Hartford hopes spending $100m on new restrooms and coffee bars will make arena profitable (it won’t)

A hearing on Connecticut’s planned $100 million renovation of Hartford’s sports arena has been pushed back to February so that the city can hold more talks with the owner of neighboring retail space, which, whatever, unless you’re really so bored under lockdown that you’ve resorted to watching arena renovation hearings. But the Hartford Courant article on the delay does provide an opportunity to see exactly what the state is planning to spend the money on, and why.

The state already spent $35 million on renovations in 2014 and $18 million more in 2017. Initial plans for a $250 million renovation that would have added new concessions concourses on both the upper and lower levels were rejected because $250 million, and also because hardly anybody ever sits in the upper level what with the arena mostly only hosting minor-league hockey and the occasional college basketball game. So instead the state is focusing on redoing just the lower level concourse:

The renovation will include industry standards restrooms, concessions, premium seating and other systems for the average 12,000 seats that events typically draw rather than the arena’s full 16,000-seat capacity.

The premium seating includes bunker suites at center court, a club with seating for 100 or more — both on floor level close to the action. More loge seating would be added elsewhere in the arena.

State officials hope the renovation will increase revenue with more premium seating and amenities; push the venue to make a profit, which it traditionally has not done; and reduce expenses, eliminating costly repairs to outdated equipment for which parts are difficult to find.

So, some math: The arena has previously been reported to be losing about $1 million a year in recent years. Interest rates are low right now, but even if $100 million in renovation bonds can be sold at a low rate like 3%, that’s still going to add $5 million a year in red ink to the arena’s books. So just to get the arena back to break-even, it will take at least $6 million a year in new revenues from the added concessions and luxury seating. I haven’t been able to find current concessions revenue numbers, but this article indicates that premium seating currently only generates $1.4 million a year currently, so this would require Hartford Wolf Pack and UConn basketball fans to be willing to increase their spending a whole lot to be able to sit and go on their laptops while the game plays on a screen somewhere in the background, which seems speculative, to say the least.

About that earlier article, by the way: It’s about a study from last February by everyone’s favorite dysfunctional stadium consultant, Convention Sports & Leisure, which projected that the Hartford arena renovations would indeed increase annual revenues, but would still leave the arena running about a $500,000 annual loss. The study also indicated that the arena is currently running a $2-3 million loss, not the $1 million previously reported, and that the new luxury seating would generate $3.6 million in new gross revenues, and — you know, honestly, trying to do math on CSL reports is hopeless, because they’re just number salad. But “even a consultant who’s paid to make arena renovations seem worthwhile can’t figure out how to make this one look profitable” is a perfectly legit takeaway here, if “people will spend millions of dollars more at the arena if you give them nicer bathrooms and coffee bars” wasn’t doing it for you.

 

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2 comments on “Hartford hopes spending $100m on new restrooms and coffee bars will make arena profitable (it won’t)

  1. The math seems about right. An aging but upgraded arena in a small city that loses $1m a year on operations does not need to be renovated to bring in more business. It is likely that there “IS” no more business they could bring in.

    I wonder if they considered lowering whatever hosting fees they charge to make the arena more accessible to other (smaller) attractions?

    It’s not like the building is a bare concrete bowl with aluminum bench seating… if they aren’t able to bring in bigger acts they might do better attracting smaller ones with discounts. Typically with facilities like this it’s about the usage, not the size of the act/sport playing.

    Sure, it’s great to get the Rolling Stones or Garth Brooks. But by the time the bigger acts and their agents and associated groups have finished siphoning the money out of the shows, there often isn’t much left for the promoter or host. That’s the dilemma.

    If in the end you are just stuck with a serviceable building that works but loses a million a year in an urban zone of around 1m people, there’s nothing wrong with that. Especially when compared to a glitzy $400m building that loses $20m a year…

  2. Hartford is the only US city I can think of in modern history in which it had its only major league team leave town. Every other place that has lost one has had at least one other. Oakland may be the next one. You need better case studies for cities nobly saying “no”.

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