Perennial Family Show ‘Commences’

Graduations add community service, generations of future patrons to venue calendars

  • by Linda Deckard
  • Published: June 7, 2017

June is graduation month for venues across the country and these four grads from Clover Park were part of hordes of students who walked the stage at Tacoma (Wash.) Dome.

With 55,000 people attending 11 high school graduation ceremonies at the new Smart Financial Center, Sugar Land, Texas, last weekend, the 6,400-seat arena added significantly to its exposure in the growing market.

High school and college commencements are bread and butter to most venues, helping to brand a building, build awareness and serve the communities in which they thrive.

Graduate_Every_Child300.jpgThe flags waving from the roof of the dome herald 'Graduate Every Child."

The Tacoma (Wash.) Dome has built that business from four graduations when it opened in 1984, to 22 high school and five college graduations, 27 total, in the month of June, said Kim Bedier, director of facilities for the city of Tacoma. About 90,000 people will trek to the building to celebrate, creating good memories and strong future potential among generations of fans.

At Allen County War Memorial Arena, Ft. Wayne, Ind., 20 commencements (college and high school) take place, 10 of them in June drawing 35,000 people, said Randy Brown, director there.

In mature markets like Tacoma and Ft. Wayne, they have maxed out on what they can do. The general rule of thumb is to keep it simple and keep it moving. For college commencements, Brown will open some concessions stands, but the ceremonies are kept to an hour and, with two arenas under one roof, they will book back-to-back commencements with school officials jumping from one to another. Rental is kept low and parking is minimal.

Bedier said Tacoma also has it down to a science. Several years ago, they introduced a turnkey production system so every school has access to the same sound, light and audio visual equipment and can put on a first-class production while the operations staff does not have to do conversions. The cost is amortized across all the school districts.

Last year, Tacoma added magnetometers and bag checks for commencements. Ft. Wayne has not had to do that yet.

Tacoma also opens its concessions stands, selling quite a bit of water and popcorn, Bedier said. Vendors also bring in leis, which are a graduation tradition and sell very well, she added.


Vendors sell leis to graduates outside the Tacoma Dome, a local tradition.

“Tacoma Dome was built as a huge community project. This keeps us part of the community,” Bedier said. Hundreds of thousands of people have walked the stage at Tacoma Dome since 1984, creating generations of future fans.

Mike McGee, consultant at Smart Financial Center, which is managed by Randy Bloom, said it can be logistically challenging to put so many graduates through a small theater, but it went off like clockwork. They worked with Fort Bend County to book the commencements and to give that school district a more focused identity.

To accommodate the constant turnover – five on Friday and six on Saturday – Smart Financial Center presold all the parking. Schools distributed up to eight tickets per student and they had to have a student ID to get those tickets. They also encouraged the schools to set up shuttle buses and, over the two days, 350 busloads of parents and relatives arrived at Smart Financial Center.

“It’s gone like clockwork,” McGee said. “We had 6,000 here at 8 a.m., 6,000 at 11:30 a.m., 4,200 at 1 p.m., 6,000 and 3 p.m. and will have another 6,000 at 6 p.m.”

sugarland600.jpgThis scene was repeated five or six times a day at Smart Financial Center, Sugar Land, Texas.

Concessions were not opened because there would not be enough time to clean and stock them between events.

Most venue managers look to break even on commencements. The real allure is in the exposure and community service components.

“We’ve been open 16 weeks and have put 225,000 people through the building,” McGee said. “This showcases the building and creates a dynamic for us to get good publicity. We’ve seen good reports on social media.”

  • by Linda Deckard
  • Published: June 7, 2017