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Arena's ticket sales sag from 2013's

by Glen Chase | December 4, 2014 at 2:22 a.m.

Even as Verizon Arena gears up for one of country music's biggest acts next week, overall ticket sales in 2014 at the North Little Rock venue will see a sharp drop compared with 2013, general manager Michael Marion said.

Annual ticket sales at the North Little Rock arena will struggle to reach the 200,000 mark, Marion said, even as two popular big acts come to town: the Trans-Siberian Orchestra with two shows Saturday, followed by three consecutive concerts Dec. 11-13 by singer Garth Brooks.

While the arena has had a busy year, Marion said many events involved lesser-known acts that drew smaller crowds, which in turn translated into the overall drop in ticket sales.

"You hear a lot of spots on the radio for a lot of shows, but they just weren't big shows," Marion said.

Even with the boost from Brooks' ability to draw more than 40,000 concertgoers, the arena will sell far fewer tickets than it did in 2013, he said.

In the first six months of 2014, ticket sales for concerts and family-oriented events fell to 77,589, down 52.9 percent from the 164,685 sold in the same period a year earlier, according to figures compiled by Pollstar, a trade magazine and website that covers both venues and performers in the concert industry.

Pollstar ranked the North Little Rock arena 15th in the country for ticket sales by arenas in the first half of 2013. Through June 30 of this year, Verizon Arena ranked 31st among U.S. arena venues.

Pollstar reported that Verizon finished 2013 with ticket sales of 242,074, making it the 29th top arena venue in the nation and the 64th top-selling arena venue in the world. Ticket sales in 2012 totaled 166,785.

Marion said 2013 was the biggest year the arena has seen since its opening, allowing the arena to finish the year $700,000 in the black. The arena has a $6.5 million annual operating budget. In lean years, it draws on reserve funds saved from profitable years to cover shortfalls. Marion was unsure how large this year's shortfall would be, given the events scheduled in December, which include the concerts and several college basketball games.

"It's kind of ironic. We may end up doing the same amount of events but we've just had a lot smaller shows," Marion said, comparing the two years. "Instead of doing Fleetwood Mac, we did Joe Bonamassa. Instead of doing Justin Bieber, we did Slipknot."

After the success in 2013, Marion said he "fully expected this year to fall off, and it has. It's just kind of the ebb and flow of business. Some years are better than others."

The arena, originally called Alltel Arena, opened in late 1999 at a cost of $83 million and is a rarity among public arenas because it carries no debt after being funded by a year-long 1 percent sales tax, $20 million from the state and $17 million in private donations. It was renamed Verizon Arena in 2009. Depending on the seating configuration, the facility can seat up to 18,000 people.

About 7.1 million people have attended events there since its opening, ranging from concerts, conventions, meetings and graduations.

Buddy Villines, the county judge of Pulaski County, said the arena has accomplished the goal of drawing people to central Arkansas' restaurants, hotels and retailers.

"The goal is to break even or come out a little in the black, which is why we keep a reserve over there so that they never have had to come back" and ask for help, unlike other arenas that are typically underwritten by the state, county or city where they're located, Villines said.

Villines, who was a key backer of the arena, said the facility has proven to be an effective tool that attracts people and events to central Arkansas.

"When we built it, our goal was to have an event center to draw to the community as well as provide opportunities for citizens here to have what they couldn't get anywhere before," he said.

Business on 12/04/2014

Print Headline: Arena's ticket sales sag from 2013's


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