EVERETT — It’s not likely to stay Xfinity Arena much longer.
Comcast’s contract for naming rights at the Everett events center expired June 30. Arena management and Comcast agreed to allow the name to stand in the interim.
Arena staff are seeking parties interested in naming rights. They are talking with potential candidates, general manager Rick Comeau said.
Finding a new name is just the latest challenge: It’s not easy for Western Washington’s third-largest indoor venue to stand out. It opened in 2003, financed with $71.5 million in bonds through the Everett Public Facilities District. Comeau oversees day-to-day operations through a long-term agreement with Spectra Venue Management.
The arena’s mission is to bring people downtown, increase local entertainment options and spur economic development, he said. Overall attendance and the number of events are meeting annual benchmarks set a decade ago. However, since 2010, only the past two years have turned a profit.
Preliminary 2017 figures are lagging, though Comeau declined to share specifics. In 2016, there was nearly $6 million in gross ticket revenue. The arena also draws money from other avenues, including concessions, fees and advertising. But after expenses, the 2016 net profit was $100,157. The year before, it was $129,465.
“This year has not been one of our best years …,” Comeau said. “In this business everything goes up and down depending on events.”
Furthermore, the facilities district still is paying off $18.2 million in construction debt. The total debt on the arena is about $60.3 million, including what is owed by the city of Everett. The city issued bonds to fund the land purchase and the inclusion of a conference center, and in 2014 assumed some debt from the district.
Comeau is hopeful that a more impressive schedule will bring a turn-around for 2018. Everett has struggled to attract big-name talent: Lady Gaga won’t be stopping by anytime soon. Still, there are hundreds of events a year, including Silvertips hockey, family-friendly shows and activities, expos, and concerts in niche genres such as heavy metal and Christian contemporary. In November, the Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith Christmas tour is coming, and 500 tickets were grabbed through pre-sale. Hundreds more were sold Friday.
When a concert succeeds, it’s easier to draw that act back and to attract others, Comeau said. The opposite also holds true. The arena has to convince entertainers who perform in Seattle or Tacoma to spend another night on this side of the mountains.
“We would like to do more,” he said. “It’s just trying to encourage the artists to come to Everett.”
People have to turn out to get what they want, he said. A show that does well will generate more of the same.
Drawing bigger acts can mean taking on risk. The arena might offer financial incentive to promoters, including larger cuts of ticket fees and concession sales. “If a venue can break even on a show, we view that as a success, just having the content in the building,” Comeau said.
The operation features the main arena, the community ice rink and the conference center named for former Everett Mayor Ed Hansen.
Of course, the Silvertips are the major tenant, with 36 home games a year in the regular season. Hockey games have seen slight declines in attendance in recent years, though. Roller derby has moved on. Endurocross, which combines motorcycles with racing and obstacles, has proved popular every fall.
“We try to get other motor sports like monster trucks, but we have not been successful at this point,” Comeau said.
Attractions for young families are more dependable, he said. Disney on Ice, Disney Live! and the Harlem Globetrotters return every year.
Comeau also is heartened by support from the Snohomish County Council and the city of Everett, who have agreed to finance recent capital projects.
A large, high-quality suspended scoreboard with wrap-around screens was installed in summer 2015. A loan from the city covered much of the $800,000 cost. This year, work is under way to replace the retractable bleacher seating and the padded club-style chairs. Any venue that’s 14 years old has a wish list for improvements, Comeau said.
It can be tricky trying to draw in folks from around the county and to keep them happy, even when the arena saves them a drive to Seattle or Tacoma. Some guests want the same experience they had with Tips season tickets last year, right down to the parking spot and the food, he said. Others are looking for something new, and menu options are increasing for the next hockey season. Comeau encourages returning visitors to “take an extra lap around the concourse” to check it out.
The arena’s public roots also show with community events. It offers low-cost rent for prom and commencement. This June, it hosted 18 graduations in 11 days, mostly high schools but also Edmonds Community College. Altogether, those commencement ceremonies drew 60,000 guests.
And yet, the building still needs a new name. Comcast’s 10-year contract was for naming rights for the main arena and the ice rink, not the conference center. The agreement was signed in 2007, and the price rose annually. Comcast paid $376,764 for the Xfinity name during the last year of the contract, public records show.
In 2007, the contract said both sides anticipated 80 events a year with 270,000 in annual attendance. Last year, the building counted 302 events, but most were in the conference center and not the main arena. Paid attendance was just below the 2007 benchmark, but total attendance for the main arena alone was 336,070.
Some of the most-attended events, such as high school graduations and the Donald Trump presidential campaign rally — which broke arena attendance records — didn’t charge for tickets.
For a new name, the goal is to find a company that’s invested and involved in the Everett area, Comeau said. He sees the events center as being “right in the middle” of a changing downtown. More families are expected to move here, especially as modern housing stock increases.
“These people need a place to see entertainment,” he said.