WesBanco Arena operating at $104K loss

WHEELING – WesBanco Arena operated at a $104,000 loss through the first nine months of the fiscal year, relying on hotel/motel tax funding to keep it out of the red, according to Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority financial statements.

Through the end of March, expenses at the downtown Wheeling venue totaled about $1,320,000 while operating revenue was just $1,216,000. The arena is technically operating in the black, however, thanks to $204,000 in revenue from the 6 percent bed tax paid by guests in Ohio County’s hotels.

The authority’s income statement also details finances for the Capitol Theatre, which is close to break-even from an operating standpoint. The theater had taken in $541,270 as of March 31, while spending $545,283 but receiving $60,000 in hotel/motel tax funding.

Attendance has been disappointing at Wheeling Nailers games this season, despite the team’s playoff run. For the Nailers’ first four home postseason games, paid attendance has averaged 2,161 – down about 100 per game from the regular season average of 2,252, which was the lowest in the ECHL.

According to Arena Manager Dennis Magruder – who also serves as the executive director of the sports and entertainment authority – that figure represents the number of tickets issued, including season tickets and those distributed to sponsors. Magruder estimates that fewer than 2,200 people came through the gates during the two games this past weekend combined – about 1,300 on Saturday and just 850 on Sunday.

With combined official attendance of 4,250 for those two games, that means more than 2,000 people had a ticket for one of the games but didn’t show up.

“If they’re not here, you can’t sell them anything. That’s definitely a concern,” Magruder said.

The playoffs tend to be challenging, Magruder said, because the schedule often isn’t known more than a few days in advance. But even taking that into consideration, the numbers are troubling.

“I would have thought we’d have some bigger crowds over the weekend,” he said.

The arena lost about $92,000 in January, but things have improved over the past couple of months, as the venue showed profits of $22,000 in February and $100,000 in March – a month that saw a number of popular events including the annual Toughman contest, a professional bull riding event and monster truck show.

Despite the recent turnaround, cash flow remains a concern. Magruder said the arena, and the entertainment industry as a whole, is continuing to feel ill effects from the recent economic downturn.

“Let’s look around us and be realists. … We don’t have as much discretionary income, and that’s had an impact,” Magruder said.

Without the hotel/motel tax funding, “we’d be in trouble, there’s no question about it,” Magruder said. “But if you look across the country at arenas and convention centers, the reason most of those are owned by the public is that a lot of them wouldn’t be there if it was private business that had to run the arena.”

Magruder said arena management does what it can to keep expenses down. The majority of the staff is part time, he said, while sending workers home early and opting not to open some concession stands on particularly slow nights also helps to keep costs under control.

“You cut basically everything you can. We’re in the service industry, so you need people,” he said.