The Coliseo de Puerto Rico Celebrates 20 Years As Island’s Most Vital Venue

On Sept. 13, 2004, Van Halen was the first major music act to perform at the newly inaugurated Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot in San Juan. That same year, local and international artists performed at the arena, including Draco Rosa, Daddy Yankee, Juan Luis Guerra, Andrea Bocelli and Korn.

“We wouldn’t have been able to have those shows if we didn’t have El Coliseo,” says ASM Global regional GM Jorge Pérez, who ­manages the venue. “It was the need we had at that ­moment in history.”


Mariela Vallines, executive director of the Puerto Rico Convention Center District Authority, which owns the building and contracts with ASM to operate it, notes that over the past 20 years, the coliseum “has become a cultural hub for the island, bringing people together to celebrate music and sports as the host of world-class events and entertainment. The venue has contributed significantly to Puerto Rico’s economy, generating revenue for local businesses and providing employment opportunities on the island.”

What’s more, she adds, “it has helped to position Puerto Rico as a premium entertainment destination attracting both local and international audiences that have surpassed 10 million visitors over the last two decades.”

Prior to El Coliseo’s construction, the Caribbean island hosted sporting and entertainment events primarily at two locations: Coliseum Roberto Clemente Walker and Hiram Bithorn Stadium. Still, a high-end venue was needed “to be competitive in tourism” because “we couldn’t only survive on leisure, travel and regular tourism,” Pérez says.

Since its inception 20 years ago, “El Choli,” as it is popularly called by locals, has become known both locally and internationally and the ultimate “dream arena” to perform at for many artists.

“The first goal of any artist, musician or DJ is to play in an arena that big,” says Puerto Rican artist Jay Wheeler, who made his Choli debut in 2022 with four sold-out shows. “It’s like winning a Grammy. Every artist from Puerto Rico will always have the goal of doing something in the coliseum.”

Players, Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot
Ángela Aguilar, who graced the venue’s stage at the 2023 Premios Juventud.

A wave of urban acts has not only received a seal of approval at the venue but also achieved milestones. Daddy Yankee, with his 2019 Con Calma Pal’ Choli shows, grossed $7 million, and Wisin y Yandel grossed $6.2 million with their 2018 string of concerts, according to Billboard Boxscore. The latter act holds the record for most sellouts, with 105,000 tickets sold across eight shows.

El Coliseo was No. 24 on Billboard’s 2023 year-end Top Venues global chart (in the 15,001-plus-­capacity category), and it ranked fourth in the Latin/Spanish-language market venue after Miami’s Kaseya Center, Madrid’s WiZink Center and Movistar Arena in Santiago, Chile.

Pérez recently spoke with Billboard about the past, present and future of the venue.

What void did El Coliseo fill when it was built 20 years ago?

The government noticed that there was a need to have a world-class arena. The building we had before was Coliseo Roberto Clemente Walker, which opened in 1973 and where concerts and sporting events were held in the 1980s and 1990s. We also have the Hiram Bithorn Stadium built in 1962. With that came the construction of the Convention Center, which was inaugurated one year after El Coliseo. But the vision was that we needed world-class venues to be competitive in tourism.

We couldn’t only survive on leisure, travel and regular tourism. We needed to provoke groups, meetings, conventions that would have economic movement. To complement that, the government really understood that we needed a top destination. So that’s kind of the history behind it.

There was a lot of criticism at the beginning, even when construction started. But when we look back, it was a very smart decision, considering the exposure Puerto Rico has had in the entertainment industry and how it has opened doors for our artists. When we look back, it was a visionary idea with positive results.

Players, Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot
Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot is managed by ASM Global’s Jorge Pérez.

What’s the story behind the venue being named after comedian José Miguel Agrelot?

There were a lot of names and ideas out there. In January 2004, José Miguel Agrelot — who was a comedian, radio/TV host, actor, producer and visionary — passed away. So his name came to the top of the list and it was approved.

One of his most famous TV characters was Don Cholito, which he played during the “Encabulla y Vuelve y Tira” segment on El Show del Medio Día (The Midday Show) in the late ’70s and early ’80s. “Encabulla y Vuelve y Tira” referenced the stringing of a wooden spinning top [a yo-yo] — in other words, to do it again and keep trying. That became an analogy of persistence and optimism of the day-to-day challenges that Puerto Ricans had at the time.

While promoting “The Night of Revenge,” one of the first boxing matches that took place at El Coliseo — where Miguel Cotto won the junior welterweight championship — sports commentator Elliott Castro was the first to say: “Let’s go watch boxing at El Choliseo.” Ever since, everyone knows the building by that nickname, El Choli.

Don Cholito provided optimism, a contagious smile and a vibrant personality — and that character was precisely about persistence and overcoming hard times. Those are some strong characteristics and traits that we have in Puerto Rico. Don Cholito’s spirit lives in every corner of El Coliseo.

Why does the venue play an important role in the career of a Puerto Rican artist?

First, it’s their hometown. We’re considered “The Cathedral of Reggaetón,” and for artists of that genre especially it’s important to play at El Coliseo because it’s like a big test for them. We’ve had the top urbano acts perform here. It’s a key venue, and it [marks] a point in each artist’s career of when they performed here, how well they did and how that impacts their careers moving forward.

Why has it become important for artists from other countries?

You have people [in Puerto Rico] who love and really appreciate live entertainment and can identify a good show. The energy here is amazing. We have an educated and knowledgeable crowd. When the crowd at El Coliseo accepts you as an artist, you know you’re en route to doing good things. That goes back to our culture — how we’re raised, how from a very small age we’re listening to music — we know what a top production is. When an artist gets onstage and feels that energy and acceptance, it fills them with confidence in what they’re doing and producing is special.

Players, Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot
Daddy Yankee

Do Puerto Rican acts get preference in dates?

Not really. We manage our calendar very responsibly, and it’s on a first come, first served basis. I work directly with management or agencies or local promoters to try to find the best fit for dates.

What would you say has been the most logistically complicated concert?

It must be the World’s Hottest Tour. Bad Bunny wanted to break the attendance record, and to do so, they put a very small stage on the south side and put all the production [overhead]. From one point of El Coliseo to the other, all the sound and lighting was on [the ceiling] — that’s not normal. Usually, our stages are large, but they wanted to maximize the audience size. I hear that Bad ­Bunny’s show now with the Most Wanted Tour is also very complex.

What economic impact does the venue have on the island?

The entertainment and event industry is huge in Puerto Rico and creates 30,000 jobs. It creates $2 billion, and almost $400 million of it goes to the government in the form of sales, tax and other revenue they receive from activities that we host in our buildings. It’s a big chunk of the local economy.

We look at it as an important part of our economic ecosystem. We create a lot of entertainment tourism; people travel from different parts to see a show here. About 15% of tickets purchased at the venue come from a ZIP code not in Puerto Rico. Our vision is to keep promoting Puerto Rico as a premier entertainment and tourism destination. We have a social responsibility to help our community.

In terms of business opportunities that we can bring, the exposure Puerto Rico has gotten through El Coliseo and through the artists that act on our stage has helped put the country on the map. People are realizing that this is a top-notch venue.

Players, Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot

How many people work an event at the venue?

On average at a sold-out event — from events staff to security to housekeeping to operation — we can have close to 400 to 500 staff, not considering the production staff on the artist’s side. We have 26 corporate suites; we have our food concessions. At an end stage, which is the most common setup, we fit 15,000 people, and basically, that’s the average staff that we must [have to] make sure everything moves smoothly.

El Coliseo is now also hosting televised awards shows.

The first one we hosted was the Billboard Latin Music Awards back in 2010, and we resumed in 2020 with Premios Tú Música Urbano. We’ve also hosted Univision’s Premios Juventud in 2022 and 2023. Awards shows are very particular because they take up a lot of time. The setup for one of these shows can be seven to 10 days prior to the show. It’s very complex production, and overall, it takes up a chunk of almost two to three weeks.

After the first awards show we hosted in 2010, looking and finding a three-week period that was not booked became a challenge for us. But when we started again, we realized it was a great showcase for the destination. Premios Juventud, for example, had great ratings and exposed us to an international audience.

What do you envision for El Coliseo 20 years from now?

We are already state of the art, but hopefully, we’ll have a new and larger Coliseo. Even though we maintain the venue in optimal condition, we really focus on keeping this building [able] to comply with all the production riders and high-quality shows that we’ve had.

But the truth is, 20 more years is a long time — and I think that in that time frame, we should be transitioning to a new Coliseo. There has been conversations about building a new stadium in Puerto Rico, too, but I see us transitioning to stay relevant and continue producing results. This was designed as a sports arena, but looking into the future, I’m thinking of a new building with a larger capacity and that’s more entertainment-related.

This story originally appeared in the June 1, 2024, issue of Billboard.

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