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Currently known as the "KROCK Centre"
Formerly the "Kingston Regional Sports and Entertainment Centre" or KRSEC
Formerly the "Large Venue Entertainment Centre" or LVEC
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St. John's Telegram, February 16 2008

Big acts, big losses

Hootie, Kenny and Ludacris among acts that lost big bucks

STEVE BARTLETT
The Telegram

Kenny Rogers turned out be a real gambler for Mile One Centre.

Hip hop star Ludacris, some taxpayers might argue, lived up to his name.

And if the beleaguered stadium were female, Hootie & The Blowfish "Let Her Cry."

According to information on Mile One bookings obtained by The Telegram, a number of big-name acts cost big-name cash between June 2006 and May 2007.

The biggest loser was Hootie & The Blowfish. The band's show on Sept. 11, 2006, cost Mile One $125,196 and change.

Ludacris, a multi-platinum U.S. rapper, was next. He didn't even perform here, but the costs associated with his cancellation totalled $85,736.

Kenny Rogers' legend didn't translate at the box office. Mile One lost $62,684 on the country singer's March 31, 2007, concert.

Other money-losing shows during the period were comedians Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood ($20,868), children's character Caillou, country crooner Michelle Wright ($15,684), and pop singer Chantal Kreviazuk ($14,173).

Even the popular World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) was a sleeper, losing $6,899.

The nearly $350,000 lost in those eight events contributed significantly to the $639,596 in losses Mile One incurred in the fiscal year 2007.

St. John's Sports and Entertainment (SJSE) operates the centre for the City of St. John's.

Deputy Mayor Dennis O'Keefe was one of the council reps on the board until it was restructured last spring.

He was there for the losses listed above, and says the management "always, always, always" did its research to determine the market for particular concerts.

"But I guess it isn't a perfect science and, when it came to actual ticket sales, there were some real, real, real surprises, there's no doubt about that," he says.

According to O'Keefe, the board would always go back to Mile One management and try to ascertain why a concert lost money. He says it always came back to a lack of ticket sales.

"Sometimes you would say to yourself, 'Holy God,' " O'Keefe says. "You want to bring good, top-class entertainment in to the city because you feel ... there is a market here for it. But at the same time, when it loses money, and in particular when it loses a lot of money, you've got to kind of rethink."

Method lost money

Ron Ellsworth is the sole council rep on the SJSE board put in place last year.

He says the losses on the concerts listed above stemmed from the method in which they were booked.

There are three ways of bringing in an event, he says.

The money-losers were all purchased events, Ellsworth explains, meaning Mile One incurred all the associated losses.

In fact, the only purchased events that made money between June '06 and May '07 were two children's shows by Franklin The Turtle in November '06 ($10, 224) and an ice speedway show in February '07 ($3,421).

"(SJSE) didn't seem to have a good handle on what the public wanted to buy," Ellsworth says.

The new board noticed the problem with purchases minutes into its first meeting, he notes, and promptly instructed then-general manager Lisa Neville not to purchase any more entertainment.

Gerry Smith, SJSE's chairman, says all of the events at Mile One since the new board took over have been rentals.

Many of those, including Cirque de Soleil and the NHL exhibition game between the Bruins and Islanders, have been highly successful in terms of ticket sales, he stresses.

His says SJSE's marketing committee is reviewing its policy for booking events.

He doesn't rule out a return to purchasing, but says it would have to make sense.

"The policy on the rental versus purchase, we'll kind of make that decision once we complete the marketing review," he says.

Smith says booking events for Mile One is no easy task. There is always a risk involved, he admits.

"There's no guarantee you're not going to lose money on events," he says. "You have to minimize it and balance it with the ability to bring really attractive acts to the city that the audience and our clients that go there will enjoy."

sbartlett@thetelegram.com