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Everett's Comcast Arena looks to end slump

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  • Justin Bieber performed July 13 at Comcast Arena.

    Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

    Justin Bieber performed July 13 at Comcast Arena.

EVERETT — Thousands of teenagers swarmed downtown this past week to see teen sensation Justin Bieber perform at Comcast Arena.
The show set a new arena record for a single concert, with 8,588 tickets sold.
All that squealing and bubble-gum smacking were welcome sounds for arena officials. The sold-out show is a good sign the public building is back on track after months of less-than-stellar ticket sales.
“(Last year) was challenging not just for us but for everybody,” said Kim Bedier, the arena's general manager. “We are glad to see the back of it.”
The main culprit: the economy.
When times were good in 2007, more than half a million tickets sold. The arena made more money than expected.
When the economy started to sour the following year, so did the arena's finances.
In 2008, the arena booked fewer events and ticket sales sagged. The arena missed its ticket revenue goal by nearly $2 million.
Things got worse in 2009. The arena sold 377,860 tickets and missed its ticket-revenue target by $2.2 million.
It's not just ticket sales that suffered. The arena pulls in money from its ice rink and conference center. It also makes money from things like snacks and luxury suites at Silvertips games. Last year, virtually every moneymaker for the arena fell short.
“We are 100 percent discretionary income,” Bedier said. “If people don't have that, they won't spend it with us.”
Everett's taxpayers have a stake in how well the arena performs.
The 10,000-seat arena is a city-led redevelopment project. The city owns the property the arena sits on as well as the arena's conference center. Philadelphia-based Global Spectrum manages the arena.
The city doesn't collect money on arena sales. Everett does kick in $600,000 a year toward paying down the arena's debt. In about 20 years, the ownership of the arena will revert back to the city. A public facilities district set up by the city owns the arena now.
Comcast Arena is faring better than other similar-sized venues in the region.
“Venues Today,” a national trade publication, ranked Everett's arena No. 1 in the Northwest, based on gross ticket sales in 2009. That ranking doesn't include hockey and other sporting events.
Everett made more money from concerts than other venues about its size, including the WAMU Theater at Qwest Field Events Center in Seattle, a venue built to compete head-to-head with Everett.
“Concert ticket sales across the U.S. are down in general,” said David Brooks, a senior writer with the magazine. “The appetite for concerts isn't there.”
Low ticket sales and canceled concerts have dominated the industry recently, Brooks said. The main demographic for concerts are people age 16 to 24. Young people are facing high unemployment; they don't have the discretionary income to attend concerts.
On top of that, Everett sits in an extremely competitive market, one that got more competitive recently with the opening of several new venues, including the ShoWare Center in Kent. The departure of the Sonics from Key Arena also left open 40 prime concert dates.
On the bright side, Everett is in the sweet spot in terms of size, Brooks said.
“It's a great number for shows right now,” he said. “They can catch artists on the way up and down in popularity.”
That's what happened with Justin Bieber — he's on the way up.
The industry is still sorting out the issue of what a merger between the world's largest ticket seller and promoter means for venues like Comcast Arena. In January, the Justice Department approved the merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation.
Bedier, the arena's general manager, worries the new business model might mean Everett gets overlooked by acts working with the newly-merged company, which may prefer to book concerts at venues it already has a relationship with, such as the WaMu Theater.
“They have the artists, the tickets, the CDs, the merchandise,” she said. “It's huge.”
One big-name performer the arena did draw last November, ZZ Top, came to Everett because management officials took the bold step of acting as promoter. Usually, a promoter assumes the financial risk by guaranteeing artists money to play as well as paying the venue. This time, the arena ponied up the money directly to ZZ Top. The risk paid off. The show brought in $50,000.
“Any show we get, we have to work to get,” Bedier said.
As early as September, the arena saw ticket sales pick up for family-orientated shows, such as Disney on Ice. In addition to this week's Justin Bieber concert, Bedier points to shows by Carrie Underwood and the Zac Brown Band as successes. This year the arena also has a new tenant, Washington Stealth Lacrosse.
It's a particularly good sign that the arena is doing so well in the summer months, not traditionally a great time for an indoor arena, she said.
What other big acts might be coming this year won't be clear until after July 22 — that's when the Silvertips firms up its schedule. Bedier said there are a few big shows in the works, but it's too early to share.

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197, dsmith@heraldnet.com.

Comcast Arena revenues
YearTicket revenueBudgetTotal revenueTotal budget
20079,882,7019,279,65517,358,00015,821,683
20087,471,7489,350,92014,282,39216,855,298
20097,310,1949,505,10013,930,08317,147,791
2010*3,811,8304,076,2507,047,2317,282,993

*2010 numbers are through May
Source: Global Spectrum

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