Coors (now Mattress Firm) Amphitheatre opened 20 years ago and the San Diego concert scene changed forever
All three — Paisley tonight, Mars on Saturday and Beck on Sunday — coincide with the 20th anniversary of the nearly $20 million venue in Chula Vista. It opened as Coors Amphitheatre, on July 21, 1998, with a double-bill of Hall & Oates and Chicago.
In the two decades since, the 19,492-capacity amphitheater has hosted concerts by hundreds of artists, from Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, Elton John and B.B. King to Kendrick Lamar, Metallica, Santana and Shania Twain.
Blink-182, Jason Mraz, P.O.D. and Slightly Stoopid are among the San Diego-based artists who have also performed over the years at the 70-acre venue. It was renamed Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre in 2008, Sleep Train Amphitheatre in 2013 and Mattress Firm Amphitheatre in 2017.
What are the most memorable shows you have attended at the venue now known as Mattress Firm Amphitheatre over the past 20 years, and why? Tell us in the comments section below.
Located just a mile north of Tijuana, it is the first major concert venue ever built specifically to attract U.S. and Mexican pop-music fans alike. (This year’s season opened with a performance by Luis Miguel.) Its size has helped draw major acts whose tours often bypassed San Diego in the past. The venue’s audience-friendly design deviated from the box-like shape of a good number of previously built amphitheaters with comparable capacities.
“It was profitable from the day it opened in 1998 and I understand it’s doing more shows and selling more tickets than ever. The fact that it’s thriving means the community embraced it,” said AEG Entertainment Chairman, CEO and COO Jay Marciano, whose company produces the annual Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival and owns a controlling interest in San Diego’s Valley View Casino Center.
As the president of Universal Concerts for much of the 1980s, Marciano was instrumental in getting Coors Amphitheatre built following a years-long, countywide search for a suitable venue.
“For 10 or 15 years, starting in the mid- to late-1980s, there were probably 30 amphitheaters built across the country,” Marciano noted.
“There was a big rush for promoters to build them, because they could control revenues streams — which they couldn’t do when they were renting arenas. Amphitheaters are still the backbone of the summer touring season. But large-scale amphitheaters, with a capacity of 18,000 to 20,000, I can’t imagine there will be many more built in North America.”
Chula Vista agreed to lease the city-owned land for Coors Amphitheatre to Universal in return for an annual share of the profits, which in 2006 totaled $370,000.
In 1999, Universal was bought by an equity company that merged it with House of Blues Entertainment. Following another merger in 2006, House of Blues became part of Live Nation, which has owned and operated what is now Mattress Firm Amphitheatre ever since.
“The venue had an immediate impact,” said David Swift, Universal’s first director of entertainment at Coors Amphitheatre and its general manager from 1999 to 2007.
“Big acts were attracted to playing a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility. Jay Marciano, Melissa Miller Ormond and others on the Universal Concerts team had a great vision for the venue and executed it so well. They got big artists excited to play the venue, while getting the fans in the market pumped up…. Discussions were always centered around: ‘How can we make it better?’
”The location was also great — Chula Vista was starting to really grow and there were 1 million-plus people, just across the border in Tijuana. No one wants an amphitheater in their backyard, but the city of Chula Vista saw the vision and took advantage of the opportunity. I think Universal Concerts was the perfect partner for them... Coors Amphitheater helped turn the region into a much bigger concert market. It was the catalyst.”
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