NEWER KID ON THE BLOCK: Alaska Airlines Center, which opened in 2014, has 5,000 seats. Across town is 8,700-capacity Sullivan Arena, (not pictured) the largest arena in Alaska, which opened in 1983. (Getty Images)

High School Hoops Tourney is Reunion Time in Alaska

Jon Dyson is a born-and-raised Alaskan who came back home after being a baseball-playing student athlete in northern California and at UNLV and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

He spent 10 years managing the Anchorage Glacier Pilots summer college baseball team and is now general manager of 5,000-capacity Alaska Airlines Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage, home of the school’s court sports and various school- and special events.

He came to Alaska Airlines Center after two years at 8,700-seat Sullivan Arena, Alaska’s largest, also in Anchorage. That municipally owned, xx-seat facility was run by ASM Global, but the city and building management firm parted company amid contract renegotiations. It’s Dyson’s second stint at Alaska Airlines Center; he worked there as marketing director when the venue opened.

Jon Dyson

“Having an opportunity to come back over here in a building that I knew intimately from the beginning in 2014, I was excited to return and be the GM of this place,” Dyson said.

Until last summer, Sullivan had been used to house vulnerable people amid the pandemic. It has only recently gotten back to regular uses, Dyson said. ASM operated the arena and two other facilities — standalone ice rinks— and the city’s convention centers, which it still manages.

“Capacity-wise, we are smaller, but we are newer, and our modern tech is pretty good,” Dyson said.

Unlike Sullivan Arena, Alaska Airlines Center has suites, allowing for more deluxe VIP offerings, and there is also an indoor restaurant on the fourth floor that overlooks the arena and a gym.

QUICK DRAW: Tim McGraw packed them in at Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Courtesy venue)

“We have a nice floor for concerts and events,” said Dyson, who was in Los Angeles at the Pollstar Live! conference last month looking to connect with promoters, agents and managers about bringing acts through Anchorage this year and beyond.

NMS, an Alaska Native-owned company that itself is 51% owned by NANA North 49% by Sodexo Alaska, has the food and beverage contract at Alaska Airlines Center and campus-wide and has for about 15 years.

Dyson says operating venues in Alaska is a special challenge.

“Anchorage is the major hub of the state. Roughly half the state’s population is within an hour commute, but when we do big acts, we draw from all over the state,” Dyson said. “I’ve pulled reports when we’ve done Tim McGraw or Zac Brown Band, or Motley Crue or some of these shows, and you get people from Juneau and Fairbanks and Kenai Peninsula and even some of the outlying villages that are off the road system, surprisingly, that will make it a point to travel into Anchorage for large events.”

NORTHERN EXPOSURE: Former President Trump campaigns at Alaska Airlines Center with Sarah Palin and Kelly Tshibaka in 2022. (Getty Images)

When Alaska Airlines Center hosts the annual state basketball over a two-week stretch each year, which it has done since it opened, 30,000-40,000 come through the doors from all over the state, Dyson said.

“Some of them, the entire village or community will come in and cheer on their team,” Dyson said. “They shut down and come into town. A lot of people will treat this as a family reunion to some extent, where people haven’t seen each other for a full year and this is one time a year that they get together. It’s a very unique gathering place and really cool to witness.”

He said the university is continually putting money back into the facility.

“We want to attract more clients and vendors in addition to satisfying existing ones.

Renovations since opening include the installation of LED lighting and LED videoboards and ribbon boards from Daktronics.

“We have Daktronics throughout the building,” including a four-sided video cube, Dyson said. “We’re looking to invest and upgrade our sound equipment and digital signage.”