MetraPark will finish 2015 with one of its best years in nearly two decades for concerts and touring shows.
“The attendance at the arena was just outstanding this year,” MetraPark Manager Bill Dutcher said Tuesday.
MetraPark’s 2015 was the biggest year for concerts and touring shows ticket sales since 1998, a record-setting year when Garth Brooks sold out four concerts. That year set the all-time building attendance record with more than 77,000 ticket purchases.
And 2015 is not too far behind 1998.
Ray Massie, marketing director, said attendance at the Rimrock Auto Arena hit 64,475 people this year. The figure includes only concerts and touring shows, and not events like basketball tournaments, PBR rodeo or the NILE, he said.
When those non-touring events are considered, Massie said the Billings Wolves, an Indoor Football League team, is the single biggest selling event with more than 19,000 tickets sold for games, he said. The Wolves sold 5,000 more tickets than PBR and 6,000 more tickets than the NILE, he said.
“The Wolves are a big deal,” Massie added.
This year also is seventh on the all-time arena attendance list, Dutcher said. Other high attendance years are clustered in the 1990s.
Despite being in a small market, the arena ranked in the top 100 arenas in the United States according to local information and recent data published by Pollstar magazine, MetraPark officials said. Depending on the seating, the arena can hold up to about 10,500 people.
Massie cited several reasons for the strong year, including big acts, a strong economy and people with money to spend.
MetraPark’s top concerts and shows this year included the Eagles, Elton John, Miranda Lambert, WWE Live and Motley Crue. The arena most recently hosted Chris Young and Manneheim Steamroller.
The Eagles, which at $169.50 charged the highest prices ever for a MetraPark concert, grossed $1.4 million from its June 2 show, Massie said. And the Eagles hold the second highest grossing concert from when it first played MetraPark in 2004.
Elton John has the third and fourth highest grossing concerts at MetraPark, Massie said. Elton John performed at the arena on Oct. 7 and also was the first entertainer to perform in the arena after it was nearly destroyed by a tornado in 2010.
“Put those two in the same year, and you’re doing pretty well,” Massie said.
With unemployment below 3 percent, Massie said the economy is “doing very well. People are looking for things to do and have disposable income.”
Value also plays a key role in booking shows.
“All these things are about value to the customer. Can we put it together at a price that makes sense for the consumer? We don’t control much of those prices,” Massie said.
Past experiences with MetraPark and knowing what its staff can do also help, which contributed to the return of Eagles and Elton John, Massie said.
MetraPark has been putting some skin in the game by co-promoting certain shows with funds from a portion of beer sales to attract concerts.
Massie said the co-promote fund, which now contains more than $100,000, was “instrumental” with the Motley Crue concert and was used in the Chris Young and Trace Adkins shows.
If a concert doesn’t do as well as expected, MetraPark will tap the co-promote fund to cover costs. And when a show does well, 10 percent of the earning or proceeds go back into the account, he said.
While MetraPark had a good concert year, the venue also gets dinged for concerts that have bypassed Billings for Missoula or Bozeman. Think Neil Young in Missoula this past August and the upcoming Luke Bryan shows in both Missoula and Bozeman.
The promoter for Luke Bryan chose the university towns over Billings, Massie said. In some cases, MetraPark didn’t have dates available in the arena, he added.
The concert business itself also can be “very cyclical. We are on the right side of that cycle right now,” Massie said.
As for 2016 and beyond, MetraPark has set a Carrie Underwood concert for May 12.
A MetraPark “wish list,” Massie said, includes Billy Joel, Bob Seger, Taylor Swift and, of course, Garth Brooks.