Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

June 19, 2024

CRDA: XL Center, Convention Center attendance return to pre-pandemic levels

Contributed The seats were packed at Hartford Wolf Pack games during the 2023-24 season at the XL Center.
Contributed The Wolf Pack celebrate after a goal during the 2023-24 season at the XL Center.

Attendance at events held at the XL Center in Hartford have returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to a report presented Tuesday to the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA).

CRDA’s board met Tuesday evening to, among other things, approve its fiscal year 2025 budget, which is the second year of a two-year budget. The state appropriation for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, totals nearly $10.85 million, including $5.65 million for the Connecticut Convention Center, $2 million for the XL Center, and $1.45 million for the CRDA office.

Before the board voted unanimously to approve the budget, they heard a presentation from CFO Joe Geremia on individual appropriations, as well as from Ben Weiss, general manager of the Oak View Group, the international sports and entertainment company that manages the XL Center.

Weiss said the XL Center is “back to pre-COVID attendance levels,” and that he expects the numbers to continue to grow, especially with “new content coming into the market.”

He specifically cited two recent Latin music concerts that featured performances by American bachata group Aventura on May 27, and the Ferxxocalipsis World Tour on June 9, headlined by Colombian singer Feid.

Overall attendance year to date for FY 2024 is more than 600,000, which actually exceeds the levels of 500,000 to 600,000 seen before the pandemic.

In the coming fiscal year, the XL Center is scheduled to host 116 events, up 33% from 87 in fiscal 2024.

The improvement in attendance was attributed in part to the strong season just completed by the Hartford Wolf Pack, the city’s American Hockey League franchise. The team advanced to the Atlantic Division finals of the Calder Cup playoffs before losing to the Hershey (Pa.) Bears.

The Wolf Pack recorded 19 sellouts of the XL Center’s “lower bowl” during its 2023-24 season, the team reported. Over the course of its 36 regular-season home games, the team’s average attendance was 5,456, its highest single-season average since the 2010-11 season. Of those 36 home games, 24, or nearly 67%, drew crowds of more than 5,000 fans.

Other sports-related events also drew well, with nearly 20,000 people attending the CORE Hydration Classic gymnastics event held in late May and over 9,000 attending a WWE Raw professional wrestling event held earlier in the month. 

The XL Center also benefited from the success of the University of Connecticut’s men’s and women’s basketball teams.

Results in fiscal 2024 were more mixed for the CT Convention Center. While it also saw improvement in attendance to near pre-COVID levels, hosting 86 events drawing more than 330,000 people, officials said the nature of the people attending is different. 

Mike Costelli, general manager of the convention center, said the loss of hotel rooms in the city and nearby towns means fewer attendees are staying overnight, which affects the kind of events the center can attract.

Mike Freimuth, CRDA’s executive director, said people “want to be able to walk to the building and have a variety of price points” for hotel rooms, but now have more limited choices because so many rooms have vanished.

“Now the person is spending a day instead of a few days,” he said. “And they’re eating a meal at the center instead of going out to local restaurants.”

He said that also has a detrimental effect on parking and tax revenue. 

The center has also changed the mix of events it schedules, which in the current fiscal year included the Beyond King Tut immersive exhibit and GLOW Hartford holiday indoor light show, both of which performed better than expected.

The convention center is scheduled for 132 events in the coming fiscal year.

The center’s budget for fiscal 2025 includes money to restore the plaza in the rear of the building along the Connecticut River.

Freimuth said the plaza, made of porous brick, sits on top of convention space and is “leaking pretty severely,” making the repairs urgent. 

“It’s a zone of safety for any emergency evacuation of the building, but it’s not a very functional area,” he said. “It’s 20 years old and water has found its way into the building.”

He added that this is the second phase of repairs, with the first updating the plaza between the convention center and the Marriot Hotel.

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF