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Jennifer Robison

Thomas & Mack No. 2 in ticket sales

23 July 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Basketball, boxing and bovines might seem like strange bedfellows, but the three have combined to gain the Thomas & Mack Center some international attention.

Monthly trade publication Venues Today reports in its July issue that the Thomas & Mack, located on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, ranked No. 2 in the world in ticket sales from November to May. Only New York's Madison Square Garden Arena outsold the Thomas & Mack.

With $27.18 million in gross ticket sales from November to May, the Thomas & Mack did almost as much business in six months as it did in the year from October 2005 to October 2006, when it took in $27.34 million. That year, it ranked No. 9 globally. From November 2005 to May 2006, the Thomas & Mack posted $16.92 million in sales, and ranked No. 6 in the world.

Daren Libonati, executive director of the Thomas & Mack, said the arena's recent success is a result of the volume of entertainment that the "brand" of Las Vegas is attracting.

The Thomas & Mack hosted three of the four best-grossing events in the world from November to May, including the National Finals Rodeo, the NBA All-Star Game and the FEI World Cup equestrian event.

"Las Vegas is an extremely vibrant market," said Linda Deckard, publisher and editor-in-chief of Venues Today. "There's a lot of competition in that market, and every one of those arenas seems to do well. With a combination of tourism, huge boxing events, festivals and big-name concerts, Las Vegas is a happening town."

The Thomas & Mack is the only college arena among the world's 20 highest-grossing arenas with 15,001 or more seats, Libonati said.

Making the center's jump into the No. 2 spot even more remarkable, say experts, is the competition it faces within two square miles. The Thomas & Mack must battle the 14,000-seat MGM Grand Garden Arena, the 12,000-seat Mandalay Bay Events Center and the 7,000-seat Orleans Arena for sports contests and concerts. No other arena in the Top 20 has as many big rivals nearby, Libonati said.

Plus, many of the other venues in the Top 20 harbor professional sports teams, which provide an assured stream of lucrative ticket sales.

That the Thomas & Mack can outsell virtually all the pro-sports arenas of its size in America tells Libonati that neutral events are just as important a revenue generator as major-league teams. Las Vegas' four big venues do double the business of Madison Square Garden, which, in addition to hosting professional sports teams, is "guaranteed every big rock show in the country," Libonati said.

"If you look at our schedules collectively and combine them all, you'll see why the economics make sense for a neutral-site venue to operate and fulfill the needs of Las Vegas," he said.

So how did the Thomas & Mack boost its take in the first half of the year?

Part of the credit goes to the return of the Mountain West Conference college-basketball tournament in March.

The tournament decamped the Thomas & Mack for Denver's Pepsi Center from 2004 to 2006. Thomas & Mack officials replaced the tournament with other events; when the basketball playoffs came back to the Thomas & Mack, business at the arena had grown thanks to the sales efforts. Center managers shifted some events around and held on to much of the new business while adding the conference tournament back to the schedule.

The arena's operators also worked "very aggressively" with boxing promoter Bob Arum and sponsors Wynn Las Vegas and Harrah's Entertainment to bring in several major boxing matches and Pride Fighting mixed martial arts events, Libonati said.

Add in regulars such as the National Finals Rodeo and special events including the NBA All-Star Game, and the arena had a banner half-year coming.

"You can never predict your events cycle," Libonati said. "You just have to maintain your relationships with different people and create opportunities as many times as you can in a year. This past year, all the events fell in line."

The publicity Venues Today has given the Thomas & Mack could help generate additional happenings for the arena. The magazine goes to members of the events industry, including promoters and booking agents, and recognition from such trade publications can raise a center's image and profile, Deckard said.

Even with additional business, the Thomas & Mack is unlikely to dethrone Madison Square Garden, because the New York venue can recruit the largest events and command the highest ticket prices, Deckard said.

Also, surpassing Madison Square Garden's revenue would require booking seven or so "A-level" concerts, Libonati said, and given local competition for shows, officials at the Thomas & Mack aren't considering wading too deeply into the music pool.

If the Thomas & Mack never reaches No. 1, Libonati said he won't fret.

"To be No. 2 is a great honor, and the types of events we're doing show that Las Vegas is definitely a unique special-events city," he said. "This building is a community treasure."

Hot Tickets

The Thomas & Mack Center hosted four of the world's top-ticketed performances and events from November to May.

Ticket sales Event Venue Attendance Date Shows

1. $8.74 million Wrangler National Finals Rodeo Thomas & Mack Center 167,785 Nov. 30-Dec. 9 9

2. $8.08 million 2007 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament St. Pete Times Forum (Fla.) 22,269 March 8-11 11

3. $5.23 million 2007 Rolex FEI World Cup Thomas & Mack Center 75,332 April 18-22 9

4. $5.07 million 2007 NBA All-Star Game Thomas & Mack Center 48,000 Feb. 16-18 3

5. $4.45 million Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band The Palace of Auburn Hills (Mich.) 71,123 Dec. 20-30 4

6. $4.38 million Rod Stewart Madison Square Garden Arena (N.Y.) 45,752 Feb. 8-21 3

7. $4.26 million Billy Joel AcerArena (Australia) 34,985 Nov. 15-17 2

8. $4.03 million Red Hot Chili Peppers AcerArena (Australia) 45,300 April 16-19 3

9. $3.99 million Ricky Martin Coliseo de Puerto Rico (P.R.) 53,312 Feb. 9-12 4

10. $3.74 million Walking with Dinosaurs AcerArena (Australia) 82,774 Jan. 9-21 21

11. $3.03 million Kylie Minogue AcerArena (Australia) 37,657 Nov. 23-26 3

12. $2.96 million Delirium American Airlines Arena (Fla.) 31,240 April 4-7 5

13. $2.93 million Manny Pacquiao vs. Erik Morales III Thomas & Mack Center 16,386 Nov. 18 1

14. $2.82 million Ultimate Fighting Championship Toyota Center (Texas) 12,516 April 7 1

15. $2.69 million Shakira Coliseo de Puerto Rico (P.R.) 22,258 Dec. 13-16 3

Source: Venues Today