Eagle editorial: Where are the big acts?

Why can’t Intrust Bank Arena book more big-name acts?
Why can’t Intrust Bank Arena book more big-name acts?

Though great news for taxpayers, that oversize check for $255,678 presented to Sedgwick County last week reflected Intrust Bank Arena’s past, specifically the county’s share of 2013 profits. The concern is about the facility’s future, including a depressing scarcity of summer bookings.

The report on the first quarter of 2014 was less than upbeat, too, showing a $41,490 loss and eight fewer performances than in the same period last year.

True, 2013 will be a hard act to follow. Aided by its blockbuster fourth quarter, 2013 was second only to the arena’s inaugural year of 2010 for stars booked and money made. But it was reasonable to hope that 2013 would lead to even more in 2014.

Instead, the schedule looks largely bare, especially when compared with other venues in the Midwest and with Rolling Stone’s list of the summer’s 40 hottest tours.

The magazine’s list of “rock icons, reunited rap stars and pop spectacles” includes Styx and Foreigner, which played the arena last week; James Taylor, who is coming June 20; and Motley Crue, which performs with Alice Cooper July 12. But that’s it for the summer, except for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Aug. 7-10.

No Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Paul McCartney, Bruno Mars, One Direction, Pearl Jam, Black Keys, Backstreet Boys/Avril Lavigne, Cher/Cyndi Lauper, OneRepublic, Enrique Iglesias/Pitbull, Fall Out Boy/Paramore, KISS/Def Leppard or ZZ Top/Jeff Beck – acts variously booked this summer and beyond at comparable venues in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Omaha or Lincoln, Neb., or Kansas City, Mo.

The attitude at Sedgwick County remains positive toward SMG, the Pennsylvania-based private firm hired to manage the county-owned arena.

“We appreciate the expertise with which you operate the Intrust Bank Arena…. It needs to be noted that you guys are doing a great job,” Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Dave Unruh told general manager A.J. Boleski and assistant general manager and chief financial officer Chris Kibler at last week’s meeting.

The arena’s overall performance could be strong enough to lead to an automatic renewal of the current contract between SMG and the county that requires SMG to absorb any net operating losses. That remarkable deal expires at the end of 2015.

It should be said that the Wichita area’s concert choices also have benefited in recent years from bookings at the Orpheum Theatre, Hartman Arena, Kansas Star Casino Arena and other venues.

As the Intrust Bank Arena moves toward its fifth birthday early next year, though, it’s fair to wonder what the community and venue have to do to land more big-name touring acts, and especially more than country stars.

A recent comment in Opinion Line put it well: “I’d like to know how Fargo, N.D., got Paul McCartney and Wichita didn’t.”

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman