It’s not going to get any easier for Comcast Arena.
The Everett stadium had a big night on Tuesday, as country star Eric Church nearly sold out the venue, but bright spots like that have been few and far between.
Last year the venue lost roughly $330,000. This year it’s on pace to lose another $150,000. Staff has been thinned by six positions to cope with the red ink.
That should concern anyone who sees the arena as a lynchpin for downtown Everett’s economy — and give heartburn to those who consider the competition in Seattle. (Perhaps you’ve heard about the plans to build another new arena down there.) So what’s going on at Comcast, and what can be done to get it back into the black?
Some of the venue’s problems can be blamed on the nation’s economy, that reliable scapegoat. Obviously, when families have less money, they’re less inclined to drop $100 to see Disney princesses skate around, or watch a junior league hockey team suffer through its third losing season in a row. (Sorry Silvertips.) So why not book more bands? Clearly Church drew a crowd. Well, here’s where we must consider the venue’s Achilles’ heel: its odd size.
The arena can draw about 8,000 people. That makes it too small to attract many platinum-selling acts —Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen — but too big for gold-selling bands — smaller names like the Shins. And that means it’s hard to fill seats in the idle days between hockey games.
The venue, though, has an opportunity to turn things around, starting right now.
Kim Bedier, the venue’s general manager since 2003, left for a new position in Tacoma earlier this month. The venue’s board, led by the capable Gary Weikel, needs to use that opening to its advantage. They need to find someone with strong managerial skills and an interest in entertainment that borders on fanatical.
Her successor needs to be passionate about the possibilities offered by a venue like Comcast Arena. He or she needs to know how to help book touring acts like Church, but also create events unique to Everett — perhaps something akin to mini-Bumbershoots, one-day festivals featuring lineups of local bands and artists.
In other words, her successor needs to turn Comcast into a destination that inspires active curiosity about its event calendar. That kind of thinking could position the venue for the competition it will face from Seattle in the coming years.
Finding the right person won’t be easy — but, of course, we said it wasn’t going to get any easier.