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Without the rock (or country), Dome rolls along

FARGO - A year ago this weekend the Fargodome was back in the Stone Age, hosting the touring animatronic show "Walking with Dinosaurs." Dinosaurs were the biggest draw of the year for the Fargodome, pulling in 21,883 people over six performances ...

'Dinosaurs' in Fargo
Two Brachiosauruses nuzzle during the "Walking With Dinosaurs" show at the Fargodome. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO - A year ago this weekend the Fargodome was back in the Stone Age, hosting the touring animatronic show "Walking with Dinosaurs."

Dinosaurs were the biggest draw of the year for the Fargodome, pulling in 21,883 people over six performances and netting the Dome $135,764.

It also got dome officials singing a slightly different tune.

While many people may view the building as a concert, sporting event and trade show space, Rob Sobolik, Fargodome general manager, says shows like "Dinosaurs" and productions by the trapeze and dance troupe Cirque du Soleil, which had a successful three-night run there earlier this month, give the facility another option in tough concert touring times.

"We're never going to go away from doing concerts, but this is another thing to add to the mix that wasn't always out there," Sobolik said.


He knows concerts are "what people want to have in the building," but non-traditional shows can attract a broader audience than acts that cater to certain ages or interests.

While the six "Dinosaurs" shows drew more people than rock band Bon Jovi's 2010 concert (21,844), Bon Jovi made more money - $160,332.

While the payday may be bigger for marquee concerts, non-traditional shows can make good financial sense.

Events like Cirque's "Dralion" and "Walking with Dinosaurs" tend to ask for smaller guarantees - the upfront fee it costs for an act to take the stage regardless of ticket sales. With a smaller guarantee, the shows' producers may arrange for a bigger cut of ticket sales, a less risky proposal for the host site.

Cirque's "Dralion" drew 7,933 people over three nights earlier this month, though financial numbers for that show and others in March and April haven't been completed.

A new direction

"I think there is a marked trend toward a more diversified calendar and it's not just in Fargo, but all over the country," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the touring industry magazine and website Pollstar. "You can't present the same thing over and over to the public and expect them to keep coming."

He points to live variations of popular TV shows like "Dancing with the Stars: The Tour."


"It costs next to nothing to promote these shows because the fans are already there, and production costs could be as cheap as a microphone," Bongiovanni told the Chicago Tribune earlier this month.

The touring entertainment industry has struggled nationally over the last few years. Pollstar reported the number of tickets sold in North America dropped 12 percent in 2010 from the previous year. The top 50 tours grossed 15 percent less in 2010 than in 2009.

But Sobolik said 2010 was one of the dome's "better years in a long time for the amount of people that came to it."

The dome hosted five of North America's top 20 grossing tours in 2010, including the top act, Bon Jovi. Non-musical shows that also played there like "Walking with Dinosaurs" came in 22nd and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham was 25th.

Still, even before the year started Sobolik predicted 2011 could be slower for touring acts.

By this time last year, the dome had already hosted Bon Jovi and John Mayer concerts and announced upcoming dates with Nickelback and Carrie Underwood. (A concert with folksingers Simon & Garfunkel was also announced, but the tour was later cancelled.)

All total the dome held six touring musical concerts in 2010, not including the annual food and music festival RibFest.

This year, the dome has hosted a comedy set by Cheech & Chong and Cirque du Soleil's "Dralion." It also has the theatrical "Celtic Woman" on Thursday, but nothing booked for traditional rock or country concerts.


"There's not a lot out there right now and what I'm hearing from promoters is the ones that are (out there) are doing limited dates and sticking to major markets," Sobolik said.

With summer coming, some acts are playing mainly outdoor shows, he said, pointing to rock star Kid Rock.

He said other acts he's been in conversations about, like a potential return date for the classic rock act Journey, don't make sense for the expected guarantee.

Dome keeps rolling

Even regular events for the dome have drawn more this year than previous years' stops. The PRCA Rodeo in late March drew 7,574 people compared to 5,988 in 2010. The Shrine Circus earlier this month pulled in 32,084 spectators, up from 29,588 in 2010. And last weekend's Harlem Globetrotters visit attracted 3,091, up from 2,281 in 2009.

"It comes down to events and people," Sobolik said. "That's what we strive to do - get as many events in the building and as many people in the building."

He is still working on a RibFest lineup, scheduled for June 8-12, but said area casinos create competition for potential RibFest acts.

Similarly, he's in regular contact with tour bookers but said it has to be a good fit for the Fargodome and make financial sense to secure the event.


"At this time, we're not in the business to do concerts (just) to do shows," Sobolik said, adding that losing money "is not a good business decision."

Lamb reports for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald.

Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong
Cheech Marin, left, and Tommy Chong were up to their old tricks during their reunion tour, "Get It Legal," which played the Fargodome in early 2011. Since then, they've become General Mills online pitchmen for Fiber One "magic brownies." Special to The Forum

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