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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
Several months ago, the panicked general manager of Nationwide Arena walked into the office of Columbus Blue Jackets' President Mike Priest with a warning: The arena could finish its fiscal year with a seven-figure deficit.
But yesterday, the manager -- Xen Riggs -- presented budget documents that show that Nationwide should eke out a $60,000 surplus when its fiscal year ends June 30. He then cautioned that next year, the arena likely will finish with a deficit of about $500,000.
Both of those budgets include a $4 million public subsidy of casino tax dollars from the city of Columbus and Franklin County.
As of April, the last full month for which accounts are finished, the arena had a $426,000 surplus. That's in part thanks to some big shows, including Bruce Springsteen, Cher and Demi Lovato, that weren't expected back when Riggs projected the big deficit.
The new budget documents were shared with the four-member Columbus Arena Management board, which oversees the arena, during its only public meeting of the year. Board members heralded the news that the arena was operating at or near break-even margins.
"Revenue is up significantly, and fellow board members know that as we went into this endeavor, the expectation was to bring CAM to a break-even position," said Brian Ellis, a board member who is president and COO of Nationwide Realty Investors. "To end the year where we exceed that expectation, I think that is a positive."
The arena had about $20.5 million in total revenue and $20.5 million in expenses this fiscal year. The overwhelming majority of the arena's operating costs are to provide security, staff, and mechanical and technical resources for concerts and other special events. Those are the costs to turn on the lights and supply utilities, ushers, concession workers and merchandise sales.
The arena spent $14.3 million to host those special events and made $13.8 million in ticket sales and rental revenue. The public does not make any money off hockey games or related events.
Officials project there'll be a deficit next year based on the events that already have been scheduled. Of course, that lineup still can change.
Priest said the arena remains one of the best facilities in the country for hosting such events and is consistently rated highly among NHL teams for its ice quality and arena amenities.
The Blue Jackets had been losing money on the team's arena lease for years and pushed for a public purchase to free up about $9.5 million each year for the team. The city and county agreed to purchase the arena with casino tax revenue in a deal estimated at $250 million in purchase and maintenance costs through 2039.
Before the sale, the Blue Jackets partnered with Riggs, a vice president at Ohio State University who also oversees OSU's arena, to manage Nationwide. The idea was to better coordinate booking events and ensure that the two arenas were not bidding against each other for acts.
Riggs said he understands the public might be frustrated that the arena is barely breaking even, but he said his group has grown revenue by $1 million to $2 million in each of the past few years.
"Basically, in order to get a bigger piece of the pie, we had to make the pie bigger, and we did that mostly by reducing costs in the management of both arenas," Riggs said. "We reduced the amount of resources needed in that consolidation."