NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The National Rifle Association was scheduled to host its annual meeting at Music City Center this weekend which would’ve meant about 85,000 attendees over four days.
“To say that we’ve been hit pretty hard is certainly an accurate statement,” said Music City Center President/CEO Charles Starks. “Every time the phone rings and it’s a customer calling, I and our sales team are kind of like ‘uh oh.’”
He said there were 43 conventions and groups that have canceled events at Music City Center since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. That would have meant 255,000 attendees, about 220,000 hotel room nights and a direct economic impact of about $230 million for Nashville and Davidson County.
According to Starks, they were able to re-book 23 groups with alternate dates, but a lot of those were smaller meetings that could find space later in the year. That’s about $36 million in direct economic impact that they were able to salvage.
On any given day, there were also up to 1,000 contractors at Music City Center in addition to the complex’s 575 full time and part time staff.
“Not only has it impacted the convention center and certainly the people that would attend and spill out into the streets and into restaurants and bars and attractions downtown, it’s certainly the workers that, while are not on our payroll, are contractors we utilize so them and their families that are not working and most of those folks haven’t worked since the middle of March when the shows canceled here so it certainly is a ripple effect,” Starks said.
He added that June has been devastating for cancelations, though there are a few groups left in that month as well as July. There have also been a couple of cancelations in August.
“We’re saying to customers right now – maybe you originally assumed you were gonna have 5,000 attendees and you know your attendance is going to be hurt because there are going to be some companies that don’t send attendees or whatever it may be. So, maybe only 2.500 are coming – you’re only getting 50 percent. We’re saying to them let us work with you on what your minimums may have been or contractual things because we just want you to come to Nashville if there’s any way possible,” Starks said. “Certainly we’ve got to lean on our health professionals here and we gotta go to their guidance but we’re saying here look we’ll work with you there, don’t cancel because you don’t think we’ll work with you.”
They’re hoping that’s acceptable by the time July and August roll around. Most event planners are waiting until the first or second week of May to revisit the conversation about being hosted by Music City Center.
“Over the next cycle of a year or so you’re going to have meetings coming that are certainly going to see attendance numbers fluctuate. I think that’s pretty much a given,” Starks said. “We’ll see that happen over the next year.”
Starks said he sits on an international board of meeting planners and they’re discussing what impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on their industry beyond 2020.
“We’ve got so many people around the world that never worked remotely before and what’s happening is studies are starting to show – at least on the meeting side – a lot of them are saying I’m not as fond of that as I thought I would be. It was okay for the first week or so, now I’ve sort of had it with that,” he said. “So in the latest couple of surveys that came back from just attendees of shows, they say I can’t wait to get back to face to face.”
According to Starks, he feels the industry will rebound but it will take some time.
“I think the attendees numbers coming back is going to be a little bit of people making sure ‘I feel safe going out, I think it’s okay to get on an airplane, and I think all that’s good’,” he said. “But then again I think the economics of how badly companies have been hurt or associations or organizations have been hurt is going to have to say ‘Hey we’re going to have to skip this year’s show or we’re only gonna send two people and not five.’ I think that’s what we’re going to see for the next 12 months once we’re able to get restarted.”
Music City Center was in the process of being transformed into an alternate hospital for COVID-19 patients but those plans have been suspended for now.