Sportscenter forging ahead as concert venue

Jan. 26—More than 70 years after its construction, the Owensboro Sportscenter is enjoying a second act as a concert venue, after primarily hosting sporting events for decades.

Laura Alexander, general manager of the Sportscenter and Owensboro Convention Center, said it was initially believed that the Sportscenter would not be practical as a concert venue because it was believed lighting and speakers could not be rigged from the steel beams in the center’s roof.

“Back in October 2016 is when the city hired Spectra, Global Spectrum at that time, to come in and manage the Sportscenter,” Alexander said. “And at that time, we were told that we could not really do concerts at the Sportscenter, primarily due to the rigging.”

That left any potential artists with having to utilize what is known as ground support for concerts, meaning speakers and lighting would have to be stacked on the ground. It’s a generally undesirable and more costly option than rigging from the ceiling.

However, it was determined that the Sportscenter’s steel beams are strong enough to support the rigging that a concert often requires.

“There was an architect who I guess had interpreted someone else’s architectural drawing,” said Alexander of how the city got the bad information. “Every time we got up into the rafters, we were like, ‘there is so much steel up here, how can you not rig up here?’ “

The City of Owensboro hired two different structural engineers to do a feasibility study. Both determined that light and sound could be rigged from the ceiling beams.

“You can’t come in and do a Cirque du Soleil, with a bunch of people hanging from the rafters, but you can do enough for the concerts that would be coming to Owensboro,” Alexander said.

The newfound source of revenue had the city working to develop a marketing plan showcasing Owensboro and the Sportscenter as a great place for artists to perform.

“A lot of people hadn’t heard of Owensboro,” Alexander said. “Because they had just been kind of discounting the fact that you couldn’t do concerts here, we really had to almost create a marketing plan that was much like building a brand new facility.”

That involved visits to Nashville and meetings with concert promoters in an effort to get the Sportscenter on more people’s radar.

While the venue has welcomed classic rock acts like Kansas and REO Speedwagon, which turned out to be the Sportscenter’s most successful concert, county acts are also a popular choice.

“With our proximity to Nashville, country is something that does very well here,” Alexander said. “It is far enough outside of Nashville that it doesn’t conflict with routing dates, but it is close enough to where the artist can just drive home that night and be home with their families at the end of the show.”

While the five or six concerts the Sportscenter hosts each year may not sound like a significant number, they are the highest revenue producers out of all events the facility hosts. However, they also can be the biggest risk.

“Concerts are very risky business,” Alexander said. “Before you sell your first tickets, you are probably going to have somewhere between $60,000 and $100,000 worth of expenses.”

While the Sportscenter has a sporting event capacity of 5,500, capacity for concerts is limited to about 4,200 people, as seating behind a stage with a poor view is not available.

Alexander said seating capacity is one of the most significant factors a promoter considers when deciding where to book an artist.

“That would be the biggest one,” she said. “The artists are looking to see how many seats they can sell.”

Owensboro’s population, reported to be just over 59,000 in 2019, is another significant factor for bookings.

“Some of them, even though we will offer to pay them exactly what they are making in other places, and we have the capacity, and the ticket prices are the perfect amount, sometimes they are like, ‘Owensboro is not big enough, we are going to major markets this year,’ ” Alexander said.

It has been about three years since the city received the news that the Sportscenter was a viable concert venue, and plans are continuing to evolve for booking concerts. The next scheduled concert at the venue is a March 19 show by country singers Tracy Lawrence and Clay Walker.

“I think we are just hitting the tip of the iceberg,” Alexander said. “There are some promoters out there that we are starting to get on their radar a little bit, and they are calling us now instead of us having to beat down the door for them.”

Nathan Havenner, Messenger-Inquirer, [email protected], 270-228-2837