Bookings down at LJVM since sale to Wake Forest

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by Jordan Green

Bookings at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum have dropped precipitously since Wake Forest University took ownership and Greensboro Coliseum assumed responsibility for booking, but an official with Wake Forest said the schedule should expand now that the transition is complete.

When Wake Forest University announced in October 2013 that the Greensboro Coliseum would take over booking at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, it represented another step in the economic and cultural integration of the Triad.

Similarly, Triad Stage in Greensboro and Hanesbrands Theatre in Winston-Salem initiated a similar partnership around the same time.

The venture between Wake Forest University and Greensboro Coliseum came on the heels of the city of Winston-Salem’s divestment of the coliseum, which memorializes a Vietnam veteran who was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in battle. The coliseum is a source of significant civic pride in Winston-Salem. A vote by city council to sell the coliseum to Wake Forest University was motivated in large part by a desire to retire debt so that the city could afford a bond referendum to finance street resurfacing, new sidewalks and improvements to parks. Councilman Robert Clark called the coliseum “functionally obsolete” at the time of the vote.

Meanwhile, the Greensboro Coliseum Complex has expanded dramatically, with the addition of an aquatic center, ACC Hall of Fame and amphitheater in the past decade. A regional sports and entertainment facility, the Greensboro Coliseum Complex has emerged as a major economic driver for the city of Greensboro by stimulating hotel and restaurant revenues.

The announcement that the Greensboro Coliseum would take over responsibility for booking Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, or LJVM, raised questions about whether the Winston-Salem facility would continue to decline as a player in the regional entertainment industry.

In fact, non-basketball events at LJVM dropped from 26 during a 10-month period before Greensboro took over booking to 16 during a comparable period after the change. The number of concerts dropped from seven to two, not counting a canceled Fantasia show in October 2012. Only two concerts, both holiday affairs with symphony orchestras in December, carried over. Examples of the types of concerts that were dropped after the city relinquished control of the coliseum include pop superstar Elton John, rapper Mos Def, country artist John Michael Montgomery and classic R&B group the Spinners.

Three events previously booked at LJVM — the Bill Gaither gospel concert, the Acquire the Fire teen Christian extravaganza and the Scooby-Doo Live! production — transferred to venues in the Greensboro Coliseum Complex after the changeover.

Corey Jenkins, an assistant athletic director for Wake Forest University, acknowledged the drop in bookings. He said the fall-off in the first year since the university took ownership of the coliseum reflects circumstances of the transition, not long-term trends.

“Some of the challenge with booking is it’s done so far in advance,” he explained. “As rumors of the city’s sale of the coliseum circulated, it made it more difficult for them to book events. When they made the decision to sell, it no longer made sense for them to book events. And this past year we were a little restricted in terms of dates because of construction. We were closed down for a couple months.”

One of Wake Forest University’s priorities with the coliseum is to provide a venue for men’s and women’s basketball games, Jenkins said, adding that the number of dates blocked out for basketball hasn’t changed.

“Our other priority is events that bring the public into the coliseum,” he said. “When we purchased the coliseum, we made a commitment to book and have events in the building that would go beyond Wake Forest basketball.

Jenkins acknowledged that revenue from events that generate high ticket sales is important for the university to defray its cost and retire debt, but said the “driving purpose” of the coliseum’s outside bookings is to engage the community. Now that construction is complete, he predicted that bookings would recover.

“Greensboro is working very hard to do that, and we’re starting to see the benefits now,” he said.

Andrew Brown, a spokesman for the Greensboro Coliseum, said it would be “premature” to quantify a target number “although our objective is to exceed previous booking levels in the long run.”

Going into the second year with Wake Forest University as owner and Greensboro Coliseum as booking agent, the ’70s soul group Maze featuring Frankie Beverly is scheduled to perform for Winston-Salem State University’s homecoming in October, and the symphonic classic-rock group Mannheim Steamroller is booked for a Christmas show in December. The two bookings represent a net increase in concerts for LJVM.

“That’s proof right there that we’re starting to see the pickup that we all want,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said he couldn’t say whether Bill Gaither, Acquire the Fire and Scooby Doo Live! will return to LJVM.

“I wouldn’t comment specifically on those events because there’s a lot that goes into play as to where those events go,” he said. “Some of those events bounced between Greensboro and Winston-Salem before the ownership change.”

Brown said that Acquire the Fire was booked in Winston-Salem because of a scheduling conflict with George Strait in Greensboro that year.

“Ultimately, the artist and promoter select where their event will play,” he wrote in an email response to questions submitted by Triad City Beat. “Gaither has moved around in recent years and we certainly see him rotating venues again.”

Jenkins said there are events that were previously booked in Greensboro he expects to be scheduled at LJVM in the future, while declining to offer specifics.

Brown said Greensboro Coliseum holds no conflict of interest between its fiduciary duty to the city of Greensboro to maximize revenue and its responsibility to Wake Forest University as a client.

Jenkins underscored a point that the partners have made since the beginning: The partnership provides synergy.

“It’s a give and take,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with scheduling. If someone calls with an event and they don’t have any available dates at their venues, they’re not just hanging up the phone. They can say, ‘We’ve got another great facility 30 miles down the road and serves the area.’ It gives Greensboro additional buying power.”