Elvis. Aerosmith. Elton John. Frank Sinatra.
The greats all performed at UD Arena, on the same floor that also welcomed boxers, comedians, gymnasts and other entertainers, said Gary McCans ’68, the director of event services at UD Arena.
The Arena opened in 1969 to entertain men’s basketball fans excited by the team’s 1968 NIT victory and 1967 NCAA Tournament run to the finals.
“When the Arena opened, we were the largest privately owned facility in Ohio,” McCans said.
McCans started working in the ticket office at the Arena immediately after it opened. Every time a new act came through, his staff would have to set aside tickets for a year, in case the IRS or a promoter needed an audit.
After a year passed, McCans grabbed a few tickets from each event and started placing them in a box.
He now has hundreds of tickets, colorful mementos of a bygone era — when a night watching the Beach Boys cost less than $10. It turns out there was an event at the Arena for just about everyone.
“We’ve gone from Lawrence Welk to ZZ Top to country and western — Kenny Rogers and Alabama,” McCans said.
The Portland Trailblazers and Milwaukee Bucks played an exhibition game Oct. 4, 1974, featuring Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was the first time in their Hall of Fame careers that the former UCLA centers had faced off.
A post about McCans’ tickets on Facebook brought out more memories.
“My very first concert was at UD Arena — Def Leppard’s Hysteria Tour 1987,” wrote Michelle Brooks.
“(I) think I was paid $20 to be a student usher for Queen. Great show,” wrote Tom Didato in another post.
While the Arena still hosts the circus and WGI Color Guard World Championships, many other acts now choose larger venues in Columbus and Cincinnati, where promoters can sell up to 20,000 tickets, compared to UD Arena’s 13,455 or fewer, depending on stage configuration.
Back when the Arena first hosted concerts, acts would bring three or four semis of equipment. Now, McCans said, acts can have 20.
“We can’t fit the shows into our building anymore, they just got so big,” McCans said.
Concerts at the Arena may be a thing of the past, but they live on inside McCans’ ticket box and our memories.
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