Thomas & Mack Takes Self-Promotes
Back-to-Back
Author: Dave Brooks
Date: June 18,2008

University buildings aren’t typically in the business to
take risks, especially with self-promotes and sporting exhibitions.
But when you’re a university arena that regularly ranks among
the top five grossing venues globally, you’re inclined to
take a few chances now and then.

Enter Daren
Libonati, general manager of the Thomas & Mack Center at the
University of Nevada, Las Vegas. While most university buildings
are hesitant to move on a concert without the backing of a major
promoter, Libonati is promoting a classic rock show for two major
acts with tickets priced at $25 — in a town that could easily
fill a 2,000-seat building with tickets 10 times that price.

Eight days
prior to the show, the Thomas & Mack Center is hosting its
first combination boxing/mixed martial arts event. The bout will be
televised on two separate cable networks, feature a female-female
fight starring the wife of one of the biggest names in MMA along
with $100,000 in additional fight talent. Ticket price —
free.

“Free for All,
A Night of Combat” takes place on June 20 and features a
heavyweight bout between Alonzo Butler and Friday “The
13th” Ahunaya, while the MMA card has five fights including
the pro debut of Kim Couture, wife of famed UFC fighter Randy
Couture, who will be ringside with his wife according to
co-promoter Art Pelullo of Banner Promotions.

The boxing
match will be televised live on ESPN Friday Night Fights, while the
MMA event will be taped and later broadcast on a high-definition
cable station owned by Mark Cuban. At the conclusion of the boxing
event, the ring mat will be replaced with a mat for MMA title
sponsor Major League Sports and Entertainment, which Libonati
describes as a “company with a big announcement about being
in the world of sports and entertainment within 30-40
days.”

He expects
10-20 sponsors total to help cover the $100,000 in talent costs,
along with merch sales, which are typically high for MMA events.
Banner is also helping to offset the costs for some of the fight
talent, which Pelullo describes as a marketing cost.

“This is
about exposing boxing fans to MMA and MMA fans to boxing,”
said Pelullo, an advocate for the two sports co-existing while many
in the MMA community have predicted that boxing and its older fan
base will eventually dwindle into a niche sport.

“Boxing
needs young people and mixed martial arts needs older people to
grow,” he said.

The Thomas and
Mack Center gave away the tickets on its UNLVTickets.com site,
moving 11,000 tickets through the first weekend and hitting its
16,500 capacity seven days later. Libonati said the building plans
to give away another 1,700 tickets to corporate and media
partners.

Eight days
later, the Thomas and Mack Center will host a concert by Boston and
Styx to celebrate the facility’s 25th anniversary. Tickets
are priced at $25 apiece, with title sponsor DesertAutoGroup
agreeing to buy 1,000 tickets  in advance. Talent costs were
rack rate and as of Monday, the show had sold 8,000 tickets.
Libonati estimates that he needs to sell 10,000 to make the show a
success.

“I know
I’m going to do a per cap of anywhere from $15 to $18.
Remember that these are mature people, and most of them are going
to get two drinks,” he said. “I feel very comfortable
that we’ll cover ourselves in food and beverage. At the end
of the day, if I only break even, I drove 10,000 people into my
building and my sponsors and suite holders are thrilled.”

Libonati said
he booked Boston and Styx because they’ll appeal to an older
demographic between 40-65 “who have money, who have a desire
to get out but haven’t found that right niche yet.”
— Dave Brooks

Interviewed for
this story: Daren Libonati, (702) 813-5345; Art Pelullo, (215)
266-3360