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A conversation with A.J. Boleski

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, at 12:35 a.m.

Topeka native and Intrust Bank Arena general manager A.J. Boleski didn’t intend to go into arena management when he attended Fort Hays State University for six years.

“And, no, I’m not a doctor,” he said, laughing.

Boleski thought he would be a wrestling coach and English teacher, but “about seven majors later ended up with one marketing degree and one management degree.”

He’s been working with SMG, which manages Intrust Bank Arena for Sedgwick County, since 2001.

Boleski came to the arena, which opened in January 2010, in July 2010. He’s overseen financially successful years with profits of $2.1 million in 2010 and $389,000 in 2011.

“We expect to be somewhere in the middle,” Boleski said of those numbers. “That’s where we’d like to be moving forward.”

The county released the arena’s third-quarter results last week, and they showed a $577,590 deficit for the period. There were only two events at the arena in the third quarter.

However, the arena is in the black for the year with a net building income of $175,684.

“We’re about $395,000 better than this time last year … through the third quarter,” Boleski said.

He said Pollstar magazine currently ranks the arena 33rd in the United States for ticket sales and 67th in the world.

At the end of its first year, the arena was ranked 23rd in the nation and 46th worldwide.

“We’re really focused on trying to be a top 25 venue,” Boleski said.

He said being 33rd is good, but being a top 25 venue is “something we really strive to be.”

What was the state of the arena when you arrived?

“In our industry, it’s kind of known as a honeymoon period that first year. … Everybody wants to get in there. Right at the beginning, we definitely saw the benefits of that. I think we ended up with 24 concerts that year.

“I think as far as expectations that first year, they far exceeded anything that anybody thought.”

And the current state?

“We just recently released our third-quarter results … which is probably always going to be our slowest quarter of the year.”

Why?

“In our industry, in the summertime more events tend to play outside venues. … It’s a slower time period for our industry as a whole.

“Ideally we’d like to have an event in every month in the summertime, but it doesn’t always happen that way.”

How hard is it to lure acts to the arena?

“It’s highly competitive. There’s obviously a ton of arenas out there, and it seems that every year there’s a new one that opens up. It’s not something where we sit back and wait for the phone to ring. It’s being aggressive year round. … It’s keeping Wichita on their radar year round.

“Every year when we go to do budgets, it’s kind of a guessing game as to who’s going to be out on tour, where they’re going to tour, what size buildings they’re going to play. … We may chase a show for two to three years.”

What is the arena’s top asset?

“It’s a brand new, shiny building, and we intend to keep it looking that way as long as we possibly can. When tours come through our facility, they constantly talk about how great the amenities are … and they very much appreciate that. That makes their day easy.”

Your curtaining system, which allows part of the arena to be blocked off for shows, is especially popular, right?

“That curtaining system allows us to get a lot of shows that we may not be able to get otherwise.”

Any examples?

“James Taylor in 2011 played a mostly larger theater tour. … There were two arenas on the tour, and we were one of them.

“The curtaining system allowed us to provide a theater-type set-up … which allowed us to get the show.”

Any drawbacks for the arena?

“I would say it’s probably the size of our market. … When we go after some of the bigger pop-type acts, as a market we may not always be at the top of their list.”

Should the arena have been built to hold more people? Or fewer?

“I think the size of the building is perfect. … It’s hard to find a lot of acts that will actually fill 12,000 to 15,000 seats. There’s not as many as there used to be.”

Anything keep you up at night?

“Not really. Just a 4-month-old.”

What would be your dream act at the arena?

“Probably like an Eric Clapton. A Rolling Stones. One of those types of acts.”

Any chance of landing them?

“We basically look at every act on tour. We pursue every one of them that’s out there. Until we’re told no on a certain act, we pursue pretty much every one.”

What’s one thing few people know about you?

“Probably the fact that in the second grade I had a mohawk, and my idol was Mr. T. That’s one thing no one in this building probably knows about me.”

So what do you think they’re going to say now?

“I’m sure they’ll want to see photos.”

Reach Carrie Rengers at 316-268-6340 or crengers@wichitaeagle.com.

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