The Alaska Airlines Center is approaching its first full calendar year of use. The $109 million, multi-purpose arena has seen several concerts, cultural activities and numerous UAA athletic events in the past year. In total, an estimated 200,000 people have attended an event at the arena since its opening last September.
The Alaska Airlines Center also helped draw in larger crowds to UAA athletic events. Where the gymnasium at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex could only hold 1,250 fans in its bleachers, the Alaska Airlines Center can seat up to 5,000. Both the men and women’s basketball teams saw a large increase in home attendance after the move to the Alaska Airlines Center. In fact, both the men and women hoopsters led their respective Great Northwest Athletic Conferences in home attendance — averaging around 1,100 attendees when at home.
UAA Women’s Basketball head coach Ryan McCarthy said that the Alaska Airlines Center is “right there with the best of them” in terms of other athletic facilities around the world. Many other coaches and players agree with McCarthy and say it outpaces some NCAA Div. I facilities.
UAA Athletics Director Keith Hackett sees the Alaska Airlines Center not only as a useful asset for coaches to recruit players, but also as a way to bring the community together. The center hosted the Alaska School Activities Association 1A and 2A high school basketball tournaments in March. A month later, the center hosted the Native Youth Olympics. Both events drew competitors and spectators from all over the state.
Hackett said he wanted to “make sure everyone has an opportunity to enjoy the building.”
The Alaska Airlines Center also became the new host to one of Alaska’s signature sporting events, the Great Alaska Shootout. The shootout had been hosted at the Sullivan Arena since the inaugural tournament in 1983.
Even before the shootout was hosted by the Alaska Airlines Center, the new arena saw its first major musical act, Tim McGraw. The country singer from Louisiana performed two nights in late October to near-sold out crowds. The venue has hosted several other musical acts such as Brad Paisley, Mötley Crüe and the Alabama Shakes. The center will host another country singer, Toby Keith, this fall.
The Alaska Airlines Center also brought the UAA Athletic program more space. Track and field coach Eric Walsh noted that back when the Wells Fargo Sports Complex was home to the athletics teams, there were times when two or three teams would need to use the athletic training room before and after practice. The room itself, which is only about 12 feet by 26 feet, struggled to hold the number of athletes that required attention from the trainers. In the Alaska Airlines Center, there is now more than enough room in the athletics training area to help athletes that need treatment.
The Alaska Airlines Center has also been beneficial to university traditions like Fall and Spring Commencement ceremonies. Bridgett Dyson, University Advancement’s special events manager, said that the venue has allowed UAA to lower costs of commencement. The building has also allowed UAA to begin holding commencements in the fall and the spring.
The Alaska Airlines Center will host its first UAA athletic event of the season at 7 p.m. Aug. 29, when the UAA volleyball team holds its alumnae match.