Build It and They Will Come ……We Did That, Now What?!!


What happened ? Seriously, what happened ? For about six years from the time we built our new arena, we were getting top notch entertainment and then it dried up all of a sudden.

Who is responsible for this ? We were sold on the new arena for many reasons and included in them were the promise of major entertainment acts. Of course our Memorial Gardens was getting old was a major factor, but the attraction of shows was a major selling point to us the taxpayer. In any event I was thrilled when it was announced that we were pushing forward and building a new complex. From the get go, I was impressed; The Steelback Centre and then the Essar Centre (both names that leave a sour taste in my mouth) brought in big acts. Let’s see, Sault Ste. Marie hosted such names as Elton John, Motley Crue, Heaven and Hell, Tragically Hip, John Fogarty, Kiss, Hilary Duff, INXS, Sheryl Crow, John Mellencamp, David Copperfield, Bryan Adams, Neil Young, etc. Wow !!, names like that are usually reserved for major cities or popular festivals but they came here and by all accounts, the attendance was either sold out or close to it. Success Finally !!

I should clarify though, the arena itself did not bring in these names, hard working energetic people with an enthusiasm for bigger and better things did. During these years, I was hopeful and convinced that this would be the trend and that we were slowly growing and gaining a reputation as major player in Northern Ontario. This could bring investment in all kinds of areas. Wouldn’t that be great ? I for one did, but something seems to have happened to the contrary.

Since about 2014, I, along with many Saulites have noticed a decline in the calibre of entertainment that we have attracted. Other than Brad Paisley and Heart, the well in my opinion has dried up. Curling or Under 17 Ice Hockey tournaments are great but they are not and do not fill up the seats since many of the draws are during the day and people have to work.

From the research I have done, I understand we have an Events Assistant and a full time Arena Manager that handles books and handles musical and sports entertainment. A former city employee I spoke with about this matter told me basically how the system works. The promoters such as AEG LIVE, or Live Nation, would contact the venue and inquire about certain dates and their availability. If there was a match, they would then discuss local costs that the promoter would need to cover such as, Venue Rent, Security, Electrical, Stage Rental, Local Labour, Rigging, Catering, Box Office Fees etc . The promoter will then reimburse these fees to the venue. When it comes to ticket sales, the promoter usually will get 100 % unless there is a stipulation in the contract to the contrary. The system is basically risk free.

Starting from here, there is a revenue stream that can go far and wide and here’s how. First, the already paid for venue rental and stage rental can put money in the venue and city coffers. This money can go towards maintenance and upgrades of our arena over the coming years. If we are vigorous and diligent in attracting many events, these fees can add up and the money could even trickle over to different projects in the city. After all, the Corporation of the City of Sault Ste. Marie owns the Arena. I am not saying this is a huge sum of money, but let’s say for the sake of argument that rental fees for the arena and stage for the said night was $3000. Would $60,000 not look good at the end of the year ?

That’s only 20 events and we still have many more nights left to sell. If you subtract the Greyhounds and T-Birds and their practice time from the equation, we are still left with about 250 available dates for shows and events. This $60,000 could help with things like public transit. It was a shame when the city cut transit services last year and then raised fares. This should not have been done, but I’ll save that for another day .

The income stream does not stop here, and this is where it is most important. We have been talking about revitalizing the downtown core for a few years now, and consistent entertainment at the arena would benefit our local downtown restaurants, hotels, station mall, transit services, taxi services etc . After the show ends, the princess doesn’t turn into a pumpkin ;no she doesn’t, she goes back to her hotel, she eats breakfast and shops in the morning and after purchasing gas here locally she finally turns back into a pumkin when she exits city limits. You see, it’s not all about the concert per se, the trickle down effect from the concert benefits people not even at the arena.

Speaking of population, I understand that we are smaller than Sudbury or Thunder Bay BUT !! we also have a market that includes Northern Michigan if marketed properly. We should be able to add another 25,000 people to the available concert goers. Let’s face it, we go to the shows at Kewadin and the DTE and why do we do that ? . Americans know how to market and sell things. Hands down.

My opinion has always been that when an event/act does a cross country tour, it’s usually Toronto and Winnipeg as the next stop or vice versa. I’ve sat on a bus for 18 hours before and it is not fun; yes I know these buses the celebs travel in are state of the art and very comfortable but aside from that, I am sure a stop half way through to play a small show, let them rest a bit more comfortably and make a few bucks would interest more than a few eager promoters. After all , it’s all about $$$$.

This brings me to my the heart of this article today. I believe the City needs to hire a Full time Events Recruiter. It is one thing to be a Events Manager, but a recruiter is out there tapping unseen opportunities , meeting and selling the Sault to the promoters, and developing good relations in the industry. A good personable marketer and recruiter can go a long way. Have you ever heard the saying ? “you don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle” or “he’s so good he could sell a Popsicle to and Eskimo” We need someone like that to knock on doors, make presentations, wine and dine these promoters and do everything they can to ink the deals . I’ve talked to a few people currently and formerly in the industry and the consensus is the relationships between the promoter and representative of the venue is paramount to inking the deal. For the promoter to bring their million dollar stars,entourage and gear here, they need to be sure they will have a hassle free experience and the tickets will be sold.
Time is crucial for us Sault Ste. Marie, and this is why ; Sudbury is in the final stages of approving the building of a new entertainment venue/arena. This is bad news for us events wise unless we get proactive and recruit and market entertainment on a level that is above and beyond the norm. The arena they are building has a price tag of about $90 million dollars and after tenders and red tape, I expect it to be built and in use within 4 years. The current Sudbury arena has been outdated and barely standing for many years. To say that it is previously extensively used is being really kind. Let’s just call a spade a spade; Sudbury has an Ugly Eyesore of an arena and in a not so pleasant area of town. The kicker is that they still manage to get top notch entertainment and sell tickets year after year. This can’t be easy as the building is probably a few deep bass riffs from crumbling. There must be just the right amount of duct tape on every pipe to keep it legal. Top artists and performers take pride in where they play and the venue they play in, so it seems to me that a lot of schmoozing and entertaining is being done to convince these promoters that Sudbury is a good place to play.

We here is the Soo have so much going for us from having natural beauty, a perfect location on the American border, being at the hub of the Great Lakes and, and being pretty much halfway between Toronto and Winnipeg. Entertainment brings in tourists and promoters, and put us on the map. Think of it like this ; A family coming to visit friends in the summer may correspond their visit with a concert and turn it into a girls shopping weekend or the guys may do the same and make it a golf weekend. They stay in the hotels, eat in the restaurants and spend money locally. The great experience they had gets recycled in conversations favorably and believe it or not through time we build a great reputation as a fun forward thinking city. Think Niagara Falls, think Traverse City, this Reno ; these are all cities that are very big and the first thing you think of when you hear their name is ….Fun and Entertainment. !!! If you don’t think of these things, you’ve either never been there or are currently dead , insert laugh here Ha Ha Ha . Related to entertainment and a forward thinking city also comes growth in other fields and diversity because as we all know, reputations are key in life and business.

I am hard pressed to point any fingers personally about this above mentioned matter. My consensus is that shallow budgeting has probably led to one or two people that are responsible for not only marketing, but many other duties , which leaves them not enough time to scout out for new leads. That’s the only conclusion I can come up with because from 2006 until about 2013 ish we had A list shows every other month it seemed and people were coming from Sudbury and Northern Michigan. So, something has happened and we need to fix it now.

I am not a prophet and I do not have a crystal ball, but I do know one thing……”where there is a will, there is a way.” We had the “way” for many years so it’s time to bring back the “will”. I formally ask the City of Sault Ste. Marie to hire a Full Time Events Recruiter

Btw, did you hear Michael Buble is coming to the Sault September 18 ?
I didn’t either.
Ernest Skinner Jr.

Ernest Skinner
Ernest Skinner was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie and attended Humber College after high school. He has a passion for other cultures and has traveled throughout Mexico and many South American countries.. He has written many articles over the years that deal with events happening here in Sault Ste. Marie. Reading about ancient civilizations, world politics, and mysteries of the unknown are also defining factors that are his general makeup. Outside of being serious, he has a bright sense of humor that was molded from shows like Seinfeld to The Simpsons. Ernest is a columnist


  1. I was one of the people that went before City Council with 10,000 signatures to have the kept the Name “Memorial Gardens ” .City Council voted against it.The Boxing Day holiday passed on 5000 Signatures to a petition.
    The difference was they Made millions off the sale of the naming rights to Essar which they paid for.Council told our delegation that if we want. The Name Memorial Gardens we would have to come up with Millions of Dollars .The original Memorial Gardens was for the fallen in both world wars.
    COUNCIL incompansation named the block the MEMORIAL Square and kept the Memorial Tower.

  2. I heard when funding was in limbo for the expansion of the box seats on the opposite side of the arena Kidd Rock wanted to come here, in 2013, but we wouldn’t book him because of the possible expansion that we had applied for the funding for…Guess what! No funding and Kidd Rock went to Boyne Mountain instead…Kidd Rock went back to Boyne Mountain in 2015. No further explanations needed

  3. Great post Ernie, now let’s work on giving the arena a more fitting name. Memorial Gardens would be so much better. Down with the Essar BS!!

    PS the name Essar should have been removed when they reniged​ on their city taxes and bills to local businesses. But hey I’m just a local blue collar, what do I know!

  4. Ho about the city finish building the arena! build the other boxes and add seats in the north end of the rink and maybe then you will attract more acts to come play at the arena. this city is sooo ass backwards when trying to draw anything worth seeing live. we do thing half assed and expect that its good enough to get things to come to the Soo. we should have the best of everything here in order to draw people from all over to come to the Soo.

    • Turn it into a casino when the local ownership move the ‘Hounds out of town, as planned. Fighting for first place all season and the best the town could come up with is 2/3 full to cheer them on? No one there to support local curling team…sad, sad, sad…

      • Few can afford any extras as they are still trying to catch up on the ridiculous electricity and fuel bills from the winter.
        Just imagine what shape it will be in when Essar can’t make a deal and shuts down for good.
        Hockey is one thing but curling sucks.

  5. I live far enough out of the town of Sault Ste Marie to need a room for one or 2 nights, restaurants to feed us and do a fair amount of shopping whenever I travel there. I have attended many concerts since the Essar Center was built, have gone to as many Greyhounds games as I could and have attended all the curling events. Three years ago, at the Nationals curling event, I bought a very expensive bottle of water (on top of tickets for the whole event, several nights in a hotel, many meals etc). I left it in my bag (I was not aware that this was against the ‘rules’) and when I went to the next draw, the same day, I was asked to leave my water at the door. I refused and was searched at the following draw. I am no longer going to any events at the Essar Center that last more than the one evening. Not only was I embarrassed in front of many people, no one else was searched at the door and I saw many bottles of water come out of bags brought in the arena. If you get an events manager, and I hope you do, please remember that some in attendance at those events are tourists who spend a lot of money going to these events and would much prefer to be treated with respect when they attend events.

  6. Bigger problem may be that the venue does not always sell out these shows. Kiss, Seinfeld and Paisley are all shows that I was able to purchase tickets the day of the event. Big promoters worry that the city does not support the shows they bring.

  7. Great article. Tevor Zachery, the former events manager was the lead on bringing so many of those gigs to the Sault. When that mess hit the fan, the ball was dropped and his responsibility was not replaced soon enough. Yes, that position is needed again. Or hire a booking contractor, on commission, in the meantime. The tourism dept should be all over this.

  8. It is also crucial that the name of the arena is changed back to the Memorial Gardens.
    Essar has given this town a huge black eye, proved beyond a doubt that they are a terrible, corrupt corporate citizen and does not deserve to have the naming rights, which expire soon.
    Someone needs to get on that and see that it happens.

  9. The problem is they make the artist rely on ticket sales and assume all the risk instead of paying them their appearance fee and marketing the show correctly so they make their money back.

    • If you knew how little artists actually paid to rent the place, you wouldn’t call it “risk” on their part. The artists definitely aren’t the ones losing money on a show at the Essar Centre.

  10. big acts will only stop in the armpit of the north, as they swing across on a tour…and only if they can sell enough tickets to pay for the layover…and only if the layover has accommodations that are suitable for them. The armpit of the north offers none of those things. And people from Michigan are not gonna travel up here, when they an go to Detroit, etc…

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