Over the last half-decade, the Ford Center has proven its versatility as a host for acts in a variety of genres. As Darin Lashinsky, CEO of NS2, confirms, “Evansville has always been and continues to be a strong ticket-selling market for rock and country concerts.” And “rock” includes modern bands that are finding it profitable to route a tour through the Ford Center’s corner of the Heartland. For example, Lashinsky has recently booked Five Finger Death Punch at the arena, as well as acts that are more predicable hits in the market: Def Leppard and Dolly Parton. Expressing his confidence in the Evansville market, Lashinsky says, “Hopefully, all of the tours we promote nationally will make a stop at the Ford Center.”
Five Finger Death Punch, together with Shinedown and special guest POD, sold about 8,000 of the Ford Center’s 11,000 seats. In fact, the show “sold so well in our market, it inspired the groups to do a full tour,” remarks Kristi Spalding, Sales and Marketing Manager at the Ford Center. “We’re starting to overachieve on some of these other genres,” adds Scott Schoenike, Executive Director for the Ford Center and accompanying Victory Theatre. “So it’s great for the people locally who don’t have to travel anymore [to see these artists].”
On Nov. 11, the Ford Center will celebrate its five-year anniversary date with a performance by Carrie Underwood, one of the top stars in any genre, and an especially high-profile artist for a midsized arena. Underwood’s show, a stop on The Storyteller Tour, may be considered the culmination of five years of steadily increasing business at the arena. “We’ve actually done really well [since opening],” says Schoenike. “We inch up a couple shows every year, the quality of the shows has gotten better and the diversity of the shows has gotten a lot better.” Fortunately, the local media has been a proactive partner in maximizing turnout at those shows. “The radio stations and the media here have gotten on board helping us to kind of explain to people that if you want more music here, what you have to do is supply more tickets to generate a snowball effect — a public understanding of how it works,” says Schoenike.
Still a relatively new building, the Silver LEED-certified Ford Center is physically prepared to host any show that fits its market and capacity. That includes Cirque du Soleil, which will be presenting TORUK – The First Flight, Sept. 1-4. “We have excellent rigging [180,000 lbs.], and production wise it’s a great building for that show,” says Schoenike. Lashinsky adds that, “The upper level curtaining options are crucial to presenting concerts that require flexibility with the sellable capacity.” Overall, he observes that “From the front of house to backstage, the experience for fans, artists and their crews is first class.”
To ensure the experience remains first class, Schoenike and his team are already discussing upgrades to the building. “We’re 5 years old but by 10 years we’re going to need a little facelift. We’ll do it at the 10-year mark rather than wait 20 years for a major overhaul,” he explains. “So right now we’re talking about AV upgrades, more digital signage, and a better patron experience on the WiFi — to try to keep pace with some of the newer features we see out there.”
Also key to the patron experience is sufficient quality lodging for those coming in from out of town and seek accommodations. That will be enhanced in December with the opening of the 241-room Doubletree by Hilton Evansville Indiana Hotel and Convention Center. The property will provide direct access via Sky Bridge to the Ford Center and Old National Events Plaza. Evansville’s downtown is sure to become even more vibrant with the hotel’s debut; in part, it means more incoming conventioneers who may well become Ford Center patrons during their free time.
Looking to the future of the Ford Center, Schoenike says, “I think in the next five years we’re really going to concentrate on helping our tenants [NCAA Division I University of Evansville Aces and the Central Hockey League Evansville IceMen] reach the next level. Between hockey and basketball, there are 66 events in core season, and we want to give them a long-sustaining, high attendance events.” He believes that one means of reaching that goal is to augment the guest experience around the sporting event, including aspects such as digital connectivity and F&B. “When you’re here for a concert you kind of get focused on the music, but when you’re here for a sporting event you’re also here for the [broader] experience, things to do with the kids, your buddies, etc.,” he explains.
Past performance is the best predictor of future performance. And given the success the Ford Center has experienced over these last five years, no doubt its management and staff have the ability to add to that success and optimize business for its tenants. Indeed, they have already realized the goal of diversifying Evansville’s live entertainment scene — ever since Bob Seger’s sold-out inaugural concert on Nov. 9, 2011.
FORD CENTER FAST FACTS
- Management: VenuWorks
- Overall capacity: 11,000 (basketball, 9,800; hockey, 9,100; concerts, 10,500; half house 3,500-5,700)
- Arena floor: over 20,000 sq. ft. of usable space that can be modified for basketball, hockey, concerts, conventions, rodeos, expos and more
- Rigging capacity: 180,000 lbs.
- Suites: 16 20-person suites and one 40-person suite, four mini suites and 95 main concourse loge seats
- Back of house: two star dressing rooms, two locker rooms, green room, multipurpose room
- Capacity: 1,950
- Staging: 42 ft.-by-46 ft. wide stage with 24 ft. of off-stage wing space and a 30-ft.-tall grid
- Amenities: banquet hall, conference room, second-floor mezzanine accommodating 180, three bar locations in the lobbies
- Back of house: two-star dressing rooms and four support dressing rooms, each with private shower and restroom