Sears Centre building business with mix of Christian and ethnic music, lingerie and indoor football, commencements and zombies
By Mike Danahey email@example.com @DanaheyECN on Twitter October 18, 2013 7:16PM
The Sears Centre Arena near I-90 and Route 59 in Hoffman Estates. | Submitted
CarnEvil haunted attractions weekends through Oct. 31
Florida Georgia Line Oct. 31
Solid Gold Cheer Nov. 2
Jaripeo de Oro Nov. 10
TobyMac Nov. 23
IRCA Cheerleading and Dance State Championships Dec. 6 - 8
XFO Mixed Martial Arts Dec. 13
IHSA Winter Meltdown cheerleading event Jan. 4
Professional Championship Bullriders Jan. 31, Feb. 1
Updated: November 21, 2013 6:14AM
HOFFMAN ESTATES — From contemporary Christian music to a Halloween season event called CarnEvil, the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates is finding unique niches to draw entertainment-seekers to the seven-year-old venue.
Management says it has been working hard to get the varied fare that also ranges from arena football games to Indian music concerts to area high school graduation ceremonies.
The Christian music acts consistently have been bringing big crowds to the arena located near I-90 between Beverly Road and Route 59.
“Booking (Christian music shows) happened organically,” Sears Centre general manager Ben Gibbs said. “A couple promoters did better than they expected. We nurtured the relationship, and it’s become self-propelling.”
Gibbs said the first such show happened in March 2009 and featured Chris Tomlin with Israel Houghton & New Breed. Including that concert, since then there have been 10 contemporary Christian bills presented at Sears Centre, with four of those in the last 12 months, Gibbs said.
Those include the Christmas songs and biblical tales of “The Story” last December; the multi-act Winter Jam in February; U2-like Australians Hillsong United headlining in June; and Grammy-winner TobyMac bringing other artists along to the arena Nov. 23 with his Hits Deep Tour.
These shows have drawn well, and some have pretty much sold out the Centre, Gibbs said. The arena holds 10,000-11,800 fans when set up for concerts of this sort.
In the same vein, the Centre also has been home to conferences for teens put on by Dare 2 Share, a Colorado-based evangelical Christian organization. And televangelist Benny Hinn worked the room in 2010.
What helps Sears Centre draw for such offerings, Gibbs said, is that there appears to be a built-in market with megachurch Willow Creek in South Barrington close by and Life Changers less than a mile away. Such congregations hold services and holiday spectacles that feature contemporary Christian music and frequently host concerts themselves.
Christian acts tend to have much lower ticket prices than pop acts. For example, tickets for the upcoming TobyMac concert run $31 and $41, and for the Winter Jam show admission was just $10.
Another challenge for booking Christian acts is that many won’t allow the sale of alcohol at their shows and, if it is sold, fans tend not to drink — or to not buy as many concessions as those who attend other sorts of events, according to Gibbs.
“It’s not inexpensive to rent an arena, but we hustle to find deals that make sense for both parties,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs said the venue also has been working to woo ethnic acts — particularly Hispanic and Indian ones. To that end, Ramon Ayala y Sus Bravos del Norte, Los Reileros del Norte, and La Chacaloza are at the Centre on Nov. 10. There have been several Indian music acts to play there, too, including Celebrating 100 Years of Bollywood this past July, and in 2010 A.R. Rahman, who scored Oscar-winner “Slumdog Millionaire.”
“We’re eager to grow such business as a partnership,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs is employed by Global Spectrum, the arena management firm owned by Philadelphia-based Comcast Spectrum contracted in 2010 to run Sears Centre after the Village of Hoffman Estates took over the operation from Ryan Companies in late 2009.
Hoffman Estates Assistant Village Manager Mark Koplin said the town initially entered into a 3-year agreement with Global Spectrum, which it renewed last fall for another three years and which includes the village’s option to extend for two further years. That agreement pays the company an initial base of $11,000 per month. It is tied to the Consumer Price Index, Koplin said, so currently that amount is about $137,000 annually.
The firm also gets bonuses based on a complicated formula for meeting or exceeding financial expectations. Koplin said that in general terms the revenues from the Sears Centre while under Global Spectrum’s management have covered expenses or made a slight profit.
“Overall, they do a good job creating events and in finding a niche,” Koplin said.
Big name acts
Located near where another music venue — the outdoor Poplar Creek Music Theatre — had operated from 1980 to 1994, the Sears Centre opened in late October 2006. That first weekend featured concerts by Duran Duran, Bob Dylan with Kings of Leon opening, and Lionel Richie. Other big acts that have played the Centre include Elton John, Rod Stewart, the Eagles, Taylor Swift, Cirque du Soleil and geek science project masters Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman from TV’s “Mythbusters.”
The upcoming concert on Oct. 31 from country act Florida Georgia Line sold out in about five minutes. Face value for tickets to that show run $24.75 to $39.75. By comparison, those for The Eagles Oct. 19 at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont ran $49 to $189. Parking at both venues is the same at $20.
Unusual offerings have included a night in 2008 featuring Christmas music played by the Elgin Symphony while circus acrobats and professional skaters performed, Aretha Franklin singing while Olympians skated in 2011, an evening in 2010 with right wing radio and TV talker Glenn Beck and “X Factor” auditions in 2011.
Sears Centre also hosts an assortment of area high school graduations, including those from Elgin School District U46. Carpentersville-based District 300 and Huntley District 158.
The arena, located just off Beverly Road near the eastern edges of Elgin and East Dundee, has had mixed success as an arena for sports franchises of all sorts. Currently calling Sears Centre home are the Chicago Bliss — which won the women’s Legends Football League championship in Las Vegas on Sept. 1 — and the Chicago Slaughter of the Indoor Football League.
Sears Centre also has presented its share of pro wrestling, bull riding, monster trucks, kickboxing and mixed martial arts. The arena has hosted college basketball and hockey invitationals, gymnastics competitions, and the Big 10 Women’s Basketball Tournament in March.
The arena is set to hold that last event at least two more times. This year, teams stayed throughout the area, including at hotels in Elgin, Elk Grove Village, Schaumburg, Arlington Heights and Hoffman Estates. At least 600 rooms were used by the schools, with another 1,000 at inns throughout the region booked for fans, boosters and families.
Discounted tickets were made available to locals and vouchers offered to local schools for tournament games, and an anti-bullying rally was held in conjunction with the event.
Cheers to zombies
On Nov. 2, the arena will host a Solid Gold Cheer, a cheerleading and dance competition to be followed in December by the Illinois Recreational Cheerleading Association’s Sixth Annual Cheerleading & Dance State Championship.
The arena hosts outdoor events, too, with the annual Northwest Fourth Fest — which is funded in part by Elgin, Hanover Park, Hanover Township and Streamwood, along with Hoffman Estates — held on its grounds the past two years in July.
The new CarnEvil includes a voodoo cemetery, a scary carny town, a satanic doll factory, midway of the damned, and from Oct. 24 to 27, the indoor ice rink “comes with ghoulish goaltenders, rotting referees, barely alive fans and, of course, a Zomboni.” Tickets run $35.
“We’re hoping to grab a piece of the expanding Halloween business. If all goes well, then we will grow this as an annual event,” Gibbs said.