ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF THE MISSISSIPPI COAST COLISEUM AND CONVENTION CENTER, MATT MCDONNELL

Matt-McD-5.23While attending college at the University of Alabama, Matt McDonnell, was introduced to the entertainment business and from that moment on there was no turning back. He got involved with campus programming in 1978 and in 1979 he put together his first concert. The star of the show was Willie Nelson and the concert date fell on his birthday of April 30th. The venue was filled with over 10,000 people and the experience was a life changer for Matt. “I fell in love with the entertainment industry and I was hooked from the first song. I knew it was going to be my career choice,” he said. In 1985, after serving in the United States Army, he returned to entertainment at the Mobile Civic Center in Alabama. In 1986, he arrived in Biloxi. McDonnell has been the Assistant Director of the Coast Coliseum under Bill Holmes for the past 27 years.
Quite unexpectedly, he found himself drawn to issues concerning the city of Ocean Springs and was soon appointed to the Civic Center Commission. He oversaw the construction and also formulated the procedure plan for operating the new civic center. In the process, Matt discovered that he was fascinated with the mechanics of city government and he wanted to be a part of it. Getting things done is McDonnell’s forte and he knew he could make a difference in the lives of others so he decided to run for public office.
Matt McDonnell has served as alderman in Ocean Springs, Ward 2, for six terms. He never expected to hold office for such an extended period of time but once he got involved and saw his impact on the community, he could not walk away. “I am so honored to represent the signature part of Ocean Springs (downtown and the water front). I have had the pleasure and the opportunity to make sure this beautiful place stays the way the public wants it as well as enhancing the city in the right way. It is important to me to help people improve their lives and make things just a little bit better. Serving the residents of Ocean Springs is a huge reward in itself,” he said.
Promoters are the life blood of the entertainment industry and Matt works with the best of them from all over the country on a daily basis. Typically a promoter will contact him to seek available dates for a particular act or touring attraction. Once the avails are secured, the promoter works with the agency or management to make sure the routing will co-inside with the proposed dates. When the routing has been established, the deals are negotiated and structured so that it is good for all concerned; the promoter, the agency, the artist, and the facility. Once everything has been finalized, a contract is issued and the show goes on sale. “We make sure all needs are met, and all expectations are taken care of for the artists, their musicians and staff so that everything runs smoothly. When that show is over, we go on to the next one,” he said.
Normally about one week before a show, McDonnell and his staff are hard at work fine tuning the marketing aspects for that particular show. If the show was a sell out, then the focus is on all the production needs and the requirements of the contract. When it is just a few days before a show, the focus shifts again to address security and catering. The day of the show it is all about execution. The staff must report on time and be ready to go and the caterers must follow suit. Catering varies with every show but the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center has an in-house catering department that will often be called upon. Sometimes, tours travel with their own caterers because of special dietary needs or preferences. It all depends on what has been negotiated at the front end of the deal. There is an actual “green room” in the colisuem for celebrities and their guests to use when it is the day of the show. A green room is the terminology used for a special room allocated for the stars to hang out in either before a performance or after. “Ours is not green in color but the space is used as a gathering place for meet and greets, and also for production on occasion, Matt said.
When it comes to booking huge stars with the biggest tours, the largest, major markets get the first opportunity. Sometimes the tours will extend their run to include the smaller markets. In the past, McDonnell would actively pursue and “hunt down” certain artists to have them do shows at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum. Today, these stars typically play at casinos and festivals so they frequently choose those venues first. It is never a sure thing when it comes to booking talent. Years ago many country artists would make it a point to have their tour stop in Biloxi for a show but business has changed so much and the demand for the artists has increased tremendously. “Super festivals and television appearances have all made a difference and have taken the artists off the road so they play less dates. With less dates out there and more venues, it gets tougher to get repeat plays. The way the business has evolved and changed, it has become much more corporate and the bottom line has been magnified to maximize every dollar on every tour stop,” McDonnell said.
The 80’s and the 90’s produced many touring bands that did very well, particularly in smaller markets. It is a time that Matt reflects on often with the fondest of memories. There were more country acts and rock bands that were touring and making money so there were more shows and more opportunity for live entertainment. “Those days were a lot of fun. It was a great time to be a part of the excitement and to see the industry evolve. Now it is so competitive and so difficult to get the big tours to come and play in the secondary markets. Although the business is still challenging and still great fun, the opportunities have gotten a little bit tougher,” McDonnell said.
Ticket prices are set based on guarantees and the deals that are solidified between the bands and the promoters. The guarantee will fluctuate, some bands are of course, paid more than others. “It’s very basic 8th grade math. The total budget deals with production and marketing, building expenses, staffing and artist’s costs. You have so many seats to fill and an expectation of what the artist is worth in any particular market. All these things drive what the ticket prices are going to be,” McDonnell said.
Matt McDonnell is incredibly proud of his staff. “You are only as good as the people you have around you and I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most outstanding and talented people,” he said. The Marketing Director who handles all special events, festivals, concerts, family shows, concerts and sporting events is Chris Spear. Kendra Simpson is the Executive Administrative Assistant. The Operations department, Engineering department, Security company and everyone on the staff have been working together for many years. “They all know the routine and really know how to get things done. We are thrown a curve ball now and again and we are challenged but these people always rise to the occasion and they know what to do, when to do it and how to do it every single time,” he said.
There are no typical days for Matt McDonnell at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center. Although the job is usually 8 to 5, it is constantly changing and he must be ready for anything at any given time. Something new comes up without fail, every single day. At a moment’s notice, he has to work on the fly and make adjustments to have things flow smoothly. On the day of an event, he and his staff often put in very long and crazy hours. They start early in the morning and don’t leave till well after midnight. There is no day that Matt won’t book a show or concert with the exception of Christmas Day. “Nights, weekends, holidays are just another day at the office for us. Our work days are when most people are off and want to be entertained so we do what we need to do to make sure things go well,” he said.
When asked what has been the most memorable experience during any concert or show thus far, Matt said it was when Elton John performed at the coliseum last Spring. Elton is an intensely private person who rarely meets with anyone while on tour. However, this time his management reached out to Matt and asked if anyone might like to do a presentation in honor of Elton’s appearance on the Coast. In the meantime, beloved South Mississippi astronaut, Fred Haise, wanted very much to present Elton John with a token of his appreciation “from one rocket man to another.” The meeting was approved and Elton John was delighted. Prior to the concert, Fred Haise gave him two gifts, one was a piece of Shearwater Pottery, and the other was a bobble head figure of himself in his NASA attire. “We didn’t know that Elton John actually collected bobble head figures and owned thousands. He was very excited to receive an astronaut figure for his collection. It was the sweetest moment…it was really, really cool,” Matt said.
McDonnell supports charities that care for children and the elderly. He frequently gives charitable organizations free tickets to shows and will take special requests for tickets as well. “I have the utmost respect for seniors. They have so many experiences to share and so much to teach all of us. It is a pleasure to spend time with those who have contributed so much in their lives,” he said. He and his wife, Jane, have been married for 27 years and have two children, Harris and Mary. Matt is an avid reader. There is nothing he enjoys more than relaxing at home with a great book… unless he can go fishing on a beautiful day. Last but not least, he never misses an Alabama football game and will travel near and far to cheer for his beloved team. ROLL TIDE!
Congratulations to Mr. Matt McDonnell for being chosen as the Go To Places Monthly Mover and Shaker for December, 2013

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