The Cambria County War Memorial Arena is coming off the busiest 23 days in its history, according to General Manager Tom Grenell. The numbers are backed by a host of shows that sold out - or did nearly - this month and mark the perceived success of a new “sabermetric”-type approach to entertainment scheduling at the venue.
Grenell said he gave War Memorial operators some homework: Watch the 2011 Brad Pitt film “Moneyball.” The plot follows a baseball team general manager’s application of baseball statistics and objective analysis to forecast “hot” players and create a successful ball club on a tight budget and with limited resources.
“I took that concept and ran it here because we have to be different,” Grenell said. “We built this concept on the belief that the more activity we can put in here on top of each other, the bigger the buzz we could create in the market.
“It really seemed to work and we’re going to continue to do this,” he said of the homespun, grassroots-style campaign. “What it’s done is given a launching pad for rebranding - a rebirthing of the War Memorial, if you will.”
More than 36,000 people had eyes on the War Memorial stage in those 23 days - that’s more than two sold out Penguins games, Grenell said.
The Beach Boys concert sold out; a Christian rock tour featuring headliners Third Day and Skillet sold out. Disney on Ice reached around 85 percent capacity - the highest volume since the show debuted at the arena in 1996, according to Grenell. Pink Floyd tribute band Brit Floyd had its highest arena attendance in three years.
In all, $32,707 went back into the city through the 5 percent amusement tax, according to an official report from assistant GM Karen Gregorchik.
Grenell said he couldn’t have made it happen without help from Hal Dues, a supervisor for the county’s Adult Probation Department, and the 20 or so community service workers he directs. He said Dues has become fairly proficient at stage building and striking. The extra agility - which is also free - resulted in entertainment promoters getting a bigger cut and ticket prices staying level.
“Now they’ve synergized with our staff,” he said. “They’re getting to know us and we’re getting to know them.
“We couldn’t have done this without them. We couldn’t have afforded to pay 20 people.”
The feverish gamut of shows was drawn up in October last year, Grenell said. It was ambitious to a fault - often, entertainment promoters like to be the only show in town to maximize profits. Grenell said they had to sell them on the idea that “more is better,” he said.
“We put a lot of business in this one thing and this was a test,” he said. “And everbody walked out of here with money, everybody walked out of here with a great time, so now, the phone keeps ringing.
“We’re ready to keep doing business.”
The arena authority stressed caution, however - not every month can be a smash like this March.
“I think everyone understands that pace isn’t going to be there every month,” Authority chairman Dean Gindlesperger told the board during its regular Monday meeting.
He said although the arena is looking to be the “focal point” of entertainment in the city, too much too fast can cause the dollars to dry up.
“You just can’t afford to go to $50 to $60 shows every week,” he said. “What we don’t want to do is have a three- to four-month drought. We want to have something in here for entertainment.”
That’s why the authority is looking to renew its contract with operator SMG Entertainment. The contract is set to expire in June. Authority members held a lengthy executive session Monday on contract stipulations but nothing has been finalized, Gindlesperger said.
“We’re not in the entertainment business. We’re just authority members that do our best to look out for the county’s best interest,” he said. “They’re in the business. They know the promoters. That’s what they do best.”
Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/JustinDennis.