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Grand Forks' Alerus Center lost $97,000 on Britney Spears concert

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GRAND FORKS -- It ain't cheap putting on a concert, especially a concert as big as Britney Spears' "The Circus," which cost Grand Forks' Alerus Center $1.2 million to put on.

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The city-owned events center made $1.1 million from the concert.

All that stacks up against the $1.9 million that concertgoers are estimated to have spent in town after the concert, based on an ongoing survey by UND economist David Flynn.

The events center also paid local vendors and workers -- $103,800 -- and sales tax on tickets sold -- $9,100 in city sales tax, not including the sales tax dedicated to the events center.

These numbers come courtesy of the Alerus Center, which released its profits and losses for the Sept. 12 concert Monday at a press conference.

"I think we have fulfilled our mission," Executive Director Steve Hyman told reporters, referring to a mission statement that calls for bringing events to town and having an economic impact.

Nevertheless, Britney Spears was a mixed success. The events center had aimed for both a strong economic impact, which it got, and a strong profit, which it didn't.

Had everything gone exactly as planned, the events center would've earned $300,000, Hyman said. Losing $97,000, he said, "it was within what we thought could be a worse case scenario."

Down to earth

But the disappointment may not be the Alerus Center's alone.

The attendance of 13,019 is comparable to, and in many cases higher than, attendance at other venues on the second leg of Britney Spears' North American tour.

Prompted by a reporter's question about this, Hyman said he would not offer any excuses. But, he added, "My understanding is we were ahead of the curve for this leg of the tour compared to the other ZIP codes she was in."

Back in June, when the Alerus Center trumpeted that it was bringing the notorious pop diva to town, she had just finished an extremely successful tour in which attendance routinely fell from 16,000 to 18,000.

The Alerus Center made 18,845 seats available, close to the full capacity of the building for a concert.

But as summer wore on, Rolling Stone magazine was reporting that big stars such as Britney Spears and Aerosmith were struggling.

Promoters cut the number of seats at the Alerus Center to about 13,000. They offered UND students floor tickets, worth $95, for $20.

The Alerus Center ultimately came within a few hundred short of a sell out. The final attendance figure of 13,019 included a few hundred suite holders.

Giant among giants

How did everyone else do?

The numbers aren't yet widely available. Alerus Center officials are going off of a fan blog called Britney Spears Entertains. The blog has accurate numbers for the Alerus Center and cites Billboard magazine.

If numbers for other venues are also accurate, here are the ones that had lower attendance than the Alerus Center: Amway Arena in Orlando, Fla.; Philips Arena in Atlanta; Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C.; Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Mich.; Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa; BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.; the Toyota Center in Houston; CenturyTel Center in Bossier, La.; Don Haskins Center in El Paso; and the San Diego Sports Arena.

In almost all cases, these venues also earned less in ticket revenues than the Alerus Center.

That's in spite of the significantly larger population that they enjoy compared to Grand Forks. The closest in size to Grand Forks was Bossier City, whose metro population is more than three times as large. Houston, the farthest in size, has a metro population of 5.7 million, or 58 times as large.

What happened in Grand Forks, Hyman said, will help the Alerus Center get more concerts from AEG Live. There are two major concerts that are on hold for the area in 2010, he said.

Risk reduction

Nevertheless, losses in the high five figures are not the sorts of things that occur in most city departments, and the events center is essentially a city department, albeit a very special one voted into being by city residents.

It's not clear how the Alerus Center decides which concerts are too risky and which too good to pass up.

Hyman did not shed too much light on the matter Monday though he said he does a lot of research, a lot of calculations and a lot of consultation with events center commissioners and his boss at VenuWorks, the Ames, Iowa, company that has the events center's management contract.

Certainly from the earlier trumpeting, events center officials saw Britney Spears as a major "get."

Hyman said he looks at where a concert has been, what's its "caliber" and what it's "ramifications" are for the community. He then looks at financial projections and plans to earn a profit. "I don't go in assuming I'm going to lose any kind of money," he said.

Curt Kreun, City Council member and chairman of the Alerus Center commission, defended the events center's performance. "Did the city make money? That's our goal," he said, noting the economic impact.

"We have to be very wise about how we approach risk," Council President Hal Gershman said. "Even though Dr. Flynn's bottom line for the city was positive, I think you have to approach a major concert with great care."

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