Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, Kendrick Lamar and Lady Gaga are just a handful of the acts slated to pass through Amalie Arena before 2017 is over. The rest of the year includes names like Bruno Mars, John Mayer and Katy Perry mixed in with about half a dozen more big-name concerts, and pop wunderkind Lorde is already on the 2018 calendar. It’s definitely a lot for concertgoers to keep track of, and at the center of it all stands a tall man tasked with an even taller order of business.
“I like to keep a lot of plates spinning, a lot of things moving. I’m not good at staying on one topic for an excessive amount of time,” Kevin Preast told CL without getting into the tours and shows he’s currently trying to secure for the venue. “There is certainly a rhythm to what we do here, but that part of me helps me manage the randomness.”
Preast is the arena’s senior vice president of event management. He’s the guy tasked with leveraging Tampa’s rising profile to help the venue bring entertainers to play the room, where concerts typically cap out around 15,000 with some exceptions. In short, Preast and a team of about 20 people who touch Amalie events directly are a big reason you were able to have a good time at shows by the likes of The Weeknd, Iron Maiden and Eric Church — three concerts that collectively moved more than 48,000 fans through the turnstiles.
“Amalie wants Tampa to be in the conversation along with cities like Washington D.C., Philly and New York,” Preast said of the venue’s desire to make this area a must-play market for acts planning North American tours. He says the more than $100 million in renovations — which include lots of back-of-house improvements alongside the forward-facing fan-centric upgrades — go a long way toward making a good impression on agents and promoters who are looking to give their artist clients a world-class experience. Tampa’s growing population and economy, along with the community’s hospitality, do a lot of the rest. It’s part of what pulled Preast back to the area, too.
The University of South Florida graduate took the Amalie job in January 2016, but he and his wife have always had family here. Preast also spent time at the arena’s address during the ‘90s when he turned an Ice Palace internship into a group sales position with the Tampa Bay Lightning. A very short stint with the Tampa Bay Rays followed, but Preast eventually skipped town to open Philips Arena in Atlanta. He started a family in Georgia and spent the next decade-and-a-half helping turn Philips into one of the Southeast’s most respected venues. Uprooting his wife and two kids wasn’t a casual decision, but what Amalie Arena and Tampa Bay Lightning CEO Steve Griggs offered was hard to turn down.
“We talked about the transformation and rejuvenation the Lightning brand went through under the leadership of Mr. Vinik. Steve wanted to focus that same energy on bringing Amalie events up to that level,” Preast said, adding that they discussed the resources it was going to take to make it happen. “So I did my research, made calls and found out that what [Amalie] was saying was what they were doing. It made me take the leap.”
The leap probably feels even larger for Preast these days now that the University of South Florida’s SunDome has been added to his portfolio. In May, the university announced that a new Vinik company — Tampa Bay Entertainment Properties — would handle the Sun Dome’s “planning, services, operations and management” in addition to its staff operations, booking and management of events and activities. A marketing team dedicated to USF’s 10,411-capacity arena will have to come to fruition, but for now a second venue means more work for Preast and his team as they get the five-year project off the ground.
“It depends on whether we have a show in the building, but my weekly workload [already] varies between 40 and 100 hours. The Sun Dome [deal] doubles that workload,” he said, adding that his team is essentially being charged with increasing the quantity and quality of events at the venue. He wants to make the Sun Dome the Amalie Arena of its class. “We are trying to align artists, entertainment, spoken word, etc. so that they come into the marketplace with best opportunity for success. That, in turn, creates the best consumption environment for their fans.”
While that means more work for Preast, it mostly means more shows for Bay area music fans clamoring for artists that might traditionally skip Florida due to routing issues. The deal is already paying dividends, too. Earlier this month, Arcade Fire announced a September 22 show at the Sun Dome. And while the blatantly honest Preast wouldn’t say it outright, the Canadian indie-rock outfit is exactly the kind of group that would look and play better in a packed 10,000-seat arena than it would in a 15,000-seat room just over half-full.
“It’s better for the act, too, because they want to be in a room that is the right size and engages everybody,” Preast said. And that vibe creates exactly the kinds of win-win situations Preast has been after since he landed back home almost two years ago. “The organization’s vision was beyond the Lightning and beyond Amalie Arena. It was a vision of Tampa being the best it could be. It spoke loudly, and I wanted to be part of something special.”
And while continuing to evolve the Bay area’s major concert calendar is a tall order no matter who’s at the helm, Preast certainly seems like he might be the right captain for the job.