Photo by Courtesy Texas Stars
Stars fans fill seats among best in league; Toros attendance also up since moving
Cedar Park Center officials can point to many indicators of success as the arena celebrates its third anniversary in September.
The suburban Austin arena has been anchored by the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League since opening in 2009. Also, the Austin Toros—2011–12 NBA Development League champions—relocated in 2010 from the Austin Convention Center.
The venue has also attracted many top concerts and events, including various country music and classic rock acts as well as popular national tours from Cirque du Soleil to Disney On Ice.
The total number of events has climbed steadily each year, from approximately 100 in 2009 to more than 130 scheduled events this year.
“Despite the fact we were reasonably sure the building would be successful, it’s still very gratifying to look back three years later and say, ‘Yes, it is,’” Cedar Park Mayor Matt Powell said.
The increasing number of events is just one way Powell said the city measures success for the young arena.
Fans in the stands
The Texas Stars, affiliate for the NHL’s Dallas Stars, filled the Cedar Park Center at one of the highest rates in the American Hockey League last season despite having the league’s second-worst record. The 2012–13 hockey season kicks off in October.
The 6,800-person arena on average was 80.44 percent full during the 2011–12 season, making the CPC the third-fullest United States arena in the AHL. Only the Hershey, Pa.—94.02 percent—and Syracuse, N.Y.—84.65 percent—arenas had higher attendance averages.
Many of those fans—35 percent—come from outside Williamson County, CPC General Manager Rick McLaughlin said. By drawing fans from throughout Central Texas, he said the team in three years already ranks among the top five AHL teams in overall revenue—although league officials could not confirm that figure.
“I’m told the Cedar Park Center is among the nicest [arenas] in the AHL,” said McLaughlin, who also serves as Texas Stars president. “It’s also one of the newest venues in an old league.”
The Toros organization relocated in 2010 from the Austin Convention Center, resulting in an immediate 43 percent increase in attendance the first year at the Cedar Park Center, Chief Operating Officer Peter Lubell said. The team again experienced steady growth last season, he said, averaging 2,800 fans per game in a 4,680-seat arrangement.
The fast-growing suburban setting makes for an ideal home for the young basketball organization, which serves as the feeder team for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.
“We still see upward opportunities because a number of people have not yet been to the Cedar Park Center,” he said. “They might not know the Toros play there, so there’s more opportunity to build the brand in Williamson County.”
Overcoming the offseason
Throughout the Stars’ and Toros’ seasons, the arena also regularly hosts the Austin Shrine Circus, Cirque du Soleil and Disney On Ice, among other events and concerts.
But arena officials are also starting to book more events during the off-peak season, McLaughlin said, including conferences, school graduations, the Cedar Park Rodeo and the Monster Jam truck series. Def Leppard and Poison will perform at the arena Sept. 4.
“People don’t look at us just as a new venue,” McLaughlin said. “Our numbers speak for us. If we were just this shiny new building where no one came, people wouldn’t want to book here.”
The Cedar Park Center benefits from being versatile, he said, making it an ideal venue to host events for 4,000–6,000 people—as opposed to The University of Texas’ Frank Erwin Center, which is better equipped to handle attractions that draw more than 10,000 people.
“Most groups would rather go with us than have 7,000 empty seats behind them,” McLaughlin said.
The lack of ballrooms and breakout rooms has been the biggest deterrent to drawing more large-scale conferences, he said, making it essential to build a nearby complementary hotel and conference center.
A full-service hotel and conference center is on the city’s short wish list for future development, Powell said. Such an amenity could help put Cedar Park in position to one day host the AHL all-star game, he said.
While there is no timetable on building such a facility, Powell said investors have expressed considerably more interest in building in Cedar Park since the arena opened.
“I think they look at the Cedar Park Center and say this city has a record of success with projects like this,” he said. “At the same time, we’re not going to rest on our success, either.”
Build it, and the rest will come
Cedar Park Center’s overall success helps stimulate development in surrounding areas, said Jason Chaimovitch, AHL vice president of communications.
While most of the league’s franchises are based in established professional sports markets, Cedar Park is not the first example of a suburban city to successfully host an AHL team. Wilkes-Barre, Pa., never hosted a pro team before 1999 when the city built the Mohegan Sun Arena, home of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
“It was in the middle of nowhere 13 years ago,” Chaimovitch said. “Now, there’s shops around, and it’s a big part of what the town has become.”
Cedar Park has seen simultaneous growth surrounding the arena, particularly with the emergence of the nearby 1890 Ranch shopping center and the opening of Toll 183A. The area is an ideal setting for the AHL, which promotes itself as inexpensive, family-friendly entertainment, Chaimovitch said.
Potential new businesses recognize the wide age range of customers attending these hockey games, making the area more attractive for potential new development, said Jeremy Jordan, director of Temple University’s Sports Industry Research Center.
“Not only does it create a sense of community pride, but it definitely promotes the brand of the community when you can say you host these types of events,” Jordan said.
Commercial development is expected to continually increase around the arena, Powell said, ideally attracting more night-time visitors. The city even envisions an entertainment district near the CPC at some point, he said.
“Obviously, that prospect is very exciting, but at the same time, we have to respect the economic and market forces at work,” Powell said. “We’re not going to do it when the timing isn’t right. When the time is right, it will fall into place.”