Booking entertainment acts in a market with multiple venues always is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle for arena managers.
That puzzle is about to grow more complex in the Wichita area with the opening of the Kansas Star Casino’s new multi-purpose arena in Mulvane.
The arena, which can seat up to 6,000 people for concerts, announced its first two acts last week: rock band Daughtry on June 29 and country superstar Tim McGraw on July 7, the arena’s grand-opening event.
Other arena managers understand they will have new competition for acts, and one more arena to keep an eye on so they don’t book similar acts at the same time.
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“I’m going to have to wait and see about any impact, and how aggressively they’re going to be booking acts,” said James Snodgrass, general manager of Hartman Arena in Park City, which is similar in size to the Kansas Star Arena.
Hartman hosts the Wichita Wild indoor football team, as well as small college and community college basketball tournaments, the state high school wrestling championships and multiple cheerleading events, though it appears to be losing the Wichita Wings indoor soccer team.
Snodgrass said Hartman may compete with the Kansas Star Arena for ring sports such as boxing and mixed martial arts events. But some sports and family shows may shy away from a casino setting, he said.
And when Kansas Star Arena begins to focus on equestrian events, which he has no interest in bringing to Hartman Arena, “more power to them,” Snodgrass said.
A.J. Boleski, general manager of Intrust Bank Arena at 500 E. Waterman in downtown Wichita, which offers entertainment for audiences ranging from 15,000 to 3,500, sees some benefit arising from the situation.
“I think any time there’s multiple venues in a market, it helps overall raise the level of entertainment in that market,” he said.
Having another arena competing for acts won’t be anything new, he said.
“We’re always competing, whether there’s a Kansas Star Arena or not. I don’t think it changes anything in that regard,” Boleski said. ”There’s never enough to go around. We always want more shows.”
McGraw, the Star’s grand opening act, has played at Intrust twice, in 2010 and 2011.
Boleski said the most important concern is managing the market so venues aren’t saturated with similar events at the same time.
Tim Lanier, Kansas Star Arena’s director, said he doesn’t see Intrust Bank or Hartman arenas as direct competitors because each has its own niche.
“For the greater Wichita area, the only thing we do as three arenas together is add more options,” he said.
Intrust Bank Arena is a much larger facility, and Hartman Arena plays to younger audiences, Lanier said.
Kansas Star Arena will use customer data collected by the casino to identify acts to book. But Lanier already knows he isn’t likely to book boy bands, for example.
“We’re not going to be the rough, tough building. We’re going to play to our customers here,” Lanier said.
Richard Leslie, owner of The Cotillion, at 11120 West Kellogg, said he doesn’t know what impact Kansas Star Arena will have on his facility.
“I think it’s a little too soon to say what they’re going to do out there,” he said. “Obviously they’re not going to do acts of stature of Tim McGraw on a regular basis.”
But, he said, new venues can be good for the market.
“There’s been a lot of new venues open up in the market the last few years, and the market seems to have absorbed all of them,” Leslie said. “When Intrust opened, it created a lot of interest in people to go see concerts. It whetted everybody’s appetites and increased the appeal of what we do.”
The Cotillion has offered a wide variety of entertainment since it opened in 1960 in a building that can hold up to 2,000 people.
“New places open up continuously, and older places re-invent themselves,” Leslie said. “We’ve kind of stuck to what we do, and so far it’s been successful.”
There may be no starker contrast in entertainment venues in the region than the new casino arena and the historic Orpheum Theatre in downtown Wichita. But Jennifer Wright, president of the Orpheum, which has a seating capacity slightly under 1,300 at 200 N. Broadway, said Kansas Star Arena will create competition for acts at her theater.
“The advantage the Orpheum has is that it is centrally located in downtown and we’re a beautiful historic theater. The aesthetics of the theater are unsurpassed in terms of watching live performances,” she said. “Where we would be at a disadvantage is that a casino can offer the performers probably more money than we can afford. That’s where the competition is.”
“On the flip side,” she said, “some performers may prefer to play in a historic theater.”
Like the others, Wright said new venues can help everybody in the market.
“I would like to think if they’re successful then we can only be successful, as well,” she said.