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Poor performance from pop acts leaves Intrust Bank Arena only country strong

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, at 4:18 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, May 14, 2014, at 11:37 a.m.

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This story was reported with the help of the Public Insight Network, a partnership between journalists and readers. To join, go to Kansas.com/publicinsight and click on the “get started” link.

What would you like to see?

The Eagle asked people through the Public Insight Network what they thought of concerts at Intrust Bank Arena and what musical acts they would most like to see there.

Several people said anything but country or anybody except the acts that keep coming back.

Acts mentioned included Eminem, Nelly, Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars.

Those most commonly mentioned: Paul McCartney, Katy Perry, Rolling Stones, Santana and Earth, Wind and Fire.

Here’s what a few people said:

• Karen Jerman: "I marvel at the concerts they have at the (Stiefel Theatre) in Salina. I would have liked to see Jethro Tull here, Mumford & Sons, Stevie Nicks. There were numerous other concerts which have been touring I would pay to see. Not country, but mostly the 'oldie' tours."

•  Loren Esslinger: "If the pricing was right, every event at the arena would be a sellout. ... "

•  Ronald Daray: "I will never buy a ticket for a country music act. If they refuse to bring in rock, blues, pop acts, I will continue to take my money to spend in Kansas City, including staying in nice boutique hotels and dining at their fine eating establishments."

•  Ric Camargo: "No one has come that I haven't seen already or I just don't like them. All there is country music. Country music is fine, but come on all the time! All taxpayers contributed to the building of the arena, and the options of style of music provided is not culturally even."

•  Colin Adams: "Variety is incredibly lacking in the concerts held at Intrust Bank Arena. There are numerous genres out there and just because those are the stereotypical 'Kansas' genres doesn't mean they're the only ones."

Disappointing turnout at the John Mayer concert at Intrust Bank Arena may hurt Wichita’s chances of getting more pop music at the downtown venue.

That’s arena general manager A.J. Boleski’s fear after the Dec. 1 concert brought in fewer than 7,000 people.

“It’ll challenge us for the future,” he said of the turnout, which was bolstered by a Groupon deal that offered tickets for as low as $29, including fees. The original prices ranged from $39.50 to $69.50, plus fees.

The top complaint Boleski receives about the arena, which opened in 2010, is that it only attracts country acts.

But country is what sells in this market. Taylor Swift and Luke Bryan both brought in audiences of more than 10,000 people in the third quarter. Rascal Flatts drew 8,800.

“Success for one type of show breeds more of that type of show,” Boleski said during an interview last week, calling country the “bread and butter of concerts for our area.”

If people want other types of acts to come to the arena, people need to come out for them, he said.

John Mayer plays a mix of pop, rock and blues. His concert was crucial to the arena because it was a “baby step” to getting bigger pop acts, Boleski said.

“If you want Justin Timberlake, you’re going to have to start somewhere,” he said. “It’s about supporting a John Mayer.”

Boleski said the John Mayer show needed “a couple thousand more” people in the stands to be successful.

Emily Russell, 23, benefited from the smaller-than-hoped crowd.

“We got moved to a better seat,” she said.

When she and her friend arrived at the arena for the concert, they found their section blocked off. Arena staff directed them to a closer section.

Russell was disappointed the concert didn’t sell out.

“You have to get the higher numbers” to attract big acts, she said.

“If he would have sold out, that would have been a good thing, but he didn’t sell out,” Russell said.

The John Mayer show was the first concert Russell had attended at the arena. She also has been to some sporting events at the arena.

She told The Eagle through the Public Insight Network that she would like to see more variety at the arena. She has been to Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City to see Boyz II Men, 98 Degrees and New Kids on the Block. She also has been to concerts at Hartman Arena, which is near the old Kansas Coliseum on North I-135. And she has attended the outdoor Warped Tour in Bonner Springs twice.

“I was very excited that John Mayer came to Wichita,” she said. “I enjoyed the concert and will for sure go again when he comes back to town,” she said in her response through the network. “Everyone I talked to about the show really had a good time and was happy to see John Mayer in Wichita.”

She said that show and the Elton John concert in the arena’s first year were the only ones she felt were worth attending.

Russell planned to see the Wichita State University’s men’s basketball game against Tennessee on Saturday, and she plans to go to the Kansas State University game against Gonzaga.

Arena’s sellouts

Boleski noted that the arena has held six sellout events this year: Winter Jam, a Christian music show; Taylor Swift; Blake Shelton; the Eagles; Luke Bryan; and an Oklahoma City Thunder basketball game. Three of those acts were country shows. George Strait’s April 4 concert at the arena is already sold out, he said.

The arena also set attendance records at the venue this year for Cirque du Soleil, the Harlem Globetrotters and Disney on Ice.

Boleski said he and arena staff are always hustling to get acts to come to Wichita.

“But at the end of the day, is the show going to be supported, and are they going to sell tickets?” he said.

Ron Holt, assistant manager for the county who oversees culture and recreation, said he isn’t as concerned as Boleski about how the John Mayer show will affect the future.

“If we have a series of these non-country western concerts that are not selling well, that’s when I would become a little concerned. I think it’s a track record that makes a difference,” he said.

“I know A.J. and his folks work very hard to get other kind of acts in here, but selling tickets is the driver. It’s a tough battle when you get non-country and the ticket sales are slow and you get a 70 percent sellout rather than 100 percent. It makes it tough and it makes their job even harder.”

When concerts don’t sell out, Holt said, the act still gets paid.

“They’re not going to get paid based on how many people came. The promoter is the person who is at risk, and they talk to each other,” he said.

Christopher Hayes, 40, has seen Kid Rock and James Taylor at the arena. He is from Lincoln, Neb., but has lived in Wichita for 19 years. He’s a big Prince fan and would like to see him, Alanis Morissette and Justin Timberlake come to Wichita.

“It seems that the new arena they have in Lincoln has taken off nicely as they have had big acts perform there that aren’t coming to Wichita,” he wrote in his Public Insight Network response. “Set the bar higher and get some talent who can spark some interest into coming to Wichita.”

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SGCountyDeb.

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