Izod Center, East Rutherford, N.J., during an event.
The industry was buzzing last week with the unexpected news that the New Jersey Sports & Entertainment Authority voted 10-2 to shutter Izod Center, East Rutherford, N.J., by no later than March 31, sooner if possible, moving as many currently-booked events as are willing to Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.
While privatization of Izod Center has been rumored for quite awhile, closure had not been in the forefront until the announcement. Wayne Hasenbalg, NJSEA president and CEO, cited financial losses, saying the arena's losses during the first six months of 2015 will average $709,000 per month.
Unable to recall any precedent for announcing that, in two months, a working arena will close, Jim Minish, Izod Center COO, added: “This is one of those things where you hate to be the first.”
“It's never dull,” added Scott O'Neal, CEO of Prudential Center, of the venue scene in New York/New Jersey, which used to be dominated by Madison Square Garden, New York; Izod Center; and Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y. Then along came Prudential Center in 2007 and Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2012.
The Izod Center staff was informed of the pending closure Wednesday afternoon; a press release was issued last Wednesday evening and the Sports Authority board voted Thursday to close the 34-year-old Izod Center, no later than March 31.
As of Jan. 31, Prudential Center, will be overseeing remaining events at Izod Center. They will try to rebook events at Prudential Center if possible.
In exchange, Prudential Center will pay the state, which owns Izod Center, $2 million over four years, work to promote Atlantic City, and extend its commuity service outreach, donating for example, $1 million in tickets to nonprofits for New Jersey Devils home hockey games.
For Minish, the most daunting task right now is taking care of the staff, who are “really, really good,” he said. Finding somewhere for them to land, dealing with the state pensions and positions, and helping through all human resources avenues available is the priority.
There are 68 full-time salaried staff between the arena and Sports Authority, and another 70-80 trades people — electricians, carpenters and, also, security guards and EMS service. “Out of those 150 people, some are affected by this, some are not,” Minish said. Fire and EMS personnel will still do core services at MetLife Stadium, which is on the 720-acre Meadowlands site, which the state owns and leases.
Some staff will stay on to continue to manage the core services and oversee the state’s interests. “No one is selling the 720 acres,” Minish noted. The site also includes the under-construction American Dream project, being developed by Triple Five, and the Meadowlands Racetrack, which was privatized a few years ago when it was bought by Jeff Gural.
The second immediate concern is relocating events already booked at Izod Center. Through March 31, the state is prepared to keep the doors open at Izod Center, which means some events booked for that period of time may stay. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is apparently still planning their March 18-22 run at Izod Center. Chris Brown and Trey Sonjz are booked for Feb. 21 and Maroon 5 for March 8. Those dates are being discussed.
The biggest potential upset is WWE’s SummerSlam, booked for August. Tickets had not yet gone on sale. Izod Center and Prudential Center staff are working with WWE to relocate the event. No word yet whether it will even stay in New Jersey.
O’Neal noted the market is changing dramatically, including Prudential Center’s plans to open a Devils' training facility in New Jersey. Prudential Center ownership has done everything possible to cooperate with the state and ease the transition, including plans for a job fair to help relocate some of the Izod Center staff. “It’s about what’s best for the fans,” O’Neal said. He is in ongoing conversations with Feld Entertainment, WWE, Live Nation and AEG Live about future and current bookings.
“People weren’t prepared for this,” O’Neal said. “There is understandably some anxiousness.”
For Prudential Center, access to Izod Center’s ticketbuyer database, which spans three decades, is a big plus of the new arrangement. Both venues are Ticketmaster clients.
“This is happening in real time and it’s happening very quickly,” O’Neal said. Everyone has as many questions as answers. “We are a willing participant.”
Prudential Center hosted 170 events in 2014. O’Neal did not know how many to expect in 2015 given the new landscape. And he, too, has no idea what to expect in two years when Izod Center may reopen, repurposed and renovated. There has been some talk of it becoming a resident venue with a tenant like Cirque du Soleil, he said. He does not foresee another Inglewood (Calif.) Forum scenario, where Madison Square Garden repurposed the old basketball arena as a music venue, foregoing sports.
Izod Center is located in the middle of Triple Five’s American Dream mall and amusement/waterpark development which is projected to draw 40 million in attendance. He cannot imagine 20,000 attending an arena event in the middle of that entertainment business. “It doesn’t fit the mold,” he said.
At Izod Center, the staff knew there were ongoing discussions about privatizing the arena, so it’s not a total shock they are out of a state job, but this path was not on the map heretofore.
“Basically, the plan was to privatize everything on the complex,” Minish said. “When we owned and operated Giants Stadium, Meadowlands Racetrack and Izod Center, there were three linchpins of the complex. Then the teams built MetLife Stadium and formed their own management company. Jeff Gural built a new racetrack grandstand which was privately operated. The state really wanted to get out of management and operation of facilities and become a landlord and service what we had to service. Over the last two years, the state has been looking to do that with the Izod Center.”
The only definite for Izod Center, at this point, is that it is closed from March 31 through December of 2016.
As to the financial status, Minish said it’s a matter of accounting, but that Izod Center was losing money, some of which was offset by operating income and some by assigning state income from the leaseholds that NJSEA oversaw. “When you strip that away or offer that to a third party, whether it’s Triple Five or Prudential Center or Barclays, they would not participate in that money because that’s really ground lease money. When you start to strip away some of that revenue, the bottom line of the arena starts to not look so favorable.”
Izod Center was on line to host 93-94 events in 2015, insufficient for a building of its size.
“Our family show partners are our real franchise, especially Feld Entertainment,” Minish said. Competition from the new arenas had not impacted attendance. In fact, Disney on Ice Frozen posted top numbers at Izod Center, he said.
In 1981, Bruce Springsteen opened Izod Center for six nights. The next event was Disney on Ice.
“It’s an older building, but really, really well maintained,” Minish said. “We love our building, love our staff and are amazed it’s a 33-going-on-34-year-old building. Our operations staff takes a lot of pride in the building.
“Every building will say the same thing, but I’d put our team up against anybody. We’re as good as anybody,” Minish said.
If he had his wish, there’d at least be a closing show. Bruce Springsteen closed Giants Stadium with his Wrecking Ball tour. There’s no wrecking ball in this scenario, but then there’s no final show either.
“You never know what will pop out on this story in the next month or two,” Minish conjectured.
Interviewed for this story: Jim Minish, (201) 460-4203; Scott O’Neal, (973) 757-6000