Building the BET Experience

In just six short years, the BET Experience has cemented itself as one of, if not the biggest celebrations of black media culture in Los Angeles.

Since landing in Downtown in 2013, the event, which combines a mix of free and ticketed concerts, live discussions and events over a four-day period, consistently lures more than 100,000 people to L.A. Live and the Los Angeles Convention Center, making it a frontrunner for one of the most heavily attended and anticipated events in Downtown Los Angeles.

The seventh iteration, which runs Thursday-Sunday, June 20-23, is expected to be no different. The event will bring out music chart-toppers like Cardi B, Migos, Meek Mill and YG, while the Fan Fest offers events tied to video games and sneaker culture and some free musical performances. Both single day tickets and three-day passes are available.

The event is headlined by a sold out Saturday concert featuring Cardi B and Migos at Staples Center, but Jason Johns, director of BET Live Consumer Sales and Marketing said that Thursday’s event-opening, all-female concert at Staples Center featuring Mary J. Blige, H.E.R., Summer Walker and Bri Steves is also expected to draw up plenty of interest from longtime event goers.

Johns said that the BET jumped at the opportunity to bring those female voices into the fold this year.

“I think we have covered the full spectrum of strong female voices with this concert,” Johns said.

Last year’s festival drew about 160,000, in line with the 2018 festival. Johns said that he expects attendance to match last year’s numbers, but that BET is always trying to bring more people out to the event.

“Our goal is to always grow it,” Johns said. “We’re looking to build on that number, but 160,000 is kind of the sweet spot for us.”

The event will culminate on Sunday with the 19th annual BET Awards at the Microsoft Theatre. The event will be flush with stars, including DJ Khaled, Taraji P. Henson, Morris Chestnut and recent country-meets-hip hop sensation Lil Nas X. Regina Hall will host.

The event began at the Kodak (now Dolby) Theatre in Hollywood, before a quick stop at the Shrine Auditorium next to the University of Southern California. In 2012, BET inked a deal to bring the happening to L.A. Live.

At L.A. Live, the festival evolved from a one-day celebration into a multi-day extravaganza centered on the fan experience. L.A. Live’s infrastructure, which includes a collection of theaters, restaurants, and venues like the Staples Center, allowed the event to expand into what we see today.

“What we have noticed is that L.A. Live is a great center point for L.A.,” Johns said. “There has always been a great synergy between our events and the venues. It’s just been exciting to see it grow and we look forward to the future.”

The event has become big business for Downtown.

Darren K. Green, senior vice president of sales for the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board noted the event’s ability to draw thousands of people into Downtown on an annual basis.

“High-profile events like the BET Experience are an economic boom for the Downtown region as visitors fill nearby hotels, employ Angelenos and bring millions in direct spending to our restaurants, shops, attractions and more,” Green said.

The event offerings are wide and diverse. The celebrity charity basketball and the celebrity dodgeball tournaments are hits, as is the sneakerhead wonderland Kicksperience, but BET always looks to bring new elements to the festival.

This year, BET added a silent roller-skating party and a rap talent search dubbed Next Rap Star, influenced by the success of last year’s talent search.

The talent search winner will get a chance to perform at the 2020 BET Experience, a performance at the 2019 Hip Hop Awards, a starring role in a five-episode BET digital series and an opportunity for an deal with Island Records.

“What we’re trying to convey is that the BET Experience is your chance to live out your dreams and really find you stardom,” Johns said. “It’s something that is especially exciting for us, especially to see people who have put in so much hard work be recognized for it.”

There is also the “Genius Talks,” a moderated discussion series at the Convention Center that brings together luminaries and rising stars to talk about their experiences in the music, film and television industries. This year’s slate of discussions include Magic Johnson, “Grown-ish” star Yara Shahidi and “Little” star Marsai Martin. Jemele Hill, known for her 12 years with ESPN, will moderate the discussions.

Although most of the offerings at Fan Fest are free to the public, its success has led BET to create a smart phone app called BETX 19 to register for a wristband pickup time.

While it may seem like small addition, the app indicates just how much the event had grown going into its seventh year in Downtown. Johns heaped praise on Los Angeles for helping to make the event what it is today.

“I just really can’t express enough appreciation for the city of Los Angeles for being such a big part of our growth,” Johns said. “If it wasn’t for L.A., we wouldn’t be here.”

BET Experience is at L.A. Live, The Novo and the Los Angeles Convention Center from Thursday-Sunday, June 20-23. Tickets and information is available at bet.com/bet-experience.

sean@downtownnews.com