Arena Tops Billboards Charts

    GRAND RAPIDS — For the fourth time in just six years, the Van Andel Arena has been named the top touring venue in its class.

    The award from Billboard magazine, which is based on gross receipts for a year, marks the second honor the venue has received in the last few months. Earlier, Polestar magazine, another trade publication, ranked the arena at 16th on a list of the top 50 venues in the world.

    The Billboard award covers the top 10 concert and show facilities in the nation, and Van Andel gained a bit of revenge by beating out the San Diego Sports Arena for the top spot.

    Last year, SDSA edged Van Andel for the No. 1 ranking in venues with seating capacity of 10,001 to 15,000 to break the arena’s three-year stranglehold on the title.

    But from November 2001 to November 2002, the arena topped the SDSA. Van Andel grossed over $14.8 million and drew 384,880 paying customers to 77 concerts and shows over that period, while. SDSA did nearly $12.2 million and had 357,884 people to 57 events.

    The arena had eight sellouts for the year and operated at 68.8 percent of capacity for those events. San Diego had six sold-out shows and operated at 62.5 percent capacity.

    Those numbers may not sound like a trumpet fanfare to most, but SMG General Manager Rich MacKeigan knows the figures ring out with a distinctive ka-ching for promoters.

    “It really illustrates to the promoters and the agents that this isn’t just a blip on the radar screen,” said MacKeigan, who has been running the arena and Grand Center for more than four years.

    “The longevity that we’ve had since the building opened has shown that there wasn’t a honeymoon period, then a lull, and then a period of sustenance. It’s been proven to be an extremely strong market,” he added. “These people are going to be looking to come to West Michigan to bring their shows because that’s where they’re going to make their money.”

    MacKeigan told the Business Journal that it’s easier to work with promoters now than it was four years ago when he took over the reins from Craig Liston, the first arena manager. The building’s track record, a stable management team and his company’s clout have all had a hand in that.

    “I think the numbers and our ranking definitely have had an impact on that. I think it’s also a scenario where a comfort level with myself and my staff, being here in Grand Rapids for that time, getting to know the promoters and building those relationships,” he said.

    “I also think our corporate offices in Philadelphia are very active behind the scenes, and, at times, even in front of the scenes, working those relationships. A promoter may not be familiar with me personally or this market, but because we are an SMG venue, that quickly provides them with a significant piece of comfort,” he added.

    “And that point can’t be underestimated when you’re looking at well over a six-figure risk they take on these shows.”

    For the time frame that Billboard honored the arena, the building hosted Creed, CSNY, Barry Manilow, Kid Rock, Janet Jackson, Tom Petty, Cher, Santana, The Who and the WWE Smackdown — just to name a few of the 77 events.

    For the record, FY02 was the second-best revenue year for the arena in its six-year history with a net-income take of $1.6 million. But it should also be noted that at the end of November, month five of FY03, net income to the building was up 128 percent over the same period last year.    

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