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Helmut Schmidt, Published June 25 2009

Piano men keep Fargodome finances rockin’

The Elton John and Billy Joel concert in May kept the Fargodome’s finances rockin’ steadily in the black.

The piano men brought in 15,675 paid ticket holders, though with complimentary tickets, 19,750 were hoppin’ and boppin’ to the “Crocodile Rock.” After expenses, the dome posted net income of $87,161 for the event, Fargodome Finance Director Susan Thompson said Wednesday.

That helped the facility post $6,620 in net income for May. That sounds modest, but it was far better than an $89,868 loss originally projected for the normally slow month – a $96,588 swing, the Fargo Dome Authority finance committee learned.

Thanks to concerts by AC/DC, the Eagles, and John and Joel, the dome has cleared $343,141 through the first five months of the year. That’s $52,837 ahead of budget.

That’s despite the loss of three to four weeks of use of the dome during this spring’s flood fight, including the cancellation of a multiday rodeo, Fargodome figures show.

“We continue to have a good year,” said dome General Manager Rob Sobolik.

There were seven events in May, three more than originally scheduled. In all, 53,971 people walked through the doors, nearly 27,000 more than expected in budget estimates.

Total event income in May was $126,270. That was $91,972 more than the $34,298 budgeted.

Not included in the dome’s financial figures are numbers from the recent Kenny Chesney concert, which drew about 14,000 people, or Rib Fest, which attracted about 41,000, Sobolik said.

July, also normally a slow month, will feature a Green Day concert, and Slipknot is scheduled for September, Sobolik said. If all goes as planned, the dome will have filled its six planned concert dates well before the end of the year.

Attendance may be down for Chesney or John and Joel compared to past appearances, but that’s tied to the number of times they’ve appeared in the area (Chesney has been in the region seven years in a row, while EJ/BJ have now appeared three times at the dome), Sobolik said.

Ticket prices may have also reached a tipping point in this recession.

Tickets for Elton John and Billy Joel topped out around $180, while the Eagles asked up to $190 per primo seat, Sobolik said.

“Those are big ticket prices for this market,” he said.

The dome is $56,400 behind where it expected to be for income from family events, Sobolik said. But, a “Sesame Street Live” show canceled in April will play in August, he said.

Theater events have also brought in $18,600 less than budgeted, as fewer theater groups are electing to go on tour, Sobolik said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583