The first major concert held at Greater Nevada Field led to record attendance and a spike in revenue for the Reno Aces. The Grupo Firme concert on Oct. 8 was a financial windfall for the Aces, team president Eric Edelstein told the NNBW. The event led to the most tickets sold, highest ticket revenue, highest food and beverage revenue and largest attendance ever seen at Greater Nevada Field, which opened in 2009. “I don’t know how the promoter we got was able to land them, because they were selling out some big, big (venues),’’ Edelstein said. More than 10,500 tickets were sold for the concert, leading to $1.3 million in revenue, Reno Aces Communications Manager Kevin Bass said in an email to the NNBW. Landing the popular Tijuana, Mexico-based pop group was no easy feat. Past concert appearances this year for Grupo Firme include Madison Square Garden in New York City, the Latin Grammy Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, and a seven-night stint at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The concert was just one part of an overhaul in the business model of the Aces, hastened by a pandemic-canceled baseball season in 2020 and the loss of the popular minor-league soccer team Reno 1868 FC, which ceased operations after just four seasons as a pro franchise. Concerts are likely to become more commonplace at Greater Nevada Field, Edelstein said, although there’s stiff competition among competing venues such as the Nugget Events Center amphitheater in Sparks, Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harvey’s and similar-sized casino venues. Yet, with a 13,000-spectator capacity in an outdoor setting, Greater Nevada Field does have a size boost over competing venues, Edelstein noted.
The lines were long to get into the Grupo Firme concert held Oct. 8 at Greater Nevada Field. The performance led to the largest attendance ever at the downtown Reno ballpark. Photo: Reno Aces
While concerts have long been on the Aces’ wish list, it proved more difficult than expected to land an act. “It’s something we’ve sought for a long time,” Edelstein said. “One of the biggest challenges is having someone go first. We were making offers left and right and taking risks, which is all part of the promotion game, but we were continuing to get beat out. We have a uniquely competitive market for the scale of concerts that our venue can host. “We invested quite a bit in this first show. Not just in doing it right, but in capturing it with drone footage, still photography and videography. We also filmed the load-in of the stage so we could show how an 18-wheeler can get into our stadium. I really believe we have set ourselves up to have more shows and that (Greater Nevada Field) will become a more regular concert venue.” In a follow-up email, Bass said inking the deal for Grupo Firme was the culmination of eight years of “time, talent and energy.” “The Aces invested over $100,000 in putting on this show to a standard we expect and to capture the event fully so we can share with future events,” he said. Baseball is still the primary revenue stream for the organization, Edelstein said, but concerts could add another 20 percent to the bottom line of the baseball business. Attendance dipped this past season to around 4,200 fans per game, with 5,000 per game being the goal, he said — but much of that difference can be made up when group business returns. The 2022 season likely will see increased attendance if mask mandates and other COVID restrictions ease, Edelstein said. “The community responded terrifically this year, and when the world is more open with less restrictions and more confidence, I am really comfortable that we are going to get baseball right back to where it’s been,” he said.
Meanwhile, other financial metrics actually increased in 2021. Per-capita food and team-store spending were at record highs -- food and beverage rose 30 percent from 2019, while team-store spending increased 40 percent. Team officials declined to provide specific financial numbers for the 2021 season. Other smaller special events that helped ease financial pain of the lost 2020 season include the Renown Health Celebrate Amazing employee gala in June for 1,200 people; action sports/motocross spectacle Nitro Circus in August; and the Reno Philharmonic’s celebration of the music of James Bond in August, the latter of which led to the most tickets ever sold for a Reno Phil show, Edelstein said. “We put our energy into fewer events but on a larger scale,” he added. “I’d like to say I have a bunch of sexy new ideas (to generate additional revenue), but the reality is the sexy new idea is doing that six to eight more times. “Grupo Firme is the model. Now we know how to do it. We know how to get the equipment in and protect the field. We know how to service the customers. We need to do it six to eight more times next year.” Despite the lost 2020 season — which led to a 94 percent revenue decline and a roughly 50 percent decrease in staff, from 700 employees to 349 last year — the Aces organization is as strong as it’s ever been, Edelstein said. The front office is hiring to replace many of the lost positions, and ownership remains committed to the team, he added, which is significant considering the Aces are owned by Herb Simon, who also owns the NBA’s Indiana Pacers. Simon Property Group also owns Meadowood Mall. “We are investing in our people to make sure that this is not a stepping stone (job), but a place where you can build a career,” Edelstein said. In addition to current hiring efforts, the Aces on Nov. 4 announced a series of front office promotions, moving four internal candidates to vice presidents as well as a pair of directors, ahead of the 2022 season. The include: Sarah Bliss, vice president of event experience; Max Margulies, vice president of corporate partnerships; Vince Ruffino, vice president of marketing and communications; Alex Strathearn, vice president of ticket sales; Laura Raymond, senior director of ticket services & operations; and Kristina Solis, director of ticket operations. Growing a local workforce The Reno Aces have been hiring to replace front-office staff cut during the pandemic. Some new and future hires are likely to come from the University of Nevada, Reno’s new minor and certificate program in sports management.
The minor began in January, while the certificate program started this fall, said Cary Groth, director of sports management programs for UNR. And starting in fall 2022, there will be an executive MBA program in sports management, Groth added. Credits from the certificate program are transferable into the eMBA program. Groth said the first intro to sports management class maxed out at 39 students even though it wasn’t announced until Thanksgiving 2020, when most students had already gone through spring enrollment. Additional courses include facilities and operations, and legal and risk management. There’s a waiting list for each of those courses headed into the spring 2022 semester, Groth said. “The undergraduate classes have been extremely successful,” she said. Enrollment for the online certificate program was capped at 15 students, and 14 students enrolled this fall. While most students are from Nevada, one is from Tennessee, another is from New Jersey, and one is attending Stanford in Palo Alto. “We are trying to reach out nationally to get a really good mix,” Groth said. We are hoping to get two cohorts next year.” UNR donors committed just under $500,000 in seed money to get the program off the ground, Groth added, and tuition funds are expected to support the program going forward. Classes are taught by former athletic directors, college athletic conference commissioners and notable sports professionals — the Aces’ Edelstein is among the instructors and lecturers. “We have (sports) professionals across the country teaching our students,” Groth said. NNBW Editor Kevin MacMillan contributed to this report.