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The UMBC Event Center is owned by UMBC but operated and managed by Oak View Group Facilities. Photo by Ian Feldmann.

Event Center hopes to ride momentum of eventful second year

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County Event Center celebrated its two-year anniversary on February 3, 2020 after a successful 2019, in which the facility hosted 153 events attended by a total of 260,397 people. Eighty-five of those events were ticketed. Among the years’ highlights were nine sold out events, including 107.7’s Deck the Hall Ball, and performances by artists including Christian pop duo For King & Country, folk rock band The Avett Brothers and Bob Dylan. 

However, even two years after the Event Center’s opening, there are still misconceptions about its role on campus, as evidenced by what was perhaps the Event Center’s most publicized guest in 2019: Melania Trump, whose speech at the B’More Youth Summit on Opioid Awareness was covered by outlets such as The New York Times, Fox News and Buzzfeed. 

This appearance incited discussion about the Event Center when members of the UMBC Facebook meme group debated whether UMBC had any say in who appeared at the Event Center. One poster posited that the administration had purposefully neglected to announce that the First Lady was coming to campus. Not so, according to Tiffany Sun, the Event Center’s general manager — apparently it was not confirmed that Trump would be speaking until 24 hours prior to the event. 

Another claimed that UMBC did not even own the building, saying that “someone paid for it outside of campus and holds rights over it, they rent it to us for events.” In reality, UMBC does own the Event Center, which was designed by Cannon Design and constructed by Barton Malow. The building is currently managed by Oak View Group (OVG) Facilities, who have been partnered with UMBC since October 2017; their contract with the university expires in June 2021 with the option to renew for six more years.

OVG Facilities “is a full-service venue management and event programming company that operates and books arenas, theaters, convention centers, and amphitheaters throughout the U.S.,” according to the Event Center website.

OVG, rather than UMBC, is responsible for booking outside acts. OVG is also in charge of the maintenance of the building, as well as its staff, meaning that even when a UMBC event like Involvement Fest is being held at the Event Center, OVG employees are usually the ones responsible for assembly and cleanup. Chartwells, which provides dining facilities to the UMBC campus, runs the sale of food in the Event Center, but OVG works with Chartwells to make sure they have enough concessions for a given event based on ticket sales.

According to Sun, the process of booking outside acts can either entail the act’s promoter reaching out to the Event Center or vice versa. When Sun is looking to attract acts, she has to advertise what makes the Event Center stand out from other venues in Baltimore, such as its convenient location and 5,500-seat capacity. She notes, however, that now that the Event Center has been putting on successful events for two years, more acts are reaching out to her to book the venue: “It’s like, ‘Oh, you had Bob Dylan?’” she says. “‘Let me bring so and so here.’” 

Sun does admit that some Event Center events have been less successful, but she attributes those to the shows’ genres and timing (such as “A Cirque Magical Christmas,” which was held the day before Thanksgiving). “It’s a big trial and error business,” she says.

Aside from being home to UMBC’s Athletics department, it is hard to tell if the Event Center has forged a particularly strong relationship with the university’s student body. Because the Event Center sells tickets to its outside acts via Ticketmaster rather than on UMBC’s own ticket site, there is no data about how many students have attended a concert or show there. 

However, several acts have offered student discounts, including the November Bob Dylan show, for which students could save $25 if they showed their student ID at the box office. Ring of Honor wrestling, which has appeared at the Event Center a total of six times, also offers a discount because, Sun says, the promoter is a UMBC alum.

While student organizations have hosted events at the Event Center — such as Trevor Noah’s performance, which was a part of the Student Event Board’s homecoming celebration this past fall — it can be difficult for organizations to book the space due to the fickleness of outside acts. “The calendar can be very fluid — promoters can reserve 10 days and they might choose one, or they might choose none,” Sun explains. 

The Event Center also makes an effort to partner with the surrounding area, attending meetings with the Baltimore County tourism department. UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski III spoke to the effect that the venue has had on the neighborhood, saying it “has become a place of pride for the university. … People say, ‘thanks for bringing that performer to the Baltimore area.’”

After the success the Event Center has seen in 2019, Sun is going into 2020 with high hopes for the venue. “In 2019, we had nine sold out shows, we had a lot of people come through the building,” Sun said. “We’re basically trying to keep that momentum through 2020 and the next year.”

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