With the exception of the brief time it flew the doomed iPayOne corporate banner, for more than four decades locals have known it as the Sports Arena. But after November 1, that changes when the 14,000-seat venue will be rechristened Valley View Casino Center.
“Since 1998, we’ve been actively trying to find a corporate sponsor,” says Ernie Hahn II, AEG Facilities senior vice president and general manager of the venue. The five-year, $1.5 million deal between the City of San Diego, arena operator AEG Facilities, and the Valley View Casino in Valley Center was announced October 12 after the city council approved the deal.
“We hadn’t had much luck [finding a corporate sponsor] until 2005 with a fledgling company,” Hahn says of the $2.5 million naming rights deal struck between the arena and now-defunct North County real estate savings company, iPayOne. “They didn’t last long, and we weren’t able to enjoy the synergies and the marketing that should have been there.”
Hahn says that Valley View Casino sends out a quarter of a million promotional mailers every month. “The ability for all of our shows to be listed on 250,000 pieces of collateral will lead to more ticket sales and a chance to do better in our facility.”
Under AEG stewardship, the arena underwent a $3 million renovation, which included the addition of a new 6500-square-foot VIP hospitality space, new lower-level seats, LCD televisions throughout, and upgraded entrances. But the Valley View deal comes with a condition, says Hahn. They insist that the parking lot be repaved; good news, perhaps, for the one million bargain hunters who visit Kobey’s Swap Meet each year.
“It’s been needed for years,” he says. “It’s a huge capital expense.”
Music fans have long complained about the venue’s hockey-rink acoustics, but that is precisely what the building is — a giant ice arena. Built in 1966 for $6.4 million by local sports hero Robert Breitbard in order to house his Western Hockey League franchise San Diego Gulls, it was hoped that the San Diego International Sports Arena (as it was known then) would attract other pro sports.
The size of the venue made it attractive to concert promoters. As portrayed in Cameron Crowe’s 2000 film Almost Famous, the Sports Arena has played host to Elvis, Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, James Brown (Brown was the Sports Arena’s first concert in 1967), the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, and Nirvana.
Hahn expects that Valley View Casino will produce its own shows at the venue. During the past two summers, Valley View has produced concerts at their casino and has announced plans to shuttle casino guests to and from arena shows. “I believe,” says Hahn, “that it’s worth several events a year.”