OVG Facilities has won the management contract for Webster Bank Arena in Connecticut. (Courtesy New York Islanders)

NHL team wants to book more concerts at American Hockey League facility

The New York Islanders have signed Oak View Group Facilities to take over management of Webster Bank Arena, home of the American Hockey League’s Bridgeport (Conn.) Sound Tigers, the NHL team’s top affiliate.

The multiyear deal, which takes effect Feb. 28, runs through Harbor Yard Sports & Entertainment, the Islanders subsidiary that leases the arena from the city of Bridgeport. The Islanders have operated the facility since taking over for Centerplate in 2011. Centerplate remains in place as the arena’s concessionaire.

Matt Herpich becomes Webster Bank Arena’s general manager.

OVG Facilities hired Matt Herpich as general manager for the 10,000-seat arena, whose tenants include Fairfield University’s men’s basketball team and Sacred Heart University’s men’s hockey team. Herpich comes from SeatGeek Stadium, home of Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire. Over the course of his 12-year career, Herpich has also managed arenas in Cleveland; Portland, Maine; and Aiken, S.C.

The deal between the Islanders and OVG Facilities, parent firm of VenuesNow and Pollstar, is an extension of their partnership to build a new NHL arena at Belmont Park. Development firms headed by Islanders owner Scott Malkin and the Wilpon family, owner of the New York Mets, are also partners in the $1 billion project.

In Bridgeport, other connections led to the OVG deal. Travis Williams, whom the Islanders hired in October as president of business operations, held a similar role with the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena when he hired AEG Facilities to take over operations of that facility in 2012. At the time, Tim Leiweke, OVG’s co-founder and CEO, was the head of AEG.

Williams served as the Penguins’ point man for arena development in Pittsburgh, which led to relationships with OVG executives Peter Luukko and Hank Abate, from their days working for Comcast Spectacor and SMG, respectively. SMG ran what was then called Consol Energy Center when it opened in 2010, and Luukko competed for facility management in Pittsburgh when the account was up for bid two years later.

In Bridgeport, things come full circle as the Islanders rebuild their organizational profile.

“It was a natural fit as we continue to build the business in Bridgeport,” Williams said. “We identified a need to increase the number of concerts and other shows to come through the building. We’ve been looking for a partner to do that and also elevate operations in general.”

Apart from Webster Bank Arena, there’s an opportunity to do business next door with developers of a $15 million amphitheater under construction, according to Luukko. Live Nation is a partner with a local businessman Howard Saffan in the 6,000-seat outdoor concert venue, set to open this summer on the site of an old minor league ballpark.

Bridgeport sits about halfway between Hartford and New York, and the market has been underserved for concerts, Luukko said. The situation could change over the next few years. Jim Koplik, president of Live Nation Connecticut and Upstate New York, promoted shows at arenas run by Luukko and Abate dating to the early 1980s.

“We can work together (with Live Nation) to bring more events to town,” Luukko said. “Our plan is to grow that part of the business.”

That’s part of the intrigue between the arena and the amphitheater, Williams said.

“We can leverage both facilities at the same time. The city hopes it becomes an entertainment district. Quite honestly, we haven’t had the firepower we need. This agreement puts us at the forefront of the entertainment industry for that corridor.”

Webster Bank Arena marks OVG Facilities’ 22nd management account. The arena opened in October 2001 at a cost of about $56 million.