EVERETT — Comcast Arena has a new name, effective Wednesday: Xfinity Arena.
It might also be getting a boost after losing money last year.
The arena is owned by the Everett Public Facilities District, which built the $71.5 million building in 2003 to help revitalize downtown Everett. It is managed by Philadelphia-based Global Spectrum under a contract that expires at the end of 2015.
The district also owns the community ice rink, which also is being rebranded with the Xfinity name. The city owns the land and the attached Edward D. Hansen Conference Center.
The 10,000-seat arena’s problem is complicated, but much of it stems from operating in a competitive industry that experiences wide swings, depending on the overall health of the economy.
Xfinity Arena posted a net loss last year, said Rick Comeau, Global Spectrum’s general manager for the arena, although he wasn’t able to say exactly how much the arena lost.
“Last year wasn’t a banner year for the facility, for sure,” he said.
This year the arena seems to be closer to breaking even, Comeau said.
Global Spectrum’s strategy is to program a wide variety of events, ranging from expos like the Everett Fall Home Show to entertainment events and concerts. On Sept. 18, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum &Bailey Circus sets up for a four-day run, and Demi Lovato and Phillip Phillips have October tour dates at the arena.
The arena has 37 dates booked between now and the end of the year, including most weekends.
The plan at the start of 2014 was to book 14 events ranging from expos to one-time events like mixed martial arts or motorcycle ice racing, plus half a dozen concerts.
In the fall and winter, the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips dominate the calendar, and the fortunes of the team can help determine the year’s financial results.
“If the Silvertips are successful and our food and beverage companies are successful, then we are successful as well,” Comeau said.
But the business is also cyclical, and the arena often takes money earned in good years and puts it into a reserve to cushion it for the bad years.
The concert business alone is highly competitive, and while Global Spectrum does some of its own promotion, it’s tiny compared to the two giants of the business, Live Nation, which manages the 27,500-seat Gorge venue and 20,000-seat White River amphitheaters, and AEG Live, which manages 17,000-seat KeyArena in Seattle.
“Live Nation is going to try and book as many shows as they can into facilities they own,” said Gary Bongiovanni, the editor-in-chief of Pollstar, a magazine and website that covers the live concert industry.
According to Pollstar’s data, Live Nation reported more than 33.3 million tickets sold in 2013 and AEG sold 13.7 million. Global Spectrum only reported 220,247 ticket sales last year for all its properties worldwide, Bongiovanni said.
Even noting that the numbers are voluntarily reported, Bongiovanni said, “Global Spectrum doesn’t have the same buying power that AEG or Live Nation does.”
Comeau said that working with outside promoters is often key to landing names like Lovato, who is coming in October, or One Republic, which played a sold-out show in June.
The arena still labors under $50 million in outstanding debt, and its credit rating was downgraded earlier in the year, which would make it more expensive to issue new bonds or otherwise borrow money.
But the city of Everett guarantees $27.4 million of the debt — the rest is guaranteed by revenue — and is currently refinancing it, using its own stronger credit to get better terms, said Debra Bryant, the city’s deputy mayor.
When the arena’s bonds mature in 2026, the city becomes the owner of the facility.
But even in bad years — in 2011, the financial crisis in Greece caused monthly payments on that debt to more than double to $39,432 per month from $14,646 per month — the impact of the arena is best felt in the city itself.
“It gave people a reason to get off the freeway and see who we were,” said Lanie McMullin, the city’s economic development director and a board member of the Public Facilities District.
Given that Everett is a “fringe” city to a major metropolitan area, with all of the high costs of development that come with being close to Seattle, the arena has helped bring more than 700,000 visitors per year to the city.
“For that reason, the arena has outperformed,” McMullin said.
“I’m surprised it’s performed as well as it has,” she said. “It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done.”