Sports venues serve as event hubs

Two of the region’s largest sports venues – Peoples Natural Gas Field in Altoona and the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown – host many events other than their primary tenants throughout the year, and there’s a major difference why.

The Altoona Curve host 71 home games at PNG Field, and those games account for the overwhelming majority of the franchise’s profits.

Conversely, the War Memorial hosts 28 Johnstown Tomahawks youth hockey games per year, but hockey is expensive to operate, and the arena must count on upwards of 50 more events to help it become profitable.

“If we do it right, we can be efficient, effective and not a burden to the taxpayers, but actually a revenue enhancer to the community,” said War Memorial general manager Tom Grenell.

Curve general manager Rob Egan said that in a typical year, the Double-A baseball games make up more than 85 percent of the team’s total profit.

The Curve host another 20-30 events each year at PNG Field, including roughly a dozen “major events,” Egan said, that do turn a profit. Those include Pints for Pets – which will be held Saturday – Yuengling Oktoberfest, Guiness Irish Festival and a few other festivals and food shows.

The ballpark also is a major community asset because of its size and central location, so the Curve utilize it for other events that serve community needs.

Those include charity functions such as the Central PA Autism Walk, the March of Dimes gathering or hosting amateur baseball in the Curve Classic tournament or district playoff games.

When it comes to planning events, Egan said the Curve look for potential profitable functions but are just as happy to host community-oriented functions that don’t bring in much money but help in other ways.

“We know we have a responsibility, too, to try to say yes to the various events that approach us both on a charity or maybe a joint venture process to use the ballpark,”

Egan said.

“It would be a shame to have that kind of facility in the community and only use it 71 times for Curve baseball games, so we try

to use it as much as possible.”

In the past, the ballpark has been used for concerts featuring big names like Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan.

It’s been a number of years since the last concert was held, though, and Egan said the concert market dried up during the recession.

The Curve are open to bringing more concerts to PNG Field, but a number of things such as upfront cost for the performer and just how big of a name it is must be considered. Concerts can be financially beneficial for a franchise if all goes well, to the degree where Egan said the baseball-only profit would be less than the typical 85 percent in a given year.

Finances and scheduling other events are much more complex at the War Memorial. The Tomahawks’ 28 home games a year account for barely more than one-third of the roughly 80 events hosted by the arena, yet Grenell said the team accounts for about 65 percent of the War Memorial’s costs.

The utility costs alone at the arena

are substantial.

The ice floor must be kept between 13-16 degrees 24 hours a day, while the rest of the arena must maintain a 68-degree temperature for fans who attend games.

“You actually are spending a truckload of money on utilities,” said Grenell, who has worked at the arena for 17 years. “Hockey is the most expensive sport and sports

facility that you could

probably find.”

Aside from the Tomahawks, the War Memorial frequently hosts numerous major events that include concerts, ice shows such as “Sesame Street on Ice,” the state wrestling tournament and mixed martial arts.

“All these professional events need to be prosperous because it’s economics,” Grenell said. “We have to be successful. They have to be successful. If they can’t make money in Johnstown, they’re probably not going to come back.”

Arena officials also have to use good strategy when scheduling events to draw bigger crowds and maximize profits. If the Sesame Street ice show, for instance, is held in September when kids are going back to school, Grenell said the crowds would be smaller than if the event were to be held at a more advantageous time for kids.

Another example Grenell mentioned is hosting a country music concert. A show held during the week might not maximize beer sales because people have to work the next day, as opposed to a weekend show that would generate more beer sales.

The War Memorial hopes to attract fans from a large area to its signature events, and Grenell said having one of the region’s few

ice arenas makes that possible.

“Where we see a real sweet spot in the market is, I call it the southern T – it’s Altoona, Bedford, northern Maryland, Somerset County – those places don’ t have an arena,” Grenell said. “So for you to see Disney on Ice, you’re more likely to come to Johnstown.”