Spokane Journal of Business

Spokane Arena’s birthday year, big acts

2014 attendance dropped, but revenues continued to rise

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-—Katie Ross
Becca Watters and Matt Gibson, of Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, say the venue is celebrating its anniversary all year.

Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena is heading into its 20th year with a 2016 men’s NCAA tournament bid secured, a big musical act announcement, art projects, and more planned events, says Matt Gibson, the arena’s general manager. 

Gibson says the arena’s revenue for 2014 was roughly $5.9 million, up from $5.6 million in 2013 and $5.1 million in 2012. 

Gibson attributes the higher revenue last year mainly to changes in pricing structures. For example, the popular annual Disney on Ice show, which last year was themed “Let’s Celebrate,” grossed higher than ever last year, Gibson says, but had lower attendance. 

“They changed their price structure, so the number of people didn’t increase, but the gross dollars increased,” he says. 

Also, the arena hosted several higher-profile events in 2014 that brought in more revenue, including several games of the NCAA men’s March Madness basketball tournament, Gibson says.

However, the venue’s expenses were higher as well, resulting in $50,000 less net income than in 2013. Also, attendance at arena events dropped last year, to 653,253, from 659,461 in 2013, which was up from 601,206 in in 2012. 

For 2015, Gibson says the arena is projecting solid attendance numbers. Also this year, the arena is on track to hit 15 million visitors total over its lifetime so far, he says. 

The arena will be celebrating its 20th anniversary on Sept. 16, Gibson says. It officially kicked off celebrations one year earlier to the day. 

“We’re celebrating that anniversary this whole year, since it’s our season,” he says. Gibson says this year also is the 30th season for the Spokane Chiefs hockey team and the 10th season for the Spokane Shock arena football team. 

“Twenty is kind of that magic number,” Gibson says. “At 10 you’re not grown up enough; at 20 you’re kind of hitting your stride … we’re stepping up efforts to secure an exciting event season not only for our 20th, but beyond.”

As part of its anniversary celebrations, the arena announced on two weeks ago that The Eagles will be playing there on May 29, Gibson says. Tickets for the show went on sale last week. 

“That’s a big win for us,” Gibson says. “They haven’t played here in 13 years.”

Also playing in May will be country singer Luke Bryan, on May 15, and fellow country singers Jason Aldean and Tim McGraw on April 24 and Sept. 3, respectively. In November the arena will be hosting Disney on Ice: Frozen.

Gibson, who’s worked at the arena for 16 years, says that long-running shows like Disney on Ice help keep business coming in.

 “People bring their kids to these events, and then (the kids) grow up and bring their own kids,” he says. 

Also this year, the Spokane Arts Fund has commissioned Spokane artists and brothers Todd and Cain Benson to paint a $50,000 large mural inside and above the arena’s main doors. The mural is geared toward users’ experiences at the arena, Gibson says. 

“On the south side, as you come in the building, you’re presented with the many different types of activities we have in the building,” he says. “And on the north side, (it shows) the reaction of the crowd.”

The mural is expected to be completed around the middle of April, Gibson says. 

The Arts Fund, together with Gold Star Families, the city, and the Spokane Public Facilities District, also is planning a 9/11 memorial at the arena. Plans for the memorial are still in the works, Gibson says.

The bowl of the arena itself encompasses about 32,000 square feet, but the facility has total indoor meeting space of 45,000 square feet and seven meeting rooms. Its banquet capacity is 25 to 900 people, he says, and its theater capacity is 25 to 12,500 people. The cost of renting space there starts at $200 for four hours and goes up from there. The arena also offers catering, running from $20 to $40 a plate. 

“This building lends itself well to live events: sporting, musical, and entertainment,” Gibson says.

About a year and a half ago, all of the arena’s seats were replaced with more space-efficient seats to give the venue more capacity. The project was funded through the same bond measure that funded the $50 million expansion at the convention center, Gibson says. 

 The reason the facilities district went forward with the seating expansion was to help it be chosen as a venue for the NCAA men’s college basketball March Madness tournament, he says. 

The seating capacity of the arena now depends on the setup, Gibson says, but it’s “far north” of the 12,000 seats the NCAA previously required for a March Madness venue. The association since then has reduced the requirement to 10,000 seats, he says. 

“For the 11 or 12 years prior, it had always been 12,000,” Gibson says. 

Gibson says the 2016 games will line up nicely with the opening of the $135 million, 716-room Grand Hotel Spokane, located at 333 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. downtown, which is slated to open this summer. 

Becca Watters, marketing manager for the arena, says the facility was approved to host six games in the first and second rounds of the 2016 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, with those games to be held March 18 and March 20 next year.

The arena also will host games for the women’s NCAA tournament this coming weekend, and then again in 2018, Gibson says.  

The facilities district has 40 employees, Gibson says, across the arena, the Convention Center, and the INB Performing Arts Center. However, the arena has hundreds of part-time contractors for many of its services, he says. 

The arena contracts out for all its inside vendors, with the contracts going out for rebid every few years, Gibson says. 

“It’s proven to be very efficient and cost-effective,” he says. 

Pizza chain Papa John’s recently was brought in as a licensed product provider, Gibson says. 

Also, last year the Coeur d’Alene Casino partnered with the arena to open an extension of its Red Tail Bar & Grill inside the arena, called Red Tail at the Arena. 

“It’s the only place where the public can go in, have a beverage and watch an event,” Gibson says. 

Patrons do need an event ticket to enter the bar, he says. It opened last September. 

Although the arena is turning 20 this year, Gibson contends its age doesn’t show. 

“Just the fact that we’re 20 years old … but you walk in this building, and you wouldn’t know it,” he says. 

Watters agrees, saying, “A lot of shows that come through here say how clean and nice it is.”

Katie Ross
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Reporter Katie Ross covers manufacturing, hospitality, and government at the Journal of Business. An outdoor enthusiast and snowboard fanatic, Katie is a recent graduate of Gonzaga University.  

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