When friends of Vibrant Arena at The MARK gather May 19 in the conference center for an invite-only reception, they will have lots to celebrate.

Not only is the arena (1201 River Drive, Moline) marking 30 years, the facility just had its most profitable year ever and its new 10-year, $4-million naming rights deal with Vibrant Credit Union means it can continue to make more updates to the building that’s been a cherished part of so many lives over three decades.

Vibrant Arena at The MARK will have an invitation-only reception marking 30 years on May 19, 2023.

Since opening May 28, 1993 with two sold-out shows from superstar Neil Diamond, The MARK (most QC residents still call it by its original name) has welcomed 15,783,295 people (from opening through March 2023) for everything from high-octane concerts; basketball, hockey and arena football games, and three-ring circuses, to WWE championships, Monster Jam, rodeos, Disney on Ice shows and countless high school and college graduations, wedding receptions, conferences and other business meetings.

The nearly 12,000-seat arena has not only rebounded from COVID, it’s back and better than ever — posting a $2-million profit in the last fiscal year, ending March 31, 2023, executive director Scott Mullen said this week. He’s been at the helm of Vibrant Arena since 2005 and is director of arenas worldwide for the International Association of Venue Managers.

“Most arenas lose money – especially like ours. We’re an anomaly,” Mullen said. “The fact that we make money is unheard of. A building like ours – 30 years old – this is our best year ever.”

“I think there was pent-up demand for shows coming out of COVID and everybody wanted to get on sale because they’re worried about inflation,” he said.

They also finished the fiscal year strongly, with Journey and Reba concerts in March. “We just had a real strong fiscal year,” Mullen said, noting he doesn’t have as many shows on the books lined up the rest of this year.

When Reba McEntire last played on March 18, arena staff presented her with a framed version of this poster, celebrating the fact she’s played here more than any artist since The MARK opened.

“The routing works well when people are coming from Chicago to Lincoln or Omaha,” he said of the QC’s central location off I-80, and between St. Louis and Minneapolis. “We compete with Des Moines, Peoria. Usually shows will play one of our buildings the first time around and then come back around to another the following year. It works well that way, so that everybody gets their share of shows.

“In order to get more shows here, I network constantly with the agents in Nashville, L.A. and New York,” Mullen said. “I’ve been doing this here 18 years, but 30 years in the business. I made a lot of relationships.

“That really helps – it’s a relationship business, whether you’re selling concerts or vacuum cleaners,” he said. “You need to know people and get that reputation in the industry and that helps.”

The profit is strengthened since the arena works to pick the shows that will make it the most money, “and fortunately, most of ours are winners,” Mullen said.

A pre-COVID high

A career high point was clearly June 11, 2019, when the legendary Paul McCartney made his QC concert debut at the arena, attracting 10,918 screaming fans (just the 28th highest attended show in arena history). It was part of a tour where the ex-Beatle purposely played places he’d never been to before.

An image from the Paul McCartney concert in Moline, June 11, 2019 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“It was just luck and knowing people, I guess,” Mullen said Tuesday, May 9. “I had him at Nassau Coliseum, and when I was out there, I had a lot of contacts. We had everybody at Nassau – an 18,000-seat, NHL building.”

He was general manager at Nassau (Long Island, N.Y., just outside New York City) from 2000 to 2005, before taking over The MARK.

Vibrant Arena has hosted just about all the big names, save Bruce Springsteen and U2, for example.

Photos of some of the biggest acts to play The MARK line walls at the administrative offices (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“Sinatra was huge; the Eagles; Van Halen was one of my favorites, but they won’t be back,” Mullen said. “Metallica’s been here.”

For McCartney, there were fans who came from other countries, as well as Honolulu.

Country star Morgan Wallen’s “One Night at a Time” sold-out show at Vibrant April 28 has been rescheduled for Sept. 8, 2023.

“Every show is unique and they all have different deals,” Mullen said, noting country sells very well here. “We just have to be creative and try to work with them to get a deal that works for everybody.”

FILE - Morgan Wallen performs on the first night of the 2022 iHeartRadio Music Festival, on Sept. 23, 2022, in Las Vegas. Thousands of country music fans were awaiting the singer when he suddenly canceled his performance Sunday night, April 23, 2023, at Vaught Hemingway Stadium. WTVA-TV reported that video boards inside the Ole Miss football stadium showed a message that said the singer had lost his voice and was unable to perform, adding that people would be refunded their money where they bought their tickets. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
Morgan Wallen performs the first night of the 2022 iHeartRadio Music Festival, on Sept. 23, 2022, in Las Vegas. Thousands of country music fans were awaiting the singer when he suddenly canceled his performance Sunday night, April 23, 2023, at Vaught Hemingway Stadium. His sold-out show at Vibrant Arena has been rescheduled for Sept. 8, 2023 (AP Photo/John Locher, File).

Wallen has gotten very expensive because he’s “blown up” in popularity, the arena director said. Artists see what people are willing to pay for seats and raise their prices accordingly.

“The prices keep going up and competition makes the prices go up, when you have buildings and promoters that have more shows. There’s more and more buildings every year,” Mullen said. “Everyone’s doing more aggressive deals to lure those shows. Competition in our business is actually bad – ‘cause buildings make less money and ticket prices go up.”

Every year, artists take more and more of ticket sales, compared to the venue take, he said.

The arena shares in concession sales, with different percentages for food versus alcohol sales.

“We don’t get quite half of it, and then you have to turn around and share it with the show, so you make less,” Mullen said. “In the ‘90s, it was straight rental for the building, and we kept all the ancillary sales. It was much easier to make money. Now, we have to get more creative and keep the artists happy.”

A 20-year-old Taylor Swift sold out The MARK on May 8, 2010. She hasn’t been back here since.

All profits go into the building reserves, which goes back into building improvements. Since the arena opened, the city of Moline has agreed to cover any deficit, if reserves are depleted.

“We’re self-sufficient – the city’s never had to support us, though the city has shared grant money with us after the pandemic,” Mullen said. “Luckily, we haven’t had to rely on any tax dollars to function, which is unusual. Other buildings in our region are losing a half million dollars or more a year.”

With skyrocketing ticket prices, most people have no idea how the process works, Mullen said.

“The problem is, too many people went online at the same time to buy those tickets and it shut the system down,” he said. “It was nothing Ticketmaster had ever seen before. They thought their system could handle it and it couldn’t. The rising prices are a result of the artist – what they want their guarantee to be.

Scott Mullen came to lead the Moline arena in 2005, after five years as general manager of the 18,000-seat Nassau Coliseum outside New York City (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“You have to sell the tickets at enough money to pay the artist. The buildings – we don’t determine the ticket prices,” Mullen said. “The artists come in and say, we need this much money and a percentage of the profit after expenses. It’s usually dictated, how much the artist is charging to play the market.”

Ticketmaster is working hard to update the online ordering system, he said.

Country music shows have been huge for the arena, Mullen said. The artists who’ve played Moline the most are Reba McEntire (nine) and Kenny Chesney (eight), including this year.

“Country’s our lifeblood, but Snoop Dogg was here last year and that sold out,” Mullen said.

Among the fastest sellouts over 30 years were Taylor Swift and Hannah Montana, within 15 minutes of going on sale, Mullen said.

“Technology changed that – before you had to come to the box office or order on the phone,” he said. “Now everybody can order on their mobile device.”

Biggest concert acts

After Reba and Kenny Chesney, the artists who’ve played here the most — seven times each — are the Beach Boys, Chicago, Rascal Flatts, REO Speedwagon, and STYX. The top 30 attended acts ever are:

Neil Diamond, then 52, was the first artist to perform at The MARK, and still holds three of the four largest attendance records for the arena (photo of opening night by John Greenwood)
Neil Diamond5/28/199311,726
Neil Diamond5/29/199311,562
Neil Diamond7/10/199611,532
Limp Bizkit11/5/200011,467
Elton John11/10/201711,453
Rod Stewart3/24/199411,326
Shania Twain5/24/200411,318
Bob Seger8/26/201711,291
Smashing Pumpkins10/26/199611,262
Pearl Jam10/17/201411,160
Cheetah Girls9/30/200611,145
Elton John10/22/199711,137
George Strait2/12/200311,104
Snoop Dogg4/21/202211,067
Billy Joel10/26/199411,062
Billy Ray Cyrus6/20/199311,048
George Strait3/3/200611,041
Tim McGraw9/25/200411,021
Britney Spears3/20/200011017
Kid Rock1/15/200011,000
Eric Clapton7/27/200110,977
Elton John3/18/200910,972
Fleetwood Mac11/18/199710,968
Keith Urban6/28/200910,920
Paul McCartney6/11/201910,918
Hannah Montana8/20/200710,898
Dixie Chicks10/6/200010,879

Getting over pandemic

When the arena was shut down in 2020, The MARK did significant renovations (about $2 million worth) of the conference center and suites, including new painting, carpeting, furniture and seats.

“I like to do things that generate revenue, so the concession upgrades will allow people to get through quicker, which results in more money,” Mullen said of future improvements for food and drink sales. “We went cashless coming out of the pandemic. Everyone started doing it, trying to be touch-less.”

New lighting and carpeting were among conference center upgrades made during the pandemic shutdown (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“And when people have a credit card, they tend to spend more,” he said. “We may go cashless in parking; everyone’s starting to do it. We’re constantly looking at ways we can generate more revenue and keep the building viable.”

Pandemic-related relief for the arena totaled $3 million from the federal and Illinois governments, which Mullen was instrumental in securing for arenas nationwide.

Brad Mayne, president/CO of the IAVM, wrote to the Illinois Quad City Civic Center Authority board (which governs the facility) last year on how much of an asset Mullen was on the issue:

“The pandemic caused most venues to be shut down approximately 16 months resulting in unprecedented financial losses so efforts were made to get Covid-19 related economic relief for public assembly facilities through government grants,” Mayne wrote, noting at first grants were limited mainly to smaller venues and nightclubs through the Save Our Stages legislation.

New seats, carpeting and lighting were put into arena suites during the pandemic (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“Most arenas including those that were governmental entities were not eligible to receive any grant funding. Scott not only rallied other Illinois venues but assisted other arenas across the country with the process of reaching out to elected officials to educate them regarding the impact that the pandemic has had on our industry,” the letter said.

“Scott’s leadership played a key role in convincing Congress to include arenas that were governmental entities in the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant (SVOG) as well as the Payroll Protection Program (PPP). As a direct result, venues like yours received reimbursement for millions of dollars in losses due to the shutdown.”

A Vibrant connection

Last August, the arena announced its fourth name — Vibrant Arena at The MARK, after the last TaxSlayer Center, iwireless Center, and original The MARK of the Quad Cities. The QC-based Vibrant Credit Union has $1 billion in assets and 55,000 members.

Quad City Storm fans paint the ice at the Vibrant Arena at The MARK to honor veterans Nov. 7, 2022 (photo: Bryan Bobb).

Vibrant began in 1935 as John Deere Harvester Credit Union, and today the company owns an insurance business, title company and a coffeehouse and kitchen at its Moline headquarters off John Deere Road.

Venue naming rights for arenas and stadiums are essential, Mullen said.

“Naming rights is key to being a viable entity and Vibrant is our first naming-rights partner that’s from the Quad Cities,” he said. “They understand our market. They were self-aware enough to include Vibrant Arena at The MARK, because a lot of people still call it The MARK; it’s an iconic venue and name.”

The arena updated its concourse colors to more grays (photo by Jonathan).

“Their staff is very forward-thinking and they’ve had great ideas. They’re making great improvements to the building that are really going to keep us a state-of-the-art venue.”

“We’re part of the community. That’s the biggest thing we looked at — how can we as a local institution invest back in the community?” Vibrant Credit Union CEO Matt McCombs said last August at the announcement. “It impacts all of us on a daily basis. It was really about how we continue to invest in the things we know and love about The Mark. How do we enhance it?”

Since last summer, Vibrant and the arena have been investing in more upgrades to the facility, including new lighting, chilling equipment, new color schemes on the main second-floor concourse and soon a large new LED video wall will be mounted along the left side of the main stairway.

The multi-colored Vibrant logo has been added to new signs at front of the 16 permanent suites (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“We changed our color scheme to get away from the dated colors,” Mullen said, noting the main concourse was redone last summer, emphasizing more neutral grays, and the Vibrant logo was added to the outside of each suite.

“We’re thrilled to have them here, and without that, it really makes it a challenge to keep a positive cash flow. They’re just fantastic to work with,” he said.

Still looking like new

“I’ve been in other buildings that are our age and they look like no one had put a single dollar into them,” Mullen said. “I have people all the time in here who say the building looks brand new, like it just opened. We do invest back into the building.”

The new LED video wall will be installed on this left wall, along the stairway to the main concourse (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“This building should be able to operate another 30 years without blinking, if we can keep the success going that we have had,” he said.

The Civic Center Authority board also has placed a priority on the arena being a community building, so it’s always hosted many high school and college graduations in the arena, and meetings and special events in its conference center.

“That’s one of many ways this building gives back to the community,” Mullen said. “We do a lot of things for charity; we do ticket donations and things. As do our sports teams – they really know how to give back and be invested in the community.”

A selection of merchandise (including Mallards-colors jerseys) in the Quad City Storm pro shop at The MARK (photo by Jonathan Turner).

He arena also has long had a positive economic impact in the community, helping local restaurants, bars and hotels.

“It’s a great venue for this community and it’s a recipe that has worked very well,” Mullen said.

He visited in 1999 and noted The MARK’s “U shape” for seating became standard in the industry, which doesn’t have seating behind the stage. “It’s the most economical way to get the most value out of your money.”

There are Trust Club suites that are on the side with the big video wall, that are mainly used for sporting events and others that don’t have a stage, like rodeo and Monster Jam.

A view from one of the renovated suites (there is a waiting list) in the arena (photo by Jonathan Turner).

The arena is also working on offering “Grab and Go” options, where people can do self-checkout for food and beverages, including alcohol, Mullen said.

“We’re buying a new point of sale system where you can do self-checkout. We’re making a lot of upgrades in food and beverages.”

A new craft-brewery theme lounge will replace the old Green Tree Brewery lounge.

Celebrating 30 and staff

Invited staff, sponsors, suite holders, current and past board members, elected officials and friends of the arena will come to the May 19 reception, “30 Years of Magic.” That will feature magician Mike Super, who will perform for the private reception and later that night in the arena.

Springfield Armory is one of the permanent suite holders, and their walls are lined with celebrity memorabilia, including signed guitars from ZZ Top, Sammy Hagar and Van Halen (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“He’s a great emcee – he’s funny, charismatic,” Mullen said.

“We have quite a few employees who have been here since the building opened. Our turnover is extremely low,” he said. “We’ve got fantastic employees – they’re the key element to our success. We want them to treat people, the guests in our building, like they’re the guests in their house. Our staff all around is just top notch.”

The wall in the hall along where visiting dressing rooms are show which cities are part of the QC (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Employees who’ve been at the arena since Day 1 include:

Full-time –

  • Rocky Jones, Assistant Executive Director
  • Kim McVey, Senior Accounting Manager
  • Greg Mouw, Senior Ticketing Operations Manager
  • Chon Wherry, Systems Administrator

Part-time –

  • Charles Cervantes, Usher Supervisor
  • Kevin Gibbs, Parking Attendance
  • Jake Hultman, Engineering Supervisor
  • Richard Knock, Stagehand
  • Debbie McCarthy, Receptionist/Ticket Seller/Usher
  • Robert McCarthy, Engineer
  • Robert Minard, Stagehand
  • Beverly Rosenbohm, Usher/Ticket Taker Supervisor
  • Ellen Rink, Ticket Seller
  • Doug Stephenson, Stagehand

Rocky Jones “has been not only my right hand, but is the center of the Vibrant Arena at The MARK universe,” Mullen said. “His contributions to this building have been invaluable.”

The Illinois Quad City Civic Center Authority Board of Directors — currently led by chairperson Stacey Happ – has “been very supportive and have given us the tools and direction to succeed,” the director added.

‘No two days are the same’

Jones said working for the arena 30 straight years has been very rewarding.

” I have stayed here because no two days are the same and that is a huge benefit to any workplace,” he said Wednesday by email. “Where else can you go to work and be a part of bringing smiles to those attending events? The arena has been successful because of the tremendous fans and patrons that support the events we’ve brought to the QC.”

Elton John has three of the top 30 selling shows at The MARK (in 1997, 2009 and 2017).

“So many big names have come across our stage – Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, The Eagles, Elton John, Kenny Chesney, Reba, Pearl Jam, Snoop, and the list goes on,” Jones said. “I think one of the greatest moments was when we got Paul McCartney to play here. It’s always an unbelievable feeling when such a legendary artist is in our QC community.”

“Our staff has been great over the years and it has been a pleasure working with each one,” he added.

When The MARK opened, Mullen was working as director of operations at an arena in Long Beach, Calif. He had applied to be the first operations director for The MARK, but lost out to someone with more experience.

Scott Mullen, seen on the arena floor May 9, 2023, was instrumental in helping secure pandemic-relief funding for arenas nationwide (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Mullen has held event and operations positions at Temple University, Bender Arena, Nassau Coliseum, the Philadelphia Civic Center and the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center. He’s been general manager at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, the Hersheypark Sports & Entertainment Complex in Hershey, Penn., and Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in New York.

Mullen has been an active member in IAVM since 1993, has earned a Certified Venue Executive designation with the organization, served as a District 1 vice president in 1999 and is currently the Region 3 (Midwest) director.

The former TaxSlayer Center, 1201 River Drive, Moline, became Vibrant Arena at The MARK effective Sept. 1, 2022.

The arena averages 150 events a year (including the conference center) and about 525,000 guests a year.

For upcoming events at the arena (such as a June 1 show with country star Chris Stapleton), click HERE. To see a slideshow of some major events over the years, click below.