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The Pond in '05: Quite a Performer

The Anaheim venue's slate of concerts and events -- including the Eagles, U2 and McCartney -- generates enough ticket sales to push it to No. 3 on Billboard's list of top arenas worldwide.

January 11, 2006|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

The Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim continues to climb the Billboard charts. The city-owned arena, fourth in last year's rankings, trailed only the Sydney Superdome in Australia and Madison Square Garden in New York in ticket sales for concerts and family events worldwide last year.

It marks quite a turnaround for a building that was mired in debt over its first decade and didn't appear in Billboard's top-10 ranking of arenas until 2004.

"Finishing second in the country to Madison Square Garden may be as good as it gets for any of us in this business," said Tim Ryan, president of Anaheim Arena Management, which operates the building.

A pro hockey lockout cost the Pond about 25 Mighty Ducks games and millions of dollars, preventing the 19,000-seat facility from having an even better year. But 31 concerts and events such as Disney on Ice, college basketball and professional bull riding brought in $35.9 million in ticket sales and helped the building turn a profit for a second consecutive year.

The Pond hosted the two top-grossing tours, according to Billboard magazine, which ranked venues from November 2004 to November 2005. Topping the list were U2, which sold out for two nights, and the Eagles, who sold out for six. Paul McCartney, the No. 5-grossing tour, also sold out for two nights.

"We've gotten the message across that Orange County has definitely become a must play," said Mike O'Donnell, the Pond's vice president and general manager. "It's taken a long time for us to build that reputation among artists and promoters."

Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert trade publication Pollstar, said the Pond took advantage of a trend among many top acts to play indoor concerts. He said the growth of the Orange County market also contributed to the Pond's big concert year.

"The dividing line between Los Angeles and Orange County has kind of evaporated," he said.

Brian Murphy, a promoter for Live Nation, formerly Clear Channel Entertainment, the largest concert promoter in the country, said the fact that the Eagles' shows at the Pond sold out faster than their Staples Center shows underscores Orange County's emergence as a concert power. The Pond has a capacity of about 19,400, and Staples' is about 20,000.

"When we put on big arena shows in Los Angeles, 50% of our audience was from Orange County," Murphy said. "So we wondered, how many of them would attend an event if we just brought it to them? I think it's been proven by how quickly Pond shows sell out. There's so many people here now, the per capita income is so great and people are hungry for entertainment."

The Pond began to emerge as a prominent concert venue two years ago, when Anaheim Arena Management, owned by technology billionaire Henry Samueli, took over. Previous management had negotiated with just one promoter, while AAM began working with four.

"The fact that we've broadened the number of available promoters gives us a much better chance at success in today's climate," Ryan said.

Staples Center finished 10th in the Billboard rankings, which do not include revenue from professional sports teams. The Staples Center has five pro sports franchises: the Lakers and Clippers of the National Basketball Assn., the Sparks of the Women's National Basketball Assn., the Arena Football League Avengers and the Kings of the National Hockey League. As a result, the building has far fewer open concert dates than the Pond, which has the Mighty Ducks as its only pro team.

Over the last decade, the Pond has compensated for the lack of an NBA team by filling the building with arena football, indoor soccer, boxing, roller hockey and lacrosse. But none of these lower-tier sports lasted more than a few years, and they attracted smaller crowds.

Arena officials wouldn't mind having fewer open dates to fill. They have coveted an NBA franchise since the building opened 13 years ago, and they continue to pursue a team. Ryan believes dealing with an NBA owner is easier now that the Ducks are owned by the same company that operates the Pond.

AAM took over management of the Pond in December of 2003 from bankrupt Covanta, which lost about $30 million over 10 years. The new arrangement called for Anaheim to get 20% of the net after the first $12 million in profits. Greg Smith, Anaheim's convention, sports and entertainment director, said the building was expected to turn a $9-million profit in the fiscal year ending in June, meaning the city would receive nothing. Because of the NHL lockout, the building profits last year were only about $1 million.

The city probably will not receive money from the Pond unless an NBA team moves in.

Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, an avid basketball fan, said it made sense to have an NBA team playing in the Pond.

"You have one of the biggest buildings in America not being used for basketball," he said. "That means it's a great opportunity, and it's something that should happen."

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Top 10 venues

Capacities of 15,001 or more, ranked by gross, compiled from November 2004 through November 2005:

*--* Total Facility, City attendance Total gross 1. Madison Square Garden, New York 1,149,920 $75,209,376 2. Sydney Superdome, Sydney 512,328 37,615,855 3. Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim 702,560 35,920,187 4. Air Canada Centre, Toronto 621,966 34,078,635 5. Cont. Airlines Arena, E. Rutherford, N.J. 760,861 33,581,826 6. Wachovia Center, Philadelphia 718,106 32,641,268 7. TD Banknorth Garden, Boston 689,084 31,509,006 8. HP Pavilion, San Jose 693,42 30,078,910 9. MCI Center, Washington 460,097 27,688,137 10. Staples Center, Los Angeles 300,264 26,632,188

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Source: Billboard Magazine

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