Two new Connecticut arenas near New Haven and a national economic downturn stand to threaten the New Haven Coliseum, but so far the Coliseum is holding its own.
Bridgeport’s $52 million Arena at Harbor Yard opened in October and the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville followed earlier this month, offering both performers and the public alternative entertainment venues. But despite the competition, the Coliseum continues to attract shows and meet attendance goals.
“Those arenas really haven’t negatively affected us yet,” said Jessica Sousa, the Coliseum’s ticket sales manager. “Some events are going to play either here or elsewhere, but we get events that they don’t get.”
Shows unique to New Haven include Sesame Street Live, which visited New Haven in September, and an exhibition women’s ice hockey game between the United States and Sweden scheduled for Dec. 15.
Disney On Ice and Target Stars on Ice are scheduled for the Arena at Harbor Yard, and the Mohegan Sun Arena plans to host championship boxing and an indoor tennis match between Monica Seles and Martina Navratilova.
Sousa said some shows, such as the World Wrestling Federation and the Harlem Globetrotters, will continue appearing in New Haven and may add additional tour dates at the new arenas.
It may still be too early to determine the full effects of the new facilities on the Coliseum.
“It’s almost as if we have a 26 mile marathon and we’ve just finished the first mile,” said Lisa Audi, the Coliseum’s general manager. “So far, we’re still in the race.”
Audi said Coliseum ticket sales are down slightly this year but attributed the decrease to the nation’s troubled economy.
“There is a nationwide trend of lower attendances,” Audi said. “To pinpoint it to the new arenas would be inaccurate.”
Both new arenas have capacities of 10,000, slightly below the 11,171 seats in the Coliseum, officially known as the Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum. Because all the arenas have their own advantageous elements, all could prove successful.
“It’s just a matter of each building finding its niche,” Sousa said.
The Arena at Harbor Yard benefits from having just 26 rows from the floor to the top of the seating deck, whereas the Coliseum has 43, distancing many fans from the action. The Mohegan Sun Arena has plenty of parking, a concern at both the Bridgeport and New Haven complexes.
The city owns the Coliseum and is responsible for the facility’s $1 million annual operational budget, funded through ticket surcharges and the city’s hotel tax, said Henry Fernandez, New Haven’s economic development administrator. Philadelphia-based SMG, a private administration company, has managed the Coliseum for the city since 1999 and has attracted new groups to the Elm City, such as the New Haven Ninjas, an expansion team for the arenafootball2 league. The Mohegan Sun Arena also will host an arenafootball2 league expansion team.
Audi said SMG also was instrumental in placing New Haven on rapper Snoop Dogg’s current tour, which stopped in the Elm City on Oct. 6.
The strength of the New Haven market lies in the large collegiate population, Audi said.
Many Yale students attend Coliseum events, including Yale athletic contests. Yale’s men’s ice hockey team has three games scheduled at the Coliseum this season, with the first two drawing an average of 4,224 fans. Comparatively, Yale’s Ingalls Rink, where the team normally plays, seats only 3,486.
“We’re doing very well with Yale hockey,” Audi said.
A $5 million improvement project of the Coliseum recently upgraded the facility’s bathrooms and concession stands. SMG contributed $500,000 to the renovations.
The Coliseum will likely require additional renovations to compete with the new facilities.
“There’s no question that when the state pumps tens of millions of dollars into other facilities, other arenas will be at risk,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez said he does not expect any state funding in the near future.
State funds paid for 67 percent of the Bridgeport facility while private funding built the Mohegan Sun Arena. New Haven relied on $23 million in municipal bonds to fund the Coliseum’s construction in 1973 and continues to pay off the bonds.