KFC Yum! Center Hosts a Diverse and Strong Opening Month

11 Nov

Opening concert with the Eagles, Oct. 16 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky.

Besides the normal superstar concerts and college basketball, the first operating month of the $238 million, 22,000-seat KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Ky., has featured more than the usual number of tours, meetings and catered functions.

The arena’s opening concert was the Eagles, Oct. 16, booked through AEG Facilities, which has a venue services agreement there with the Louisville Arena Authority.  The Eagles sold out the first day of the on-sale at over 16,000 seats. The band, which likes to open arenas, went on at 8 p.m., played an hour, then came back after intermission for another two-hour set.

Harold Workman, president and CEO of the Kentucky State Fair Board and president of the Authority, said the grand opening week budget was $400,000 and “we tried to spend it all.”  The ribbon cutting was Oct. 10, and that day featured an unusually high 96 degrees on the plaza, he said, noting everyone melted, but that’s about the extent of the bad news. The business there has been heating up ever since.

The black tie gala fundraiser for the arts, Oct. 14, drew about 1,400 people and was priced at $100 a ticket.

Dennis Petrullo, on-site manager for AEG Facilities, at the Louisville facilities, listed confirmed bookings: You Think You Can Dance, My Morning Jacket, Justin Bieber, Dane Cook, The Judds, WWE, Harlem Globetrotters, Brad Paisley, Lady Gaga, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus,  George Strait, Larry the Cable Guy, Cirque du Soleil, and Disney on Ice.

AEG is also booking Freedom Hall and Broadbent Arena on the Kentucky State Fairgrounds. Petrullo said Freedom Hall was averaging six to eight concerts a year, but it wasn’t an annual play for the family shows and often wasn’t available for concerts.

Petrullo projected that Yum! Center will host north of 100 major events its first year, including 22 University of Louisville men’s basketball games, 22 women’s basketball games, other university events, 27-28 family show nights and more than 20 concerts.

Linda Edwards, Fair Board VP of sales and marketing, has already booked 34 meetings and catered events through the end of the year for KFC Yum! Center, half of that entirely new business. As to big business, she and staff have booked five religious conventions, beginning in July 2011 through 2014, all of which will use the entire arena plus the nearby Kentucky International Convention Center. They needed both buildings to fit in Louisville. Her calculations show convention and conference bookings so far account for 76,000 room nights and a $25 million economic impact to downtown.

“We’ll shoot past that buck-fifty based on conventions and other events alone,” said Eric Bresler, AEG Facilities VP, of annual bookings. “Because of the arena’s location, it’s another asset as part of the convention center.”

Public tours of the new arena were an unmitigated success, drawing locals and tourists, Workman said. The authority first scheduled two days of public tours, limiting capacity to 1,000 per hour and requiring participants to acquire a free ticket through Ticketmaster or the arena box office, Workman said. Those two days sold out and two more were added. Workman said an additional 20 or 30 groups plus sponsor tours swelled the number who clamoured to see the new arena. “It was very gratifying. We knew the arena was popular, but you never know how many want to come in until you offer it.”

The arena is located downtown on the Ohio River, only two blocks from the Kentucky International Convention Center and connected by skywalk to the 1,200-room Galt House. The KFC Yum! Center lobby is open daily and the continued tour requests are considered individually. There is a merchandise store and the University of Louisville Hall of Honor to see in the lobby.

Location is having a huge impact on bookings, Workman said. The arena has 32,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, a lot of it with views of the river.

Workman thinks Freedom Hall, which is located on the state fairgrounds and lost the most business to the new arena, mainly university basketball, will also be helped the most in the long run. The Yum! Center is attracting a lot of business Freedom Hall could never accommodate, like National Collegiate Athletic Association events, including the 2012 first and second rounds of Division I basketball and the 2012 Volleyball Final Four, Workman said.

The NCAA bookings are a direct result of listening to the association regarding amenities, including designing the practice court on the same level as the main arena floor, so it is a short trip for players, he said. In addition, the practice court is wired to be converted into an overflow media room for major athletic events.

Workman noted the venue has a full IPTV system and the latest in broadcast production capabilities.

Freedom Hall has traditionally been a very busy building, with 230 event days a year, Workman said. One problem had been availability, because University of Louisville basketball is in the Big East conference and does not receive play dates for November-February until Sept. 15. With that block of dates back in the mix early on, the venue has considerably more availabilities to book.

“We have options,” Workman said. The fair’s Broadbent Arena is also seeing a boost in bookings because that 7,500-seat capacity seems to be a sweet spot.

“We’ve already expanded the market and we’ll wind up tripling the number of concerts in Freedom Hall and Broadbent in the first year,” Petrullo predicted. “We now have multiple year contracts on the family shows.”

“The new venue represents an opportunity to grow the business,” Bresler said. “Diversity has happened.”

Centerplate has the concessions contract and has subcontracted with Fame for merchandise sales. The arena does not control parking. — Linda Deckard

Interviewed for this story: Harold Workman, (502) 367-5114; Dennis Petrullo, (502) 595-4381; Eric Bresler, (213) 453-8665; Linda Edwards, (502) 367-5160

 

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