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Verizon Wireless Arena says slow September is the norm

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 18. 2013 12:39AM
The Providence Bruins and the Manchester Monarchs line up for the national anthem at the Verizon Wireless Arena in October 2010. September is the Verizon Center's least busy month, according to General Manager Tim Bechert. (UNION LEADER FILE)

MANCHESTER — Fears over the drug Molly forced the Verizon Wireless Arena to cancel its only event for September other than the annual Fight to Educate charity bout, leaving the venue dark for 29 of 30 days. Last September, the arena hosted five circus shows, Big Time Rush with Cody Simpson, the band Rush and country superstar Carrie Underwood.

Past Septembers have also featured retro classics such as the Moody Blues in 2011 and teen heartthrob Justin Bieber in 2010. So why the lull this year? Purely circumstantial, according to General Manager Tim Bechert.

Last September was the exception, not the rule. "The stars were aligned that year," Bechert said. "We wish it was consistently that way every year, but it's not. We were very fortunate in 2012."

Bechert said a September with only one headliner, as was the case in 2011 and 2010, is more common. This September, the Barstool Blackout Tour would have fit the bill, but that was cancelled after two New Hampshire students apparently overdosed on Molly, a pure form of the drug Ecstasy, at similar events in Boston and New York City.

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which was here in September last year, will be in town for five shows this year in October.

"We don't gauge our business on one month. We look at the year," said Bechert. "And we don't control the touring schedule, so a lot of what happens here is at the mercy of the band schedules — where they are going to be touring and when they are going to be on the East Coast."

Last year in September, Carrie Underwood and the band Rush each spent a week in the building gearing up for their national tours. "We are geographically located in an area where a lot of bands will end their tours or start their tours. We've been the spot for numerous rehearsals," he said, "but not this year."

Summer months are the slowest for stadiums throughout New England, as performers opt for outdoor venues, Bechert said.

Cheryl Cohen, director of marketing and public relations for the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence, agrees. "July, August and September are always our challenging months," she said. "That's when the outdoor venues thrive."

The Dunk, as Cohen called it, will host Disney on Ice as its only major event in September — a show that will be coming to the Verizon Wireless Arena in January.

Doing better than most

The economy has taken a toll on ticket sales nationally, but according to Bechert, "We're doing better than most." The Verizon Wireless Arena, which can accommodate more than 11,000 fans at centerstage concerts, was ranked 10th for the 2012 calendar year among all arenas in the country with capacity between 10,000 and 15,000.

That means only nine arenas did better in terms of the number of tickets sold and the dollar volume generated, according to Pollstar, the concert tour industry's leading trade publication.

"Our performance is judged on a calendar year," said Bechert. "I don't know if 2013 will stand up to 2012. It will be close, but we are somewhat at a disadvantage because we lost two shows."

In addition to the Barstool Blackout Tour, which was filling arenas until the drug-related overdoses, a Green Day concert scheduled in January was cancelled as front man Billie Joe Armstrong entered rehab for substance abuse treatment.

"Green Day and Barstool (cancellations) certainly won't help," said Bechert, "and those are hard to make up. But taking that into consideration, it will be a good year."

The October schedule is packed, with five circus performances, five Monarchs games and a Celtics pre-season game. "American Idol" judge and country star Keith Urban is expected to be a huge draw in November.

"We're working on some big names for the fall," said Bechert. "Nothing I can reveal now, but hopefully some new country surprises for everyone, and some new sports events as well."

Performances by the Boston Pops and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra are expected to anchor a busy holiday season, he said.

Bullish on the market

The city's contract with SMG, a management company for convention centers, arenas and stadiums nationwide, protects Manchester from financing any operating losses at the arena.

Until three years ago, the city of Manchester paid $400,000 a year into the arena operating account to make up for the fact that, unlike most arenas, the Verizon Wireless does not have parking revenue to help balance the books.

"When we renegotiated and extended our contract, the city was looking for relief on that, and we were able to oblige," said Bechert. Verizon is now able to meet its obligations without the parking revenue. The arena no longer reports ticket sales to the city, since the only purpose for that metric was to determine the size of the parking subsidy.

The 2010 agreement that extended SMG management for another 20 years also relieved the city of rental fees for high school graduations and required SMG to pick up the costs for police officers outside the arena on event nights, saving the city around $85,000 a year.

"We are very bullish on this market and on this venue," said Bechert. "You go through peaks and valleys, so I don't get alarmed because I've been in this business for 27 years. When you have a slow month, you look at it, but you also understand it takes a year in a business where so much is out of your control."

Intown Manchester Executive Director Marti Roveda said big shows at the Verizon are always a boost to downtown restaurants and bars, but no one has expressed concern to her about the lack of shows in September.

Neville Pereira, who along with partners owns three downtown restaurants (related story, Page B2), said the big draw this month has been the Palace Theatre, where the Broadway hit "Rent" is on stage from Sept. 13 to Oct. 5.

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