University of Oregon stadium events sizzle

University of Oregon stadium events sizzle

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(Clockwise from top left:)Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova, and Roger Federer.
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Elton John (performing here in 2010 in Minsk, Belarus) played at the Knight Arena on February 17.
Love it or hate it, the strange floor at the University of Oregon’s new basketball arena is definitely eye-catching. It is also removable. Once the ball game ends, preparations can begin to ready the facility for everything from bull riding to the Eugene Symphony. The facility has four separate loading docks for bringing in drum sets, monster trucks and whatever else might be required.

It’s a good thing. For all the hype surrounding the debut of the new 12,500-seat Matthew Knight Arena, the men’s basketball team has struggled, and ticket sales have been slower than expected. But the non-Duck events are proving to be a slam dunk.

Not surprisingly, the Elton John concert sold out quickly. Then came the jaw-dropping news that tennis icons Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova would play a series of exhibition matches in March, organized by Nike. That event sold out in less than an hour. Future shows are expected to range from monster truck rallies to Cirque du Soleil.

“It used to be that there wasn’t a facility in Oregon outside of Portland that could house these events,” says Mike Duncan, who was hired to bring in high-profile acts. “We saw an opportunity.”

Prior to moving to Eugene, Duncan worked for 24 years at the Arco Arena in Sacramento, a similar venue in that it fills a gap that was not filled prior. Duncan says the plan is to host 30-50 special events at the arena in the first year and to increase that number over time. “Our schedule is looking good and customer demand is strong,” he says.

Jamie Moffitt, the UO athletic department’s finance chief, says a net profit of about $20,000 per special event can bring about a million dollars per year. “These events are an integral part of our revenue stream,” says Moffitt, noting that they also bring in additional money through concessions, merchandise, parking and sponsorships.

A recent audit praised general contractor Hoffman Construction for finishing the stadium on time and under budget. The project was financed with $200 million in state revenue bonds and boosted by a $100 million gift from Nike founder Phil Knight. The mandate from UO President Richard Lariviere is that the arena must be self-sustaining, receiving no general fund revenues from the university.

BEN JACKLET