More than 70 years after it was built, the Owensboro Sportscenter is enjoying a second act as a live music venue, having primarily hosted sporting events for decades.
Laura Alexander, general manager of the Sportscenter and the Owensboro Convention Center, said it was initially thought the Sportscenter would be impractical as a concert venue because it was thought the lighting and speakers could not be installed from the center roof steel beams.
“In October 2016, the city hired Spectra, Global Spectrum at the time, to come in and manage the Sportscenter,” Alexander said. “And at that point we were told that we couldn’t really do shows at the Sportscenter, mainly because of the rigging.”
This forced all potential performers to use what is known as the floor stand for gigs, which meant that speakers and lighting would have to be stacked on the floor. This is a generally undesirable and more expensive option than overhead rigging.
However, it has been determined that the Sportscenter’s steel beams are strong enough to support the rigging that a concert often requires.
“There was an architect who I guess interpreted someone else’s architectural drawing,” Alexander said of how the city got the wrong information. “Every time we went up the rafters we were like, ‘there’s so much steel here, how can you not rig here?’ ”
The City of Owensboro hired two different structural engineers to do a feasibility study. The two determined that the light and sound could be installed from the ceiling beams.
“You can’t come in and do a Cirque du Soleil, with a bunch of people hanging from the rafters, but you can do enough for the gigs that would come to Owensboro,” Alexander said.
The new revenue stream allowed the city to develop a marketing plan showcasing Owensboro and the Sportscenter as an ideal venue for entertainers.
“A lot of people hadn’t heard of Owensboro,” Alexander said. “Because they had just kind of ignored the fact that you couldn’t do shows here, we really had to almost create a marketing plan that was a lot like building a brand new facility.”
This involved visits to Nashville and meetings with concert organizers in an effort to get the Sportscenter on more people’s radar.
While the venue has hosted classic rock bands like Kansas and REO Speedwagon, which proved to be the Sportscenter’s most successful gig, county bands are also a popular choice.
“With our proximity to Nashville, country is something that’s doing really well here,” Alexander said. “It’s far enough outside of Nashville that it doesn’t conflict with shipping dates, but it’s close enough to where the artist can just fly home that night and be home with his family at the end of the show.”
Although the five or six concerts the Sportscenter hosts each year may not seem like a significant number, they are the highest revenue generators of any event the facility hosts. However, they can also be the biggest risk.
“Gigs are very risky business,” Alexander said. “Before you sell your first tickets, you’re probably going to have between $60,000 and $100,000 spent.”
While the Sportscenter has a capacity for sporting events of 5,500, capacity for concerts is limited to around 4,200 people, as it is not possible to sit behind a stage with poor eyesight.
Alexander said seating capacity is one of the most important factors a promoter considers when deciding where to book a performer.
“That would be the biggest,” she said. “Artists are looking to see how many seats they can sell.”
Another important factor for reservations is Owensboro’s population, estimated at just over 59,000 in 2019.
“Some of them, even though we’re offering to pay them exactly what they’re earning elsewhere, and we have the capacity, and the ticket prices are the perfect amount, sometimes they’re like, ‘Owensboro is not not big enough, we’re going to major markets this year,” Alexander said.
It’s been about three years since the city learned that the Sportscenter was a viable concert venue, and plans continue to evolve to book concerts. The next concert scheduled at the venue is a March 19 show by country singers Tracy Lawrence and Clay Walker.
“I think we’re just touching the tip of the iceberg,” Alexander said. “There are promoters out there that we’re starting to get on their radar a little bit, and they’re calling us now instead of us having to kick down the door for them.”
Nathan Havenner, Messenger-Inquirer, [email protected], 270-228-2837