Jimmy Buffett brought a big group of tailgating fans and Katy Perry filled the arena with cotton candy, glitter and screaming teens, but they weren't enough.
They were two of only 12 acts that stopped at the CenturyLink Center in the fiscal year that ended in June, the lowest number of shows in its nine-year history. Fewer artists touring and less money in consumer pockets caused the concert drought, said officials from the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, which oversees the arena. Some in the industry agreed, though a professor who studies the music industry said some performers may be bypassing smaller cities.
Regardless, they all said it may be a temporary slump.
“This year looks pretty good,” said Roger Dixon, MECA's president and CEO. “I think we're going to get upwards of 20 concerts.”
For the fiscal year that began in July, the arena already has 12 concerts on the calendar, and more are expected.
Over the next several months, the CenturyLink Center will bring in Taylor Swift, Zac Brown Band, Maroon 5, Kid Rock, Justin Bieber, Carrie Underwood and comedian Jeff Dunham, all mega-popular artists poised to do well.
Bieber's concert sold out in 45 minutes, and Swift's tour will most likely be one of the most-attended of 2013, said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of concert industry publication Pollstar. Swift's last appearance in Omaha in early 2011 was in the top 200 money-makers among thousands of concerts in North America that year.
In addition to a shortage of available acts, MECA officials said, the arena was unavailable for concerts for part of the year because other major events were booked.
“The (U.S. Olympic) Swim Trials and basketball take us out of the mix. We couldn't book for two months because of those events in the building,” said Kristi Andersen, a MECA spokeswoman.
MECA — including TD Ameritrade Park, the CenturyLink Center and the Civic Auditorium — made a $1.19 million net profit last year, which it said resulted mostly from the success of the Swim Trials and NCAA basketball tournament.
It's normal for arenas to slow down when the newness wears off for concertgoers and promoters.
The Omaha arena, which opened in 2003, ranked No. 17 worldwide in ticket sales among arenas in 2004 but dropped to the mid-50s in 2011.
“There are increasingly more and more modern arenas like CenturyLink popping up in tertiary markets all over the country,” said Bongiovanni. “So there's more competition for the shows.”
On Pollstar's most recent worldwide ranking, based on ticket sales at arenas through the third quarter of the 2012 calendar year, the CenturyLink Center came in at No. 163. The ranking most likely will climb by the end of 2012.
Preliminary estimates based on Pollstar's numbers and information from MECA put the CenturyLink Center's ticket sales this year at close to 75,000. In 2011, when Swift was here, yearly ticket sales were 226,487.
A down year for concerts at the CenturyLink Center partially mirrors the concert industry's woes overall.
In short, 2010 was a bad year that hurt the following two. The downturn in 2010 made promoters more conservative about what they were booking in 2011 and 2012. That, in turn, meant promoters and venues took fewer risks.
Dixon said his staff was chasing big acts, looking to put Omaha on tour lists, but the tours just weren't moving. He did not specify which acts MECA officials contacted.
“It's not that we were sitting around, waiting for the phone to ring,” he said. “We were out beating on doors and talking with agents and trying to get it. It's just they weren't touring or they weren't coming in this part of the country.”
One expert said a lack of tours may not be the explanation.
“I don't think that's true,” said David Rezak, a Syracuse University professor who teaches classes on the music industry. “I am hearing that the promoters are doing pretty well. The agents are doing well. I think there are more artists touring.”
It's possible that promoters are offering fewer shows to smaller markets like Omaha, he said.
Some big tours, such as Madonna's MDNA tour, are playing shorter tours that mostly hit large cities.
MECA officials said Live Nation and AEG Live, two of the world's biggest concert promoters, often book shows at the arena.
“We have a good relationship with them,” Andersen said. “The Justin Bieber show that's doing extremely well is an AEG show. Maroon 5 is a Live Nation show. We don't feel that they're avoiding us. They come here often and we work with them closely.”
Bongiovanni proposed two ways for a market like Omaha to pull in more concerts: A local promoter with national connections and a stake in the city's success could book concerts at the arena, or the arena could book its own concerts, either alone or in partnership with a promoter.
A local promoter may be willing to take some risk when a promoter such as Live Nation may pass, he said.
And if the arena takes some or all of the risk, it could help a promoter bring in a show that might otherwise have bypassed Omaha.
“That can make it more attractive, but not all arenas have the ability to put themselves at risk like that,” Bongiovanni said.
MECA has booked shows on its own and will continue to do so, Andersen said.
Some concerts seem like sure things but didn't do as well as promoters or MECA planned. A handful of veteran acts performed at the CenturyLink Center in the last months of 2012 but struggled to draw huge crowds. The Red Hot Chili Peppers nearly sold out, but Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan failed to fill the arena.
“Springsteen was interesting because he didn't draw as well as he did the last time,” Dixon said. “And Dylan, same thing.”
When Springsteen came here in 2008, he hadn't been here for nearly 25 years.
MECA officials don't focus on any one genre, although they've learned that urban acts such as Lil Wayne don't do well and pop acts can be hit or miss.
“Like Britney Spears, we didn't sell well with her. With Christina Aguilera, we didn't do well with her,” Dixon said. “But then Justin Bieber comes back, and we're going to blow the doors off the place.”
A down year in 2012
Annual ticket sales and worldwide rankings for CenturyLink Center Omaha. Statistics compiled by Pollstar.
|Year||World rank||Ticket sales|
*through third quarter 2012; does not count concerts in October-December
MUSIC SHOWS AT CENTURYLINK CENTER OMAHA
FISCAL YEAR 2008-09 (31)
Dave Matthews Band
Brooks & Dunn
Mary J. Blige
New Kids on the Block
Billy Joel & Elton John
Eric Clapton/Steve Winwood
FISCAL YEAR 2009-10 (16)
Star Wars in Concert
Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family
FISCAL YEAR 2010-11 (21)
Brooks & Dunn
American Idol Live!
Dave Matthews Band
FISCAL YEAR 2011-12 (12)
Guns N Roses
FISCAL YEAR 2012-13
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Zac Brown Band (Feb. 17)
Maroon 5 (March 3)
Taylor Swift (March 13)
Taylor Swift (March 14)
Kid Rock (March 29)
Carrie Underwood (May 12)
Justin Bieber (July 6)
Green Day (TBD)
Jason Aldean (TBD)
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