they were just going on what the ‘research’ indicated. The Chamber/CVB management is paid well, so based on their income they should be expected to have answers on their own, not waste additional money because they are incompetent in the areas which need to be addressed. Leadership needs to be changed, more money doesn’t need to be spent.”
“Think about it, the people who live, work, and spend every day of their lives in the market are paying an outside group tens of thousands of dollars to tell them what is going on in their own backyard,” he said. “It’s a bizarre approach to business, as if they are saying ‘we know we can’t be the problem, we are smart, there must be some unknown factor causing a decline in business.’
“For any hard-working person at a local restaurant, box office, golf course or any business, imagine if your boss came up to you and said ‘your department is not getting the results you were hired to achieve,’ and all you had to do is say, ‘thanks for your input boss, I will need $75,000 to hire someone to determine what the problem is because it can’t be my fault.’”
Cannella also cited a direct incident involving an event last season.
“Last year Jeff Seifried, president and CEO of the Branson Lakes/Area Chamber of Commerce and CVB, gave $15,000 directly to Shepherd of the Hills to sponsor a concert and event,” he said. “This was beyond unacceptable. That money was generated by people’s tax dollars on things like our concert tickets, yet it was given to a direct competitor. When I asked Seifried why he gave a large amount of money to one area business but not others he did not have a response. Why am I killing myself to generate funds that are then given to a competitor? It is absolutely unbelievable.
“The marketplace will determine which shows succeed and which shows fail, provided the Chamber/CVB does not get in the way. Good shows with good marketing will succeed. But the problem is that the Chamber/CVB is complicating that natural process by ineffectively spending its advertising budget, and wasting a huge sum of money on unnecessary projects. Good use of the marketing dollars we provide them is all that is needed to solve many of the problems.”
Seifried chose not to respond to each of Cannella’s comments individually, but did provide a statement over the phone Wednesday morning.
"We want to thank Bob for his years of investment in bringing national acts to the Branson market, and we as a community, and the chamber and CVB, look forward to working with others who want to continue to bring national acts to the market to help drive new and returning visitors to Branson," Seifried said.
Cannella also cited the time share industry as a hindrance to the live show scene.
“All time share sales operations should be required to post on their signage and all advertisements, in type size and font as large or larger than any other words in their ads or signs, that they are a time share sales operations, and receiving free or discount tickets is dependent upon the customer being solicited to purchase time shares, vacation clubs, or any other service they are pitching,” he said. “No one should ever walk into a building without knowing they are not entering a ticket outlet, but rather a time share front. The legitimate ticket outlets will not be impacted because they are not using another product to lure in unsuspecting customers.”
Cannella said he’d also like to see ticket outlets clearly state they do not sell tickets to “all” shows, and their list isn’t updated to include “all” shows.
Even though Cannella makes his living booking live shows, he doesn’t see the current “attraction boom” as the thing hurting shows the most.
“We need to get away from the idea that ‘more is better,’” he said. “The town would be much better off with 10 great shows. Branson was overbuilt, and it will never be the Branson of 1991.”
The fact so many shows are vying for “butts in the seats,” results in many owners “marking down” their product.
“Because so many shows are desperate to bring bodies into their buildings, they have discounted tickets to an unsustainable price, and in many cases practically give away their tickets with the hope that someone will buy some concessions when they arrive,” Cannella said. “The less reputable ticket outlets send people to the bad shows because those shows frequently give the ticket resellers huge profit margins to push their tickets. A show with a $40 face value ticket may be getting just $5 from the ticket resellers.”
Cannella stated he and Up Close Concerts don’t do business with “those type of people,” and urged other show owners to take a similar stance.
“If other show operators would also take that stance their income would increase and the shady operators would soon be out of business because they don’t have a product to sell,” he added. “But unfortunately it seems there is always someone desperate enough to cut bad deals with the resellers in a struggle to survive.”
Despite his issues working in Branson, Cannella again mentioned his stellar working relationships with many folks in town.
“We are so grateful to have worked with wonderful folks like Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater and Welk Resort Theatre,” he said. “Having top notch dedicated professionals as our venue partners makes our job much more enjoyable.
“I want to stress that Branson is a great place in spite of poor leadership. It can be even better if these serious issues are addressed.”
Remaining Up Close Concerts at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater include Gary Lewis and the Playboys and the original lead singer of the Buckinghams Dennis Tufano and The Crystal’s lead singer Lala Brooks Oct. 12, as well as Moe Bandy and Joe Stampley Oct. 16, Mel “Sonny Boy” Tillis Jr. Oct. 23, Pat Boone Nov. 6, Lee Greenwood Nov. 10, T.G. Sheppard Nov. 13. Crystal Gayle will present her Christmas show Nov. 20, 2019, followed by a Greenwood Christmas show Dec. 4.
Peter Noone with Herman’s Hermits along with special guest Mitch Ryder perform Oct. 18 at the Welk Resort Theatre.
Shows set for 2020 at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater include Amy Grant March 8, Ronnie McDowell April 1 and Wink Martindale April 2 as part of the Branson Elvis Festival, Billy Dean on Mother’s Day, May 10, and Janie Fricke with special guests Moore & Moore on Father’s Day, June 21.
Phil Vassar and Billy Yates will perform at the Welk Resort Theatre March 28, 2020, as well as Michael W. Smith on May 9, 2020.