Special Reports

Wrestling takes loss on tourney at arena

Intrust Bank Arena made a profit, but the Kansas State High School Activities Association took a loss on the state wrestling championship in February, officials say.

The association's leader said recently that the Class 6A and 5A tournaments would not return because the venue is too expensive. But Friday, he said talks with arena operator SMG remain open.

"We can't be closed to any options," said Gary Musselman, executive director of the association.

The wrestling tournament illustrates the dichotomy of a privately-run public arena: Arena operator SMG wants to make money, but the public wants community events that bring in tourist dollars.

In addition, SMG wants to keep some financial details private — including details that the county's previous venue, the publicly run Kansas Coliseum, shared.

Arena general manager Chris Presson confirmed Friday that the arena made a profit on the tournament but would not say how much.

Musselman said arena rent and expenses cost the association $75,767. He said the association ended up with a net loss of $44,980.

Last year's event at the Kansas Coliseum brought in $23,852 for the association.

The tournament drew 6,693 people — including premium seat holders whose tickets did not count toward the association's paid attendance, according to arena officials. Gross ticket sales were $50,500.

Paid attendance at the Coliseum last year was 6,348. Gross ticket sales were $56,985.

Unrealistic goal?

The Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission and Go Wichita would like to have the event stay at the arena.

"It is a large piece of business, and we certainly want to retain that," said John Rolfe, president and CEO of Go Wichita.

Bob Hanson, president and CEO of the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission, said he was there when association officials toured the arena for the first time.

"They were obviously impressed with it and said they wanted to be there if they could make it happen," Hanson said. "We want to work to keep it here. It's had great tradition here."

The 6A and 5A wrestling tournaments were held at the Coliseum every year except one from 1985 to 2009. The 4A meet also was held there through 2005 when it moved to Salina.

Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh, a former wrestler who also coached and officiated the sport, also wants to see the tournament stay at the arena. But he wonders how realistic that is.

"I love that sport, and I wish it was here," he said of the tournament, which he attends every year. "I would be surprised if either side thought it was profitable to continue at Intrust Bank Arena. I sincerely wish we could make it work."

He said the tournaments for smaller classes — held in Salina and Hays — are community events where "everyone in the whole town comes out to volunteer."

That's not the case in Wichita, he said.

"They've been making it work at the Coliseum, but at Intrust Bank Arena, it doesn't look like it would work," Unruh said.

He added he "would love for the arena to make a deal with the association," even if it's not profitable for SMG. "I would urge them to."

But he also said he wouldn't expect the arena to do so.

"It was a great deal for the kids and schools, and I wish they could make it work. SMG is just not a charitable organization," he said.

Records from SMG to the county show that two sporting events in February — the wrestling tournament and a Gravity Slashers freestyle motorcross show — brought in $142,890 in gross building income.

SMG did not make a breakdown available.

Closed books

While it raised the money for the arena through a 30-month 1 percent sales tax, the county says it cannot share some financial details with the public. Its contract with SMG includes a confidentiality agreement.

SMG does share with the public such information as number of performances and event days; net direct event income for categories of events; net food, beverage and merchandise income; other net income and gross building income.

It does not share net profits or losses for individual events.

Assistant County Manager Ron Holt said he went to the arena to view SMG's full financial reports for January and February, the reports it sends to its home office. But because he was not allowed to take notes or make copies, he was not able to provide the figures.

The county's contract with SMG says the company "will afford the county an opportunity to review such information at the facility during reasonable business hours and upon reasonable advance notice or on terms mutually agreed upon by the parties in order to protect the privileged, confidential and/or proprietary nature of such information."

Presson noted that under the contract, SMG, not the county, is responsible for any losses at the arena.

"If there is a loss on the facility, our company covers it while we don't own the building," he said.

Monthly reports

Another section of the contract says SMG will give the county a monthly written report that includes a balance sheet, income statement and other financial reports, including a departmental expense report and event accounting.

The Eagle asked Holt for a copy of that report pertaining to the wrestling tournament, but he said the county is not getting such reports.

As the arena's opening date neared in January, he said, the county and SMG "balanced" the confidentiality clause against the monthly report and reached a different agreement about what the monthly reports would include.

Holt said the county also will receive an audit each year from the arena.

The Eagle filed a request under the Kansas Open Records Act on Friday asking for the monthly report stipulated in the contract. Under the law, the county has three business days to respond.

A settlement statement for the tournament last year at the Coliseum has detailed expense figures, including rent, advertising, staffing, management fees and ticketing.

Such information is not available in the monthly written arena report given to commissioners.

Unruh said he is comfortable with the amount of financial information that county commissioners receive from the arena. He said that the county contracted to have an outside group manage the arena and shouldn't try to micromanage it.

Commissioner Gwen Welshimer said she, too, would like the wrestling tournament to stay at the arena.

Asked whether the arena should make a special deal with the association because of the nature of its event, Welshimer said, "Looking at it from the county's point of view, I would say yes. Looking at it from their (SMG's) point of view as a business, I think we need to give them some ability to manage their own affairs.

"That's what you get into when you use someone for that type of management."

SMG's Presson said the event is still on the table for next year.

"We didn't know that we had lost the event," he said. "We're still continuing to put together a new number and trying to work a new deal with them.

"They haven't said no to us. We haven't said no to them."

Related stories from Wichita Eagle

  Comments