Sunday, March 17, 2013

UNO's Arena Plan Downsizes Further To Meet $75 Million Budget

Some of my questions about UNO's funding plans for the proposed hockey arena for Maverick hockey and other sports were answered by Henry Cordes in Sunday's World-Herald.  But a previous concern is becoming magnified.

Where will that extra $4.7 million in annual revenue come from? It's not complete, but we do have a blueprint:

$1.4 million from the sale of "premium" seating (suites and club seating).  Also "priority seating" for the best seats in the arena.  That's revenue that mostly goes to MECA to pay for the CenturyLink Center with UNO's current arrangement.  I believe UNO has implemented some "priority seating" plans for the best lower level seats at the CenturyLink Center; that'll probably expand moving forward.

$1.2 million from concession revenue - including beer.  That's probably a reasonable number.

$400,000 assuming that ticket sales will increase moving forward.  UNO hopes to increase season ticket sales to 6,000 with the smaller arena.

That's $3 million.  The rest would come from naming rights, advertising, and rental of the facility for other events.  Considering that the Trailer Park gets over $300,000 for naming rights, you see that this probably is a viable figure.

Heritage Services, the consortium of Omaha's power brokers, has signed off on UNO's plans, which gives it the stamp of approval.  At this point, it's certain to happen.

While UNO's numbers seem to be coming into focus, one of my previous concerns has actually magnified.  I've long felt that 7,500 seats for UNO hockey was too small.

So guess what?  As the plans have evolved, the size of the facility has actually gone DOWN.  They've even used a euphemism that I've long disagreed with.  In real estate, agents frequently describe tiny, cramped accommodations as "cozy".  In stadiums, the term is "right sized".

Or in plain English:  It's small...too small.  Now UNO is talking about a 7,000 to 7,500 seat arena, reducing the size in an effort to keep the arena cost within the originally discussed budget of $75 million.

Cordes' article says that attendance for UNO hockey had dropped to 5,000 a game.  That's completely misleading; for the last several years, UNO hockey has averaged between 7,000 and 8,000 fans per game.  Reportedly, UNO has sold only 4,000 season tickets in recent years.  That's probably accurate.  Some of the difference is with free tickets.  Some of those freebies go to marketing partners, some of those freebies go to students.  Those probably aren't going away.  At least not for students.  If anything, UNO needs to make sure that students have a sizable presence at Maverick hockey games - and not have to pay for them. 

That "6,000 tickets sold" per game figure is pretty close to a sellout, assuming students still get in free to a 7,000 seat UNO arena.  And it's something that probably can be expected if the understanding is that UNO hockey tickets aren't going to be available at the door.  As long as the ticket price hasn't gotten unreasonable for fans.

But with UNO hockey crowds capped at somewhere under 7,500, it's extremely disheartening to realize that UNO hockey will not grow any more than it is currently.  UNO hockey once sold out the 8,314 Civic Auditorium.  Ten years later, UNO is now contemplating 1,000 FEWER seats than before.

I'm not going to criticize the plans for UNO to build a long-overdue and very much needed practice facility. But the arena concept is becoming what UNO can afford to do on their own, even if it's not what UNO really needs.

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