AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami hosts the 2012 NBA Championship parade.

The venue market in Florida is getting more competitive, especially in cities like Pensacola, Orlando and Tampa where promoters and acts have more options to book buildings. Standing out in the crowded state is more important than ever — some venues are rebranding, while others are focusing on renovations to improve the experience for both the guests and clients. Even those who can’t fund capital improvements are looking for new angles, using routing, enhanced menus and the 2012 NBA Champions to keep their buildings relevant and busy.

Van Wezel PAC Reaches Out to Community

The Sarasota venue brings acts of quality and diversity.

Even though Van Wezel Performing Arts Center in Sarasota had more cancellations than usual this year, the venue still brought a wide variety of acts through its doors. The venue reported 74 shows between April 1, 2012, and March 31, 2013, for a total gross of more than $5.5 million.

For Executive Director Mary Bensel, two performances in particular stood out.

“We brought the new production of Les Miserables for a whole week, and the quality of this show was beyond belief,” said Bensel, adding that the show broke box office records. “For my audience, that doesn’t normally see this quality of show on a large scale, this was fabulous.”

More than 11,500 people came to the Les Miserables performances, leading to a gross of $857,168.

The second standout, Golden Dragon Acrobats/Cirque Ziva performed April 1. Tickets were priced $10-$40, making it an affordable draw for families. Bensel recalled that after the show she was walking down the building’s steps when she heard a little boy tell his father that it was the best show he had seen in his entire life.

“I had artistic excitement combined with a child’s wonder of discovering the theater,” she added. “I don’t know which was best, but they both really resonated with me.”

Van Wezel PAC has a community outreach and education program. During family nights at the theater, the performer meets with kids and fans after the show to answer questions, sign autographs and take photos. “This year, Jungle Jack Hanna closed the place down,” said Bensel. “It was like I couldn’t get him to leave.”

For family shows, adults who buy a full-price ticket can bring a child or student with them for free. Family nights happen about five or six times each year. Community outreach programs include Total Access, which provides tickets and dinner to working-class families, and Senior Access, which provides tickets and transportation for disenfranchised senior citizens. Next year, the theater will start Military Access. 

“Because we’re a city, we didn’t want to appear to have bias in the people we gave tickets to, so we picked foundations such as the Patterson Foundation and the Boys and Girls Club to help,” added Bensel.

This year, the venue experienced several cancellations of confirmed shows, including Pittsburgh Symphony, Anita Baker, John Legend, Broadway musical Chicago, John Lithgow, and Peter Pan.

“Normally, you have maybe four shows cancel each year because something happens like weather or a star gets sick, but this year was an inordinate amount,” said Bensel. “Every one of them was going to be a winner and would have brought in a lot of money to our bottom line.”

Contact: (941) 955-7676

AmericanAirlines Arena Parades Into Town

When its tenant NBA team won the championship, the Miami venue had to move quickly.

When the National Basketball Association’s Miami Heat clinched the 2012 championship, there were no plans in place to host a parade with 300,000 spectators. Immediately upon the winning buzzer, AmericanAirlines Arena Executive VP and GM Kim Stone and her team launched into action.

“After we did the 2006 championship parade, we put it in a folder, then couldn’t have any discussions about it because we tend to be very superstitious. We couldn’t start planning ahead because if we reached out to a public agency before we won to inquire about parade routes, that could hit the paper and then we would look like we were arrogant and assuming we were going to win,” said Stone. 

June 21 marked the final game of the championship series. The parade, which filled the streets of downtown Miami with spectators and ended with 15,000 people entering American Airlines Arena to continue the celebration, was June 25.

“The days leading up to that parade were intense and exhaustive, but it was well worth it because those are the things you live for. You don’t get to do a championship parade every day, and you may only get to do it once in a lifetime,” said Stone. “Of those hours, I think I slept for 10.”

During the 2006 parade, the last time the Miami Heat won the NBA championship, the celebrations stopped outside. This year, season ticket holders and stakeholders were invited into the building for an additional celebration after the parade, with the rest of the available tickets given away for free on social media. 

Tickets were free for fans, but the building still incurred a cost. Ticketing company Ticketmaster struck a deal leading to the company being paid a slight fee for every ticket, so they weren’t at a loss. 

Having such a successful and popular team as a tenant leads to some hard decisions: notably, whether or not to put a cap on the number of season ticket holders. 

“In 2010 when we had the great fortune of getting LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh, we consciously put a cap on our season ticket holder base because we wanted to continue to have tickets available for other segments of our business that are important to us, like groups, individual game plans and some partial plans,” said Stone. 

Stone said that she and her staff learned from 2004, when the team had Shaquille O’Neal and didn’t set a cap on season ticket holders, which choked off some of its business lines by diminishing inventory. This year, Miami Heat just finished season ticket renewals at a 98-percent renewal rate for the second year in a row. 

Security at the venue has always been high, which meant that only small upgrades had to be made in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. The venue already wanded at every game, but now bomb dogs come before every event to do a sweep, and then the building is put on lockdown. Shrubs and landscaping have been trimmed to make the dogs’ work easier, and clear trashcans replaced opaque ones. Also, ticketing checkpoints have been added at the gates.

Contact: (786) 777-4711

Germain Arena’s Busy Month

The arena hosts 13 events over 12 days. 

Estero’s Germain Arena brought more than 51,000 guests to events at the venue over a period of less than two weeks. Not only was the period a challenge due to the sheer number of events, but also because the shows required a conversion. 

“That period was even more challenging as the setups ranged from trade shows and concerts to hockey, football, and ice shows,” said Sammy Wallace, VP of event programming. The busy run started March 8 with six shows of Disney On Ice: Worlds of Fantasy, all of which were about 95 percent to capacity. 

The arena then converted for a concert with Shinedown and Three Days Grace, next converting to ice, another concert, then back to ice for hockey. After another concert and hockey game, a football field was put down March 19. 

“We have a couple of stretches like that every year, but I don’t know that we’ve ever had one quite that long,” said Wallace. “It definitely was a crazy and trying period for a building of our size, but the staff has done a great job.”

Staff at the arena put a bigger focus on social media, using Facebook and Twitter not only for communication, but also to build excitement on the days leading up to shows. 

“As a result, we saw a dramatic increase in the use of Ticketmaster’s Facebook integrations with customers tagging seat locations when they purchased tickets and ‘checking in’ more often when they arrived for the show,” Wallace added.

Contact: (239) 948-7825 x1011

Pensacola Bay Center Gets New Name

After adopting a different name, the venue focuses on rebranding.

Pensacola Bay Center stopped going by its old moniker, Pensacola Civic Center, in October. The name change was an effort to revamp the venue to get an edge on newer competition. 

“There is plenty of competition and a lot of new buildings get most of the attention. Now, it is our turn to take some of the attention back,” said GM Cyndee Pennington. “The rebranding has given us what we were looking for. More people are talking about it and more sponsors are interested. People feel like there are more things happening here, which there are, but we are also doing a better job of letting people know.”

As part of the rebranding, the center is also developing a new website through Carbonhouse. New digital televisions on all three concourses not only serve as directional signs, but also help showcase upcoming shows.

More changes may be coming to the building soon. Pensacola Bay Center is working with its owner, Escambia County, on a renovation plan. 

“It will include critical structure replacement, as well as some aesthetic enhancements,” added Pennington. “Our management staff has spent countless hours prioritizing the items on the list in preparation for the plan to be submitted to the County Commissioners for an official vote.”

The verdict will be made public in mid-July.

Contact: (850) 432-0800 x231

Bob Carr PAC Makes Strides

Though the building had a stellar year, it prepares to close.

Soon, there will be new theaters in town. Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts opens in Summer 2014, coinciding with the closure of Bob Carr Performing Arts Center. The new center, which will include two performance theaters, a community theater, and an outdoor plaza and performance space is a nonprofit 501(c)3 that will take the space in the Orlando theater market that Bob Carr Performing Arts Center has filled. 

“Beginning the transition of Broadway to the new performing arts center has been a challenge,” said Bob Carr PAC Executive Director Allen Johnson, who added that the City of Orlando will be the contract administrator and will assist the new facility, but that the nonprofit group is in charge of operations.

Thinking about closing the theater is especially tough because the building has done so well in the last 12 months, grossing nearly $16 million. Bob Carr Performing Arts Center reported more than double the number of events than last year, including a big draw with Wicked. The three-week run played to more than 48,000 guests

Contact: (407) 440-7070

Jeff Dunham performs at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee.

Christmas Comes Early 

Silver Spurs Arena hosts record-setting car show.

“We work hard, so these Top Stops are like my Christmas gift each year,” said Robb Larson, GM of Silver Spurs Arena at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee of the rankings issued by Venues Today.

The news could work as a birthday present, too, since the facility turns 10 years old this year. Larson, who started before the building even opened, likened the experience of growing with the building to watching a child grow up. Silver Spurs Arena is part of Osceola Heritage Park, which includes a number of venues and 150 acres of land.

The building’s largest event each year is the Mecum Kissimmee Auction in January. Last year, the building set an attendance record. This year, they broke it.

“More than 75,000 people come over the course of 10 days, and Mecum sells more than $70 million worth of cars,” said Larson. The auto auction has grown with the facility. It started nine years ago on the corner of the property in a tent. Now, Mecum Kissimmee Auction puts up 15 acres of tents on the property, turns the exhibition building into a car display area, and uses the arena for the auction.

“We’ve been working to enhance our assets by gravitating toward the type of events that use all of our facilities instead of just one building,” said Larson. Another event is the annual Puerto Rican festival that includes a parade on the property, stages for music both indoors and outdoors, a food court, and an indoor trade show. 

The facility has begun to provide free WiFi and, from the culinary side, is working to offer more farm-to-table inspired choices.

Contact: (321) 697-3320

Amway Center Adds New Attractions

With new additions of a team and restaurant, Amway Center is building its brand.

The 875,000-sq.-ft. Amway Center in Orlando brought more than 300,000 guests through its doors (for events other than tenant sports) as reported for this year’s Florida Top Stops. Not only did Sir Paul McCartney kick off his North American ‘Out There’ tour with two dates, sold-out concerts included Carrie Underwood, Justin Bieber, Maroon 5 and Taylor Swift.

The venue also brought a new resident team on board.

Executive Director Allen Johnson said that a real highlight was “the return of the Orlando Solar Bears, an ECHL hockey team, after a 10-year absence from the market.” The Solar Bears hosted 36 games during the inaugural season. 

The venue also put an extra emphasis on security, adding walk-though Magnetometers used for every Orlando Magic (NBA) game. They’re a bit more of an investment than wands, but Johnson said that they are more effective.

“When the National Basketball Association went to mandatory wanding this year, that process takes longer than having to walk through a Magnetometer. Using these meets less patron resistance because they’re less obtrusive,” Johnson said. 

The building has also added Magic Grill, a new restaurant open before, during and after all ticketed events.

Contact: (407) 440-7070

Gainesville Welcomes the First Lady

Stephen C. O’Connell Center serves as a campaign stop.

Michele Obama stopped by Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville last September, leading to a last-minute scramble to get the venue ready. 

“We only found out five days in advance and 11,000 people showed up for it,” said Director Lynda Reinhart. “I was actually at the Arena Managers Conference when my staff got the call.”

Security was the top priority, with the Secret Service coming to the building the day before to set everything up and get ready for the television broadcast. Part of the mad dash to put the event together included distributing free tickets through the local Democratic National Convention offices and campuses. 

Stephen C. O’Connell Center is home to seven University of Florida athletic teams. 

“A big challenge every year is scheduling, so we have to get the athletics schedule set before we can go after events,” which only leaves a few months for booking, added Reinhart. The largely student-run venue spent the year working on growing its social media presence to the point where the number of followers has more than doubled. 

Coming up, the venue is taking its box office in house. The university used to have a centralized box office that has now been disbanded. Stephen C. O’Connell Center will still use Ticketmaster.

Contact: (352) 392-5510

Electric Daisy Carnival at Orlando's Tinker Field.

Tinker Field Doubles EDM 

Electric Daisy Carnival brings in big numbers.

Tinker Field, a city-operated baseball stadium in Orlando, is in the middle of a bit of an identity crisis. With the neighboring Citrus Bowl undergoing renovation, Executive Director Allen Johnson said that the City of Orlando is in the process of figuring out if or how Tinker Field will be used in the future.

“We’re deciding the longterm future of the field because it has become more profitable as a concert venue than for baseball,” said Johnson. 

If the past year is any indication, Tinker Field could be a great site for EDM concerts. Electric Daisy Carnival was held at the field in both 2011 and 2012. The second year, attendance more than doubled. With an attendance of 45,070, the show represented more than 80 percent of total reported attendance for April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013.

Because the field is nearly 100 years old, it lacks some of the features found in newer venues. To combat that at previous events, Johnson said that they “have used Citrus Bowl amenities located next to Tinker Field for concert and patron support.”

Contact: (407) 440-7070

USF Sun Dome Rebrands

A multimillion-dollar renovation leads to lots of upgrades.

University of South Florida Sun Dome in Tampa has undergone a lot of changes in the last 12 months. To start, $36.5-million worth of improvements were made to the building. 

“From more comfortable chairs to brand new environmental control to brand new concession stands and bathrooms, the entire facility is basically new,” said GM Trent Merritt. 

The grand opening concert was Elton John and his Band, Sept. 14. “The local and industry exposure that we received was invaluable when it came to our rebranding efforts for the new USF Sun Dome,” added Merritt. He said that the renovation has made USF Sun Dome a major player in the entertainment industry again.

In addition to the physical improvements, there have been several technological upgrades as well. The venue has instituted mobile ticketing apps through Ticketmaster, and has also added fan-friendly social media platforms and an up-to-date website.

USF Sun Dome will remain aggressive in booking and marketing new events with a focus on unique promotions. 

Contact: (813) 974-3111

Citrus Bowl Spruces Up

The venue prepares for a major renovation.

Citrus Bowl, a City of Orlando venue, is poised to undergo a big change. 

“Our most memorable moment in the last 12 months would be getting the green light from city and county government to move forward with a $185-million reconstruction project that will dramatically enhance the facility,” said Executive Director Allen Johnson. 

The building won’t close down until after the college bowl games Feb. 1, 2014. HNTB is the architect for the renovation, with Turner Construction as the construction manager at risk, and Hunt Construction as project manager.

“Basically we’re taking everything below the 300 Level, which is our highest level, and demolishing it to start over,” added Johnson. 

Now, venue executives will work on securing additional funding for the construction project. In the last 12 months, Citrus Bowl reported more than double the number of events they reported last year, including a sold-out Monster Jam show.

Contact: (407) 440-7070