Revised Booking Strategy Gets Center Profitable Again

The Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts opened its doors in 1988 thanks to the visionary leadership of Dr. Max King, the former president of Brevard Community College. The funding for this ambitious venture came from the Florida Legislature and totaled $12.3 million, which, when measured by today’s standards, is an absolute bargain.

Since that time, the King Center has had a profound impact on the cultural and artistic landscape of Brevard County and Central Florida. One name that is associated with the Center, almost as much as Dr. King’s, is Steve Janicki, who has served as the Executive Director for over twenty-four years. From business management and selecting new shows, to tracking demographic and cultural trends, the proverbial buck stops at Janicki’s desk. Just a few years ago, those bucks were really starting to pile up.

Recession and the Arts

Though nearly every business has felt it, few were hit as hard as those organizations that nurture the community’s cultural environment. As Janicki reflected, “The three years before the economic downturn were the most profitable in our history. Philanthropic giving was up and we were scheduling some of the best shows the Center has hosted.” Then came the recession. “Our dilemma was that we program not just months, but sometimes years, in advance. Plus, to have a major Broadway play come to the Center, we were required to commit to eight shows, which meant we needed to sell close to 16,000 tickets per production to stay in the black. The problem was, people were not coming to the theatre like they once did, yet we had an ethical responsibility to honor the contracts we had made.” Needless to say, things got very difficult, very quickly.

Fortunately the King Center has a sort of “golden parachute” – the Brevard Community College Endowment. It was there to help cover the deficits that would have sunk other organizations like a rock. However, for Janicki and the King Center’s Board of Directors, rapid changes had to be made to right the institution and not deplete the endowment.

New Conditions, New Approach

With advisors on his Board like former Harris CEO Phil Farmer, Janicki began to reassess their lineup, while maintaining what he calls their “Pallet of Performances.” Farmer explained, “The King Center isn’t booking shows that require a commitment of more than 2-3 performances in the main theater, versus the 7-day/8-performance guarantee.” Therefore, “We will have to forego some blockbuster Broadway touring shows such as Jersey Boys and Phantom of the Opera. However we have attracted My Fair Lady, Mama Mia, Jesus Christ Superstar and other great Broadway productions that can live with a 2- or 3-performance commitment.”

Janicki also began looking at the trends he was seeing as Baby Boomers become the mainstay of the King Center’s patrons. “The majority of people who come to the Center are couples therefore we are not talking about purchasing one ticket, but two. Well for many, the price of two tickets for a Broadway show was prohibitive, especially when you add the cost of dining, which is usually a part of an evening out.”

“About seven or eight years ago we began hosting ‘Classic Albums Live,’ where some of the finest musicians in the country perform, note for note, a popular album from bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Who. The first one we did only had around 300-400 people. I wasn’t sure it would fly, but recently the Fleetwood Mac concert had 1,600.”

Staying the Course

Janicki went on to explain that it is the diverse offering of more profitable shows that help the Center fulfill its artistic mandate of classical music concerts and ballets, which generally do not produce as much revenue. Board Chairman Stephen G. Charpentier confirmed this adding, “The King Center has changed its direction a bit, but not its vision. The Center provides quality entertainment at an affordable price. By looking to the shows that best suit the desires of our community, with an eye toward selling the maximum tickets with the least overhead, the King Center has been able to better manage its budget and not suffer a major revenue loss on any given production. Through the guidance of Steve Janicki we have been quite successful in this regard.”

Looking to the future Farmer concludes, “I continue to be excited about bringing world-class entertainers and shows to a world-class performing arts center in Brevard County. From personal experience, I also know that the King Center gives us a significant advantage for recruiting companies and employees to make Brevard their home.”