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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
“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:
|Billy Ray Cyrus||6/20/1993||11,048|
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.”
“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.
“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.
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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
Employees who’ve been at the arena since Day 1 include:
- Rocky Jones, Assistant Executive Director
- Kim McVey, Senior Accounting Manager
- Greg Mouw, Senior Ticketing Operations Manager
- Chon Wherry, Systems Administrator
- 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.”
“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.
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 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.