SBJ/September 5-11, 2011/Facilities

Dallas arena profits from Mayne’s steady hand

The Dallas Mavericks were playing in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, and arena boss Brad Mayne was flying back and forth to — Pittsburgh?

Mayne, as president and CEO of American Airlines Center, had the duty of running the Mavericks’ home during only their second Finals appearance, but at the same time, with help from some colleagues, he kept his commitment to teach a class 1,161 miles away for the Venue Management School at Oglebay Resort and Conference Center in Wheeling, W.Va. He squeezed in three round trips to complete his 17th year teaching at Oglebay.

AMERICAN AIRLINES CENTER
Brad Mayne answers to Mavs owner Mark Cuban and Stars interim chief Tony Tavares.
Those who know him best were not surprised the former journeyman plumber pulled it off.

Considering the magnitude of the NBA Finals, others would have said no to Oglebay and stayed put, said Robyn Williams, executive director of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, and a close friend.

“Brad is one of the most ethical people I’ve ever known,” Williams said. “You combine that characteristic with a passion for the industry and a desire to give back, and you have such a great leader.”

Mayne is first to volunteer for an industry cause, said his closest friends. They describe a 30-year facility operator with a steady hand in a difficult position working for two bosses, Mavs owner Mark Cuban, and for the moment, Tony Tavares, the Dallas Stars’ interim president.

“It’s tough because he reports to two teams and they are not always going to agree on things all the time,” said Greg McElroy, the Dallas Cowboys’ senior vice president of sales and marketing. McElroy worked for Mayne during the arena’s first four years of operation.

They also describe a man of deep faith, a member of the Mormon church who grew up in Salt Lake City. Someone with a wry sense of humor whose nickname “Moondog” honors his cousin, the late pro wrestler Ron (Lonnie) “Moondog” Mayne.

His leadership skills can be seen nightly at American Airlines Center, which 10 years after its July 28, 2001, opening still shines like a new building because of an aggressive list of capital improvements. Mayne, with direction from the teams, has led those changes. Over the past decade, Center Operating Co., the arena’s management firm, has invested $28.5 million, revamping premium spaces, installing the first 1080-pixel HD video board in a big league arena and developing a Latin-themed restaurant/nightclub open on non-event nights.

As a result, American Airlines Center ranks consistently among North America’s most profitable facilities. For calendar year 2010, the arena reported gross ticket sales of close to $40 million, a number covering all events except for Mavs and Stars games. (The teams do not report their financials, Mayne said.) Excluding the two teams, the venue finished last year with 518,646 tickets sold, good for third behind Madison Square Garden and Staples Center, according to Pollstar magazine.

MAYNE POINTS

ON SUCCEEDING: “My dad had told me, ‘Surrounding yourself with people that could take your job away from you will be the most successful thing you’ll ever do.’ So I’ve never been afraid to find the best people and do what I could to get them on my team.”

ON THE UPS AND DOWNS OF THE TEAMS: “When we very first started our arena sales process, sponsors were saying, ‘I want to be a sponsor of the Stars,’ and we would tell them they have to take the Mavs as part of our partnership to get the most sought-after inventory. Now it’s the Mavs and the sales pitch is the same. It’s just the players have changed.”

ON KEEP THE ARENA CURRENT: “Over in Europe, you have a lot of facilities built many years ago that are still very successful and have a great brand. There’s no reason for us not to think that we can’t accomplish that same brand and experience here.”
— Don Muret
The last four years have been the best in the arena’s history for third-party events. The trend speaks to the building’s marketing efforts, considering revenue and attendance goes up and down depending on which acts are touring, Mayne said, although it also reflects the growth of Dallas-Fort Worth, now the country’s fourth-largest market behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Along the way, Mayne has played a critical role educating his staff on the finer points of booking those events.

Dave Brown, American Airlines Center’s vice president and general manager, is a prime example of how Mayne has shaped his staff. Brown was the manager at old Reunion Arena in Dallas when Mayne came to town in 1998. The city had signed a deal with the Mavs and Stars to build a new arena, privately managed by a joint venture representing the two teams. For three years while American Airlines Center was under construction, that firm, now Center Operating Co., took over Reunion Arena from the city and ran it as a private enterprise.

“Frankly I thought I knew a lot about the industry, but I learned more working the first year with Brad than I had learned in the first 12 years of being in the business,” Brown said.

Under Mayne’s tutelage, Brown learned how to pursue shows instead of waiting for the phone to ring, something new for Reunion staff accustomed to working for a public entity that did not take financial risk to buy events.

Seven months before American Airlines Center opened, Brown, whom Mayne hired as the new arena’s general manager, pulled the trigger for the Eagles to christen the building. “It was a $2.2 million guarantee, and we made that deal and made it profitable and we haven’t looked back,” Brown said. “Now, we have one of the top arenas in the business. Without Brad’s guidance and mentorship, I don’t know if I could have made that transition.”

Mayne knows about transition. The son of a plumber, Mayne first got a taste of sports business in high school selling tickets for state tournament games in four sports. In college, he worked in marketing and sales for the University of Utah’s athletic department. But after graduating from Utah, Mayne was content to follow his father’s path as a tradesman until that work dried up in the early 1980s and he took a job as an event coordinator at the old Salt Palace, original home of the Utah Jazz.

“Brad went from wearing Wolverine boots to Cole Haan shoes,” joked Tavares. “If you think about it, he’s living the dream.”

After the Salt Palace, Mayne got a job with the old Ogden Entertainment, managing arenas in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Tacoma, Wash., and developing an amphitheater in Chicago before corporate sent him to Southern California as project manager for the Anaheim arena development. That’s where he teamed up with Tavares, an old arena manager himself who had become president of Disney Sports Enterprises, the former owner of the Anaheim Ducks.

Five years after the Arrowhead Pond (now Honda Center) opened in 1993, Mayne, then a regional manager for Ogden, was hired by the Mavs and Stars to develop American Airlines Center.

“It’s a fascinating story,” Tavares said. “I can’t think of another person in the industry with that kind of background who has risen to be CEO of a top building.”

It hasn’t been all roses in Dallas. The Stars have struggled on the ice and at the gate and appear bound for bankruptcy protection before a new owner buys the team, similar to what the Texas Rangers went through in 2010.

“The challenges you have with a two-team dynamic like we have here … there are some big issues that come Brad’s way, but he’s always very calm and calculated in his approach,” Brown said. “Sometimes we joke, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if Brad just got mad every once in a while if we did something wrong.’”

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