“Our expectations were we were gonna sell 250,000 tickets in year five,” Smart Financial Centre President Gary Becker tells me when I ask him about expectations versus reality at the Sugar Land venue. He continues, “and we sold 326,000 tickets in year one.”
Opening on January 14, 2017, Smart Financial Centre played host to 131 shows in its first year of operations, including 45 concerts. From the pyrotechnics of KISS to the Vegas-style spectacular that was Rod Stewart to the comedy of Jerry Seinfeld to the Houston Ballet’s take on The Nutcracker, Smart Financial has proven to be a building of versatile use and lineup.
“We don’t censor and we want everything,” Becker tells me while we discuss an entertainment lineup as wholesome as the various Youtube stars that have come to town and as comically evil as the recent Slayer show. The shows booked at Smart Financial are diverse from a genre perspective, but also from a global perspective. Artists like Latin rapper Bad Bunny have already sold out the venue twice, and the venue is also one of the few big rooms you’ll see Indian acts in town. While Becker acknowledges that they do have to compete for shows, he sees the competition as good for business and good for fans.
“If you build a bigger pie, you’re going to have more to fill,” he says. “More people are coming to Houston to play because there’s a great venue for them to play.”
If you’re curious about how 326,000 tickets stack up in the industry, according to Pollstar, the Smart Financial Centre was the twelfth best-selling theater in the world in 2017. Those same ticket sales would put it in the top 15 percent of the world’s amphitheaters and top third in the world’s arenas. It will be interesting to see how things turn out in 2018, as the year one excitement levels out and summer tours start having to make the big decisions about whether to run through Sugar Land or The Woodlands, but the venue is still targeting at least 110 shows in 2018. With Smart Financial, The Pavilion, and Toyota Center all doing robust business this year, things are going well for big Houston concerts.
“We have a good economy, which always helps. We have lots of people,” Becker says. “We have a very diverse group of people in our community, and they like coming to shows.”
Of course, no matter how nice a venue is, there’s always going to be one looming problem, especially for a building that can hold 6,000 fans.
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“No matter how good you think it is, no matter how good your plans are, and no matter how good you can foresee what you think is going to happen,” Becker says with a chuckle, “No matter what you do, people aren’t going to like your parking.”
With shows from 5 Seconds of Summer, Tim Allen, Lauryn Hill, and Christina Aguilera on the horizon, things aren’t slowing down in Sugar Land just yet. For now, they’ve got a philosophy, albeit one tempered by reality.
“You want to be everything to everyone, but you can’t,” Becker says. “You want to provide the best experience for the fans, as well as the artist. As long as you continue that process, you’re doing a good job.
“But no matter what, people don’t like paying for parking.”