Original Report

Contracted managers of Colorado Convention Center routinely score free tickets

A company contracted by the City of Denver to run the Colorado Convention Center frequently inserts clauses into the rental contracts to assure themselves of complimentary tickets to events.

A review of 38 contracts for events held at the Convention Center during January and February 2013 found eight events in which SMG officials had inserted a “complimentary tickets” clause.

The events and number of free tickets for the contracts examined by Complete Colorado are as follows:

  • International Sportsmen’s Exposition, Dec 31, 2012 to Jan 7, 2013, 50 free tickets (document)
  • Colorado Garden Show, Feb 5-13, 2013, 50 free tickets (document)
  • Rocky Mountain Bridal Show, Jan 5-6, 2013, 50 free tickets (document)
  • Colorado RV Show, Jan 6-13, 2013, 50 free tickets (document)
  • Colorado Marine Dealers Association, Jan 8-13, 2013, 50 free tickets (document)
  • American Diabetes Association, Feb 8-9, 2013, 50 free tickets (document)
  • Phineas and Ferb Live, Feb 1-2, 2013, 50 free tickets (document)
  • Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, Feb 28, 2013, 10 free tickets (document)

In some of these cases, the free tickets amounted to hundreds of dollars to the SMG management. For example, the lowest ticket prices for the Phineas and Ferb Live! event were $16, meaning 50 free tickets would have otherwise cost $800. Prices for the Colorado Garden Show were $12 for adults, totaling $600 in value to the SMG management. Add up dozens of events across the course of a year, and SMG managers were piling up thousands of dollars worth of free tickets.

Complete Colorado emailed questions about this practice to Denver’s “Arts and Venues” manager, Kent Rice.  Those emails were not returned.

Michael Henry, Staff Director for the Denver Board of Ethics provided his overview of the situation with the following bullet points:

  • The Denver Code of Ethics (copy attached), which the Denver Board of Ethics administers, only applies to Denver city employees, elected officials and board and commission members, not private contractors.
  • Section 2-67 of the Denver Code of Ethics prohibits such city people from “use of public office for private gain.”
  • The Board has never decided whether such “complimentary ticket” requirements are ethical and I do not have an opinion on that without first trying to understand what the reasons for such requirements are and how those tickets are historically used.

How the tickets “are historically used,” is indeed a part of the question.

Free tickets to events can often be ethical trip wires for governments, but oftentimes still occupy a grey area with regards to ethical codes of conduct. For example, a recent Pennsylvania politician was accused of improper conduct by allegedly taking free tickets to Philadelphia Phillies games.  Yet the Pennsylvania legislature, when considering ethics reform in the wake of the Phillies ticket incident, was all-too eager to ban cash gifts but leave other goodies like meals and complementary tickets on the table.

A report from 2012 by CBS4 investigative reporter Brian Maass showed how hundreds of tickets routed through Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s office were distributed to his inner circle of staff, as well as to high level staffers of the Hickenlooper administration.

UPDATE: On Monday, March 31, Kent Rice with Denver’s Arts and Venues emailed the following comment:  “We don’t have any issues with SMG or any other venue operator withholding tickets.  It is standard operating practice in the industry, which you can verify with any other venue operator.  So no, I don’t see any ethical issues with withholding ticketing inventory.”

Send us tips at CompleteColorado@gmail.com.

Photo credit: clarkmaxwell / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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