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Posted: March 01, 2009

Sports biz: Broomfield’s dream deferred

Will Broomfield will have a new management group for the Event Center by summer?

Stewart Schley

“If you build it, people will come,” went the storied line from the movie “Field of Dreams.” The theory worked wonders for a fictional Iowa farmer. But it hasn’t come true in Broomfield, where a sporting-event arena conceived as part of an economic growth agenda has become a symbol of overextension.

Hey, brother, can you spare a rescue plan?

With its professional teams failing to fill the building and losses mounting, the Broomfield Event Center is on the ropes. Developer Tim Wiens, who envisioned the building as a feature of Arista, a Broomfield residential development, wants out. Saying his “resources are limited,” Wiens wrote a letter in January to the city and county of Broomfield indicating he can no longer run the place and will instead focus on his nearby real estate development. The city and county now are looking for a successor to take over management of the 6,000-seat building, where the Colorado 14ers professional basketball team has recently played to crowds of fewer than 700 fans.

Feel free to move down close, people.

It gets slightly better on the hockey end of things, where the Rocky Mountain Rage drew around 1,700 fans per game in December, according to a Rocky Mountain News report. But the cash flow drain has been serious enough that Wiens was unable to make a recent $43,000 insurance payment on the building. According to documents reported by the Rocky (geez, we’ll miss those guys) the arena generated $2.5 million in revenue for its latest fiscal year, while expenses amounted to $4.9 million.

The deficit may have meant little in the go-go years before the recession, when financing was in fine supply. But a dried-up debt market and a souring outlook for recreation and entertainment spending means somebody with deep pockets and a willingness to tolerate losses must now step up. Broomfield, which raised $60 million through a special urban-renewal authority to build the Event Center, hopes to find a successor to Wiens by June, and has enlisted former Kroenke Sports Enterprises executive VP David Ehrlich to recruit a new manager for the building and its teams. Ehrlich, who put together a partnership between Kroenke Sports and Clear Channel Communications to operate the Universal Lending Pavilion amphitheater in Denver, knows how to work with large, experienced event managers, which is probably what Broomfield’s homegrown building needs.

The bigger story has to do with faith and risk. In Broomfield, Wiens and partner John Frew thought they had the makings of a formula that seemed to work well for sports owners like Stan Kroenke in the big city: Build a facility, populate it with teams you own, sprinkle in concerts and shows, and watch it sprout. In 2005, there was an overriding assumption that spectator sports possessed some sort of immutable grip on the populace. Wiens and Frew reckoned that fans would see a certain homespun charm in the Colorado 14ers, a new entry to the “D League,” the National Basketball Association offshoot that gives wanna-be NBA stars a chance to rise.

And it was possible to conceive that even though the Colorado Avalanche was selling out the Pepsi Center, a Central Hockey League team could attract fans if the ticket prices and concessions were priced right. Wiens and Frew weren’t alone: On the drawing board around the time were plans to start up two pro baseball teams, one in Arvada and one in Aurora, plus a Denver-area entrant in an emerging women’s professional softball league.

But what seemed appealing on paper has soured in real life. The economic mess has sapped discretionary spending, for one thing. And unlike the relatively popular Colorado Eagles team in Loveland, the Rage plays awfully close to Denver, where a plethora of sports options beckon fans. By early summer, it’s possible Broomfield will have a new management group for the Event Center, which stands proudly astride U.S. 36. But whoever takes over the building will need to adopt a fresher approach to operations and marketing than banking on the premise that if the building gets built, people will come. That was just a line from a movie.

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Stewart Schley writes about sports, media and technology from Denver. Read this and Schley’s past columns on the Web at cobizmag.com and email him at stewart@stewartschley.com

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