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Wilson Logistics Arena economic impact could hit $60M in 2024

Facility has hosted more than 23K visitors in first month and a half

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Located on the site of the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds & Event Center, the 164,000-square-foot Wilson Logistics Arena opened Jan. 11, and officials estimate it will bring the economic impact of the fairgrounds to $60 million in 2024.

In over a month of operation, the arena has hosted sold-out events, like the O’Reilly Auto Parts Outlaw Nationals Monster Truck Show on Jan. 26-27 and GT Arena Motocross Springfield on Feb. 3, said Aaron Owen, fairground CEO.

There haven’t been many kinks to straighten out, Owen said. A concert by Russell Dickerson and Liz Moriondo that marked the official opening on Jan. 11 had long lines for alcohol.

“We fixed that,” Owen said. “It’s not a problem anymore.”

Those three events brought 17,200 people to the arena, Owen said, with good reviews from participants and guests.

Some athletic events have also taken place in the early days of operation. Three Missouri USA Wrestling events were held over three weekends for wrestlers ages 5 through high school, and together they brought an additional 6,000 people to the facility.

At the time of this interview, Owen was planning for another event that is expected to draw a near-capacity crowd: Cavender’s PFI Bullriding Nationals, slated for Feb. 23-24.

A lively schedule is in place for the rest of 2024 and beyond, Owen said.

He noted six months – March, April, June, August, September and October – are fully booked, and the other months have only a spattering of weekends available.

“We have 31 events booked for this year so far, and there are several things out there we’ve bid on and are on hold waiting on,” he said. “All these have booked multiyear, anywhere from two to five years.”

Owen said the fairgrounds had an annual economic impact of $29 million before it opened its 45,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor facility in 2020. That addition got the fairgrounds close to $40 million in impact estimates.

Wilson Logistics Arena will bring the economic impact of the Ozarks Empire Fairgrounds facility up to $60 million per year, according to preliminary estimates, Owen said.

Naming rights to the building were secured for 20 years by trucking company Wilson Logistics LLC for an undisclosed price, according to past reporting.

Mark Hecquet, president and CEO of the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc., said fairground officials have outdone themselves with the arena.

“They’ve built a beautiful arena where they can do concerts, trade shows, sporting events – there’s a lot of usable space,” he said.

Hecquet noted that the city continues to lack adequate convention facilities that offer a large space with breakout rooms, but the mix of fairground facilities helps to fill the void.

With its arena, event center and other facilities, the fairground provides important event space for the city, Hecquet said, and Owen noted that is the goal.

“We’re trying to be a nice piece to the community,” Owen said.

“We’re just looking for another nine more weekends to have the year booked up, leaving a little time in there for cleaning, maintenance and stuff. When we get those booked, it’ll be a home run.”

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John Darnell, manager of MAP Motorsports, brought the O’Reilly Auto Parts Outlaw Nationals Monster Truck Show to the arena in January, having hosted the event outdoors at the fairgrounds in the past. He said the latest event went off well.

“Everything was perfect,” he said. “The new building’s pretty awesome. As far as being used for our events, it’s a really nice venue, with enough seats and a huge floor.”

Though MAP Motorsports is based in Springfield, Darnell puts on events all over the country, mostly in Texas.

“I’ve seen lots and lots of buildings, and that one’s pretty cool,” he said. “It’s perfect for what we needed. We’ll be back in January 2025.”

Darnell said the sound system at the venue is particularly good.

“It’s the best in any building I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been in at least 100,” he said.

Ventilation is also good, he said, but the main appeal is the size of the floor.

“It’s a very big floor for an indoor deal,” he said.

He said bottom-level seats are retractable, and he pushes them all back to seat everyone safely upstairs.

“It’s super safe for monster trucks,” he said.

The venue holds about 6,500 when all seats are deployed, according to Owen.

Home of the Lunkers
On June 1, the Ozarks Lunkers will debut at the arena with a home opener in the first season of The Arena League six-on-six football.

Monica Henderson, vice president of team operations, said about 1,000 tickets in the 6,500-seat venue have been sold so far for each night of the season, including both season and individual tickets.

“We’re pleased with that this far out,” she said. “Most people don’t make plans this far in advance.”

The season includes four home games, four away games, and the possibility of a post-season semifinal and championship game. Regular-season games wrap up on July 27.

Henderson said some corporate partners have bought tickets for their employees, including SRC Holdings Corp., with 250 individual tickets purchased, and Russell Cellular, buying an undisclosed number of season tickets.

Season tickets range $90-$180, with field box seats going for $750. Sponsorships have been sold to about 40 local businesses, she said, with packages that support video boards and other areas of the facility. Edward Jones has signed on as game ball sponsor for the next two years. Henderson declined to disclose the cost of sponsorships but said packages can be tailored to suit donors at most levels.

Henderson said eight players are signed, and the team is talking to nine others that it hopes to sign in the next month. A total of 21 players will be signed to go to camp, and the team will cut that number to 18 – with 15 on the active roster and three reserve players. Most players are local, to help build excitement among fans.

“People in field boxes will be right up there, close and personal,” said Henderson, who was in Texas for league meetings to pin down some rules of play. “They could reach out and touch a player as he runs by. We don’t suggest that, but they could.”

Team members will earn a minimum of $200 and a maximum of $400 per game, and the team has a roster budget of $4,500 per game, she said.

“Most of these guys are excited to get the opportunity to play the sport they love,” she said. “Our budget is less, so we can provide something for families to go to that costs less. We want to provide something to the community that average people can enjoy and not spend their whole entertainment budget.”

Ticket prices start at $20 and go up to $50 per game, Henderson said.

Henderson said the team has a three-year lease at Wilson Logistics Arena, which she said will be a point of pride to host action within the new league.

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