By Greg Gulas
The Covelli Centre was opened in 2005 and during those early days of operation, management struggled to develop an identity while hoping to draw top acts and athletic events to the venue.
When executive director Eric Ryan took over the reins of the facility in 2007 — first on an interim basis and later as its full-time director in 2009 — drawing top performers, acts and athletic events has become commonplace.
So has turning over a profit to the city of Youngstown each fiscal year.
While speaking to the Curbstone Coaches at their weekly meeting Monday, Ryan noted that he hopes the arena will play host to more athletic events, stating that the recent men’s basketball game between YSU and Hiram College is just the beginning of trying to attract more college teams to the facility.
“We were working for over two years for an opponent that YSU could play at the Covelli Centre,” Ryan said. “I was absolutely thrilled with the fact that we were able to draw over 2,000 paying customers when they played Hiram on Dec. 8. It was something that we really wanted to do and working with YSU, we had to make sure that we were NCAA compliant so we had to add a three-point line, shot clock and everything else associated with the college game.”
With one college basketball contest now under his belt, Ryan said negotiations have started with several top Division I schools with the hopes of drawing them to the Covelli Centre to meet the Penguins.
“We want this event to grow each and every year and we’re already talking to Ohio State, Notre Dame and Pitt to play YSU at this neutral site, so to speak,” Ryan said. “The main thing is for us to have a yearly sporting event in the winter. We also want to have the YSU women’s basketball team play on our court, as well as an area Division III team so that fans can see multi-games that night.”
The Covelli Centre booked more than 100 events in 2012 with more than 200,000 people in attendance.
Ryan and his JAC Management Group LLC will soon turn over to Youngstown a check in excess of $300,000 as its take for last year’s operational profit, as well as a check for $175,000 for its part of the admissions tax (5.5 percent of every ticket sold goes to the city).
While acts like Elton John, Carrie Underwood, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Disney on Ice continue to attract sell-out crowds, sporting events do attract an audience that Ryan wants to have experience his facility.
“We’ve hosted hockey, pro boxing, arena football, the Harlem Globetrotters and the Gus Macker ‘3-on-3’ Tourney, just to name a few,” Ryan said. “Our upcoming fifth annual high school basketball showcase on Jan. 20-21 has grown from 10 to 20 teams and we will now play those games over a two-day period for the very first time.
“Our high school wrestling showcase in early March, which is held over two weekends, attracted over 25,000 fans and participants last year and in the three years that we have hosted the event, it has had one of the biggest economic impacts on both the city and surrounding area with hotels, restaurants and shopping centers benefitting.”
Ryan is hoping to book more than 100 events this year with the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms playing the first athletic event at the arena in 2013 last weekend, when they hosted Muskegon. The Lariccia See Them Rise High School Basketball Showcase on Jan. 20-21 is the first non-hockey event scheduled.
YSU baseball coach Steve Gillespie will be the Curbstone Coaches’ guest speaker on Monday.