SBJ/February 7 - 13, 2005/This Weeks Issue

Creative booking can’t offset empty dates

Arena managers acknowledge that their facilities are losing millions of dollars in revenue from the NHL lockout and that they haven’t been able to fill many dates reserved for hockey.

The four-month void has prompted building operators to look long and hard at how they can create business opportunities they might not otherwise consider.

They’re also not paying attention to the plea made by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in late January to keep open as many weekend dates as possible in case of a last-minute labor deal.

“Time is short,” said Rich Krezwick, CEO of Delaware North-owned FleetCenter in Boston. “It’s now February, with 2½ months remaining for the regular season. If another opportunity comes up, we’ll take a look at it.”

Delaware North did something it wouldn’t have done during a normal NHL season when company officials decided to self-promote a Mötley Crüe concert at FleetCenter, Krezwick said. A Bruins game was scheduled for the night of the event, March 5.

Clear Channel Entertainment, the nation’s biggest concert promoter, had turned down the chance to buy the tour because it considered the band’s guaranteed fee to be excessive, Krezwick said. (Clear Channel could not be reached for comment by press time.)

“We took a chance,” Krezwick said. “We’ll sell 13,000 to 15,000 tickets for an event that the industry was skeptical about.”

Comcast-Spectacor and Palace Sports & Entertainment bought Mötley Crüe shows for Wachovia Center in Philadelphia and the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, said officials from the two organizations. The rock band’s reunion tour is playing eight NHL venues through April 1.

SMG “took back” two dates at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum reserved for the New York Islanders and scheduled other events, including USA Gymnastics’ 2005 American Cup championships in Uniondale, N.Y., said Scott Mullen, the arena’s manager.

The Feb. 26 competition replaced the Isles-New Jersey Devils game.

“We had to do it,” Mullen said. “We stand to lose a lot more than the hockey team the way our deal is structured. We’ve done our best to refrain from taking dates back. On the other hand, we have a business to operate and the financial impact has been devastating.”

Mullen estimated that SMG will lose more than $1 million because of the lockout by not collecting its portion of ticket sales, parking, concession and sponsorship revenue.

Staples Center in Los Angeles has five sports tenants and isn’t suffering as much as the NHL’s 19 buildings where hockey is the single major league tenant, but that doesn’t mean Anschutz Entertainment Group isn’t plugging events into dates previously held for hockey.

The arena booked the Hyundai-sponsored 2005 Tribute to the Movies on Ice and a middleweight fight on back-to-back nights, Feb. 18-19, dates the Los Angeles Kings were supposed to play, said Lee Zeidman, Staples Center’s senior vice president of operations.

Office Depot Center in Sunrise, Fla., home to the Florida Panthers, is creating its own programming to capitalize on dates made available with the absence of hockey, said Michael Yormark, chief operating officer for the team and the arena.

The Panthers operate the facility, and SMG has a booking contract for the building. The two entities signed talent agency Premier Artist Services in December to assist in finding shows for the Office Depot Theater, the arena’s new quarter-house configuration with up to 5,000 seats.

“We’ve seen the value of these contacts,” Yormark said. “Booking buildings is more competitive than it’s ever been. We’ve positioned ourselves to be successful in light of the work stoppage.”

Air Canada Centre in Toronto has invited season-ticket holders and sponsors to skating parties and coaches’ clinics on weekend dates normally reserved for the Maple Leafs, said Bob Hunter, the arena’s executive vice president and general manager. Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment’s in-house food service division feeds the attendees for free.

“If they canceled the season, we would shut down the whole program,” Hunter said. “It’s not a big expense, but everything is complimentary.”

The lockout translates to losses in the “tens of millions” for the organization, despite the fact that Air Canada Centre expects to have 44 concerts this year, two short of its record number in 2003.

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