Hosting the Super Bowl in your back yard may be a headache, but you won't hear the folks at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa asking for Advil.
According to the wonks at industry magazine Venues Today, the St. Pete Times Forum ranked No. 1 in the world for gross ticket sales in the first part of 2009 — or right around the time the Steelers and Cardinals set up shop across town at Raymond James Stadium.
From mid January to mid February, the venue's total gross ticket sales were an eye-popping $6,066,842. That topped the No. 2 venue in the world, Acer Arena in Sydney, Australia, by almost $700,000.
The Times Forum's gaudy figures — for venues of 15,001 or more seats — are based on concerts and events; ticket sales for the Tampa Bay Lightning are not included in the tally. But who needs pucks when you have more than 50,000 out-of-town football fans hungry for nighttime entertainment?
Canadian chest thumper Celine Dion, Jurassic rockers the Eagles and spazzy comedian Dane Cook were all part of the "Super Week," gigs that led up to Super Bowl XLIII. Attendance for those shows plus three others — the Professional Bull Riding tour, Dancing With the Stars and Motorcycles on Ice (!) — was a combined 70,050. That's a lot of people in the seats, which number up to 21,500 for concerts and other main stage events.
"This is a rock 'n' roll market," says Elmer Straub, the Times Forum's vice president of event booking. But more than that, he says his venue benefits from (1) "the ability to sell tickets" (2) "the service you get when you come to the forum" and (3) "the relationships on the marketing side with promoters and agents. We really work on that."
The Times Forum was built in 1996, but in a short amount of time, it has managed to grow a reliable reputation in a very competitive concert market.
You want more bragging rights? For the second year in a row, Venues Today in 2008 named the Times Forum the top-grossing arena in Florida. The venue last year grossed $31,827,919 for 80 shows and 462,040 people.
Florida is a tricky state for touring; it costs extra to come down here, so acts want to maximize their stay. The Times Forum is situated in a central part of the state, plus the bay area has a reputation for its loyal concertgoers, especially classic-rock nuts. It also doesn't hurt to have pretty beaches.
In 2008, the industry mag Pollstar ranked the Times Forum as the second-busiest venue in the country and the 11th-busiest in the world. And this year should be another whopper. In March alone, the venue had two shows — a double-bill of Elton John and Billy Joel plus a naughty night with Britney Spears — that drew more than 20,000 people each night. Plus the rest of 2009 includes such acts as Yanni, Fleetwood Mac, Disney on Ice and a multiperformance stay by ticket movers Cirque du Soleil.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.