Roar of the Crowds

Brenda Tinnen is back in her hometown after an 18-year-long road trip. Luckily for Kansas City, she brought along some of her famous friends.

Tinnen, senior vice president and general manager of the acclaimed Sprint Center, has brought diverse A-list entertainers like Garth Brooks, Elton John, Celine Dion, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and Britney Spears plus big-ticket sporting events to the metro area’s favorite home away from home. No stranger to big-city arenas, Tinnen has launched star-catchers like the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Calif.; the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood; and the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

Ecstatic is Tinnen’s unabashed, self-described reaction in relocating to Kansas City after working in Minneapolis, Houston, Phoenix and L.A. for almost two decades.

“I had always planned to return here at some point,” says Tinnen. “An incredible opportunity came along when AEG developed the Sprint Center.”

When Tinnen was tapped in November 2005 by AEG’s president and CEO Timothy Leiweke as the Sprint Center’s chief, she envisioned the sparkling bauble on the edge of the Power & Light District would set a new standard for venues and firmly establish Kansas City as a must-play stop on every concert artist’s tour.

That crystal-ball prediction has come true in spades.

Tinnen and her team have catapulted the Sprint Center to rock star status since its inaugural events in 2007. Pop icon Elton John’s bring-down-the-house grand opening show followed by Garth Brooks’ nine sold out shows with fans from as far away as Asia, Australia and England filling the seats heralded the arrival of a new era of entertainment in Kansas City. Since its prodigious opening, the Sprint Center has become known as a spectacular regional showcase that’s a state-of-the-art reflection of the spirit of KC’s once-maligned and now revitalized downtown area. Pollstar, the entertainment industry’s leading trade magazine, ranked the venue as No. 5 in the Top 50 Worldwide Arena Venues in its 2009 First Quarter Ranking Edition. 

The astonishing kudos don’t stop there. All 10 of the Top 10 Worldwide Tours as designated by Pollstar will make an appearance at the Sprint Center since its October 2007 opening, two sold-out shows by both Bon Jovi and Tina Turned garnered KC recognition on the 2008 Top Grossing Concert rankings and Celine’s performance in January 2009 was the arena’s highest grossing one-event concert to date.

Perhaps the best litmus test of the Sprint Center’s reception is revealed with the crowds flocking to event after event with more than two million guests attending 210 events in just 18 months.

“We’ve created an industry standard here that has KC back on the map,” explains Tinnen. “The creature comforts and bells and whistles of the Sprint Center make this facility a dream for artists and crews to come in and set up. Plus, the room is pretty intimate for a facility accommodating 18,500 people.”

Tinnen’s resume reads like the first act in a mesmerizing Broadway show. She spent six years with the Minnesota Timberwolves professional basketball team and the Minneapolis Target Center, responsible for the team’s ticket operations and events. During her first year with the T-Wolves the team averaged over 26,000 fans per game, an NBA record. 

She also served as the senior vice president of marketing and sales with the Phoenix Coyotes where the desert-dwelling population heartily embraced ice hockey and was the Houston Rockets’ vice president of customer service. Her stint in Los Angeles included launching one of the world’s busiest buildings — the Staples Center — and opening the glamorous Kodak Theatre.

“The dynamics of Staples was incredible,” says Tinnen. “As home to the L.A. Lakers, NBA Clippers, WNBA Sparks and the NHL Kings, every musical artist you can imagine and high-profile events of national and international distinction the customer service and attention to detail required was enormous.”

Tinnen’s efforts to assemble a Sprint Center staff of local-based employees with experience in a variety of roles related to guest service, operations and hospitality have been lauded. 

“We scrutinize the facility through our guests’ eyes,” explains Tinnen. “We ensure the arena is clean, safe and secure and that we’re ready to go when the doors open, right down to our name tags and smiles.”

Tinnen feeds on the energy and enthusiasm that Kansas City has for the urban core’s transformation. She says Midwest hospitality and appreciative audiences brimming with civic pride continually win over artists.

“Sprint Center audiences are vocal and adoring and performers pick up on that,” notes Tinnen. “When Fleetwood Mac was here in May the production manager said the show was one of the best on the tour because they were feeding off the audience.”

What about the elusive anchor tenant Sprint Center executives have been angling for?

“We need to get the right team in KC, something with local ownership,” says Tinnen. “We’re keeping our eye on the puck and the ball and want to get the best situation.”

When it comes to enjoying the venue, Tinnen says she’s had many memorable moments since opening night. But her favorite event is the one she just finished or the upcoming one.

“Someone out there is spending their hard-earned money to buy tickets to something at the Sprint Center,” says Tinnen. “It’s my job, along with my team, to make sure they can forget about life for awhile and have the best experience possible.”

Welcome home, Brenda. And keep inviting those friends.

words: Kimberly Stern

photos: Paul Versluis