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Batman show loses $220,000 for center

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

RIO RANCHO — It had glitz, glamor, name recognition and the heaviest advertising budget in the current management company’s history at the Santa Ana Star Center — and it bombed.

Batman Live’s eight-performance run at the Rio Rancho venue Oct. 17 through 21, on its maiden U.S. tour, lost $220,000, forcing Star Center management to ask the city, which owns the venue, for more financial help on top of the $3.5 million in the annual budget to cover debt and operating costs.

Star Center managers were able to offset part of the loss through cost-cutting and profits made by other shows, which limited the amount the city had to chip in from the general fund to $195,668.

But the experience concerned Councilor Chuck Wilkins, who has mentioned it at public meetings in recent months.

Robin and Batman pose in front of the Batmobile during a rehearsal for the “Batman Live” show at the Santa Ana Star Center in October. (ROSALIE RAYBURN/JOURNAL)

Robin and Batman pose in front of the Batmobile during a rehearsal for the “Batman Live” show at the Santa Ana Star Center in October. (ROSALIE RAYBURN/JOURNAL)

“I was disappointed. I think we definitely need to be a lot more cautious on a live show like that hasn’t been tested,” Wilkins said in an interview.

The Batman Live experience is in sharp contrast to other recent shows.

Rio Rancho Convention and Visitors Center Director Matt Geisel called the loss suffered by Batman Live an “anomaly,” pointing out that “the vast majority” of shows make a profit. For example, concerts by country singer Carrie Underwood in March and Christian music artist Chris Tomlin on May 3 packed the venue and made a total profit of $90,000.

Unlike many shows that split the financial risks between the show promoter and the venue, the Star Center paid a flat fee of $300,000 for the Batman Live show. The deal meant the center could keep all revenue from ticketing fees and concessions, but was responsible for all event labor and marketing costs.

Star Center General Manager Gunnar Fox and marketing director Mike Killion had high expectations for the show that featured the caped crusader, his sidekick Robin and a host of villains familiar from comic books and movies. It was handled by the same agent, William Morris Endeavor, as “Walking with Dinosaurs,” the most successful show Global Spectrum brought to the center since it took over managing the 7,000-seat venue in spring 2009, Fox said.

But whereas attendance for the dinosaur show’s nine-performance run in March 2010 totaled 29,639, yielding a profit of more than $200,000, attendance for the Batman Live performances totaled 12,925.

That despite an advertising budget of $134,625 and months of publicity via newsprint, TV, billboards and a hot-air balloon during the annual Balloon Fiesta.

“I think the show (Batman Live) just didn’t have the broad appeal that 15 buildings (arena venues around the country) and the production company thought it had,” Fox said.

In addition to advertising, the Star Center forked out around $94,000 for things like police and emergency medical staff, stagehands, ticket sellers and parking attendants for the show’s run.

Officials ventured that the ticket price, ranging from $19.50 to $89.50 before handling fees, played a role in the attendance figures. But the show’s high-tech visual displays, elaborate costumes, acrobatics and props, including a life-size replica of the Batmobile, made it a costly production, Killion said.

Fox also speculated that the tragic shootings in July at a screening of the Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo., may have affected interest in the show.

“We got a ton of calls, tons of emails asking if the show was still going on,” Killion said.

The Star Center wasn’t the only location where Batman Live attracted small crowds. The show was well received throughout Europe, the United Kingdom and Latin America before visiting the U.S., according to online reviews. But its 15-city U.S. tour, which included Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Dallas, was canceled in mid-December before the final two scheduled destinations in Tulsa, Okla., and San Antonio, Texas, due to “poor attendance,” according to the website www.Batman-Online.com.

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