Three weeks after the weekend of five Garth Brooks concerts, the community of Billings is still pumped about the event, and no less so than county and MetraPark administrators and staff, and the Metra Park Advisory Board.
“It was a great coupe for our community and Metra Park,” said President of the Board, Steve Solberg, adding that “overall there is happiness in the community about the concerts.”
Alex Tyson, an ad hoc member of the board representing Visit Billings and TBID, said that while the TBID (Tourism Business Improvement District), knew the event was going to be a success, they had no idea it was going to be as successful as it was. The TBID donated $50,000 to help bring the very popular and very famous county singer to Billings.
Metra Park Manager Bill Dutcher said that they have had nothing but positive comments, with fans and businesses expressing their appreciation. From every quarter the reports have come from businesses about record breaking days, just as there were records broken for Metra Park.
Of the 50,000 fans who attended the five concerts, 60.3 percent of the tickets were purchased by people who had zip codes other than Billings’ core zip codes of 590 or 591, which surely explains the booming business experienced by restaurants, bars, casino, motels, hotels, gas stations, and retailers.
The restaurants were so packed that the concert goers descended on stores like Costco seeking food and refreshments. Dutcher said that he received a call from the unsuspecting manager who said the crowds wiped them out. Some restaurants also reported running out of food.
Two different nights of the concerts had record breaking beer sales. More than 63,000 beers were sold during the five shows, said Ray Massie, Metra Park’s marketing director. Friday night and Saturday night were new records. Saturday broke the George Strait beer record from 1989 with 15,836 beers sold.
Beer sales for all five concerts grossed $700,000. Over $127,000 in food was sold.
Back to back shows tested the resources and resolve of Metra Park staff. But, they rose to the challenge. They moved traffic in and out of the parking lots quickly, and the “flow in and out of the arena” was smooth, said Solberg.
Staff discovered that they could move one crowd out of the arena and another in, cleaning and prepping for the change-over, in just over twenty minutes.
Assistant Manager Sue DeVries reported that their testing of the waters of providing some paid parking was very successful. Much of its success, said Board Member Jeff Muri, was because of the advance and thorough information that Metra Park staff got out to the public.
DeVries said that they expanded paid parking at the request of patrons who wanted some security that they would have parking. It was especially helpful for out-of-town people who wanted some guarantees about what they would encounter or had small groups they were organizing. About 30 or 40 percent involved patrons with some level if disability.
“People appreciated the opportunity to purchase guaranteed parking,” said DeVries.
Solberg said that they are likely to look closely at providing more paid parking in the future.
Muri said that paid parking is a benefit all around, “without offending anybody it will be a good thing. . . We are always going to have free parking but this gives an option.” He noted that most venues do charge for parking. He said “if you go to a Cats or Griz game, all parking is paid, and you still have to walk a mile.”
The paid parking netted Metra Park $33,000 it would not otherwise have had.
Being able to increase opportunities for funding will be important for Metra Park in the future, said County Commissioner John Ostlund. In the past the county has been able to backfill Metra Park, but as the county is dealing with budgets squeezed by major capital needs and needs to provide additional courts, that opportunity no longer exists, he said.
A point of public misunderstanding is that a hugely successful event like Garth Brook’s concerts is not a huge revenue generator for the county-owned facility. Garth Brooks handled all ticket sales. In fact, Metra Park would have lost money on the Garth Brooks event without pockets of auxiliary sales and the subsidized support of the co-promote fund that comes as a percentage of beer sales, and the donation from TBID.
According to Massie, show expenses were $441,000. $236,000 of those costs were covered by Metra Park’s share of ticket revenue, and the balance of $205,000 came from co-promote funds and fees. Among the expenses that Metra Park must cover are things like ambulance services, security, stagehands, cleaning, toilet rental, candle stick cones, electronic sign rental, fire extinguishers, golf carts, phones, generator fuel, and parking expenses.
The only revenue Metra Park will earn comes from their percentage of concession, food and beer sales, final numbers for which were not yet available.
The Capital fund gained $170,000 from ticket sales, which was a welcomed addition to a CIP balance of $441,000.
“We could not have had an event of this magnitude without the help of our partners. Visit Billings, media partners, City of Billings, Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Department, MDT, and the Montana Highway Patrol — all played major roles in helping make this event happen,” said Massie.
Most interestingly – while hosting 50,000 people over a weekend had law enforcement expecting an uptick in crime, there was actually a substantial decline, according Justice of Peace David Carter.