Tickets, please…..maybe not

Event entry has changed so much in just a short time.  Now we have (ok, I am representing them) which requires only a phone to buy tickets and a phone with an app to read it for entry…..Now being used by some of the Derby Girls.

Photo by Keith Syvinski from

When I first promoted Roller Derby, we could only use “hard” tickets, which had to be ordered from a bonded printer with the approval of the venue, so the ticket printer knew you had the right capacities and seating maps if it was a reserved house.  We are now so used to instant ticketing that of course at that time you had to order tickets well in advance.  We always ordered blank (not dated) sets in case we would add some unscheduled dates.

And then distribution was the problem.   Ticket buyers would either have to go to the venue or to designated locations that were privately operated box offices who handled many different events.  We always used Downtown Center Box Office in San Francisco and two other box offices in the Bay Area.  Of course, if a customer wanted a certain section or seat, chances are they were at the wrong box offices.  So it wasn’t easy…..and you would have to pull back all tickets the day before so you could have them on sale at the arena the day of the game.

So Ticketron started by setting up computerized ticketing, with outlets at Sears.  For quite a while, you could not get exact seating as it could only sell “best available” supposedly determined by the promoter.  They charged an inside fee of 35 cents to the promoter or venue for each ticket sold, and a service charge to customers of 25 cents per ticket;  plus there was a “set up” charge to the promoter to build the event.  The advantage obviously, events could go on sale within a few days, rather than weeks,  and ticket customers could go to a location near where they lived to by advance tickets.

If you have read the earlier blog on Ticketron, you know why Hal and I went into the ticket business.  Of course we overestimated potential revenue, bought the wrong system, were supplied with stolen software which we didn’t use, and it took years of hard work to start to make any money…..outside of that, a hell of a business.

In 1982 we hired a very bright Stanford business student (John Harris, now killing them on Wall Street) to go to Los Angeles and survey customers and entertainment and sports providers to see if it made sense for us to expand from Northern to Southern California.  John wrote a great report (which later we used as part of a business plan) and we found out that another ticket company called Ticketmaster had made inquiries into the market.  (We were BASS Tickets:  Bay Area Seating Service).  So I contacted Lou Dickstein who was utilizing Ticketmaster in Dallas, and he told me the company had been bought by the Pritzker family (Hyatt Hotels, among other businesses) and some very good guys were in charge.  I met them at a trade show, and Fred Rosen, Bob Leonard and I became the unholy triumvirate that led the ticket assault across America.

Fred was in New York and trying to get a company called Charg-it to be the company used for phone orders.  I had two things going for Los Angeles:  an arrangement with Century theaters to sell advance tickets for movies (yes, BASS started that) and our San Francisco sales rep found out that Steve Wozniak (Steve Jobs partner at Apple) was unhappy with the way Ticketron handled sales for the US Festival the previous year and wanted a non-computerized (?) company to handle the upcoming 2nd Festival.  I called Fred who was starting to get pissed at Charg-It and when I told him we could have the US Festival he said great, and then I said we had to be on sale in 6 weeks.  When he got done screaming that we didn’t have computers etc, I explained we would use hard tickets (general admission) and he immediately strategized:  we would open an office in Los Angeles, get 40 phones and 70 ticket locations and print and distribute hard tickets;  and Lou Dickstein would handle it.

So we obtained a leading record store chain (remember those?), a sports store chain, and went to work selling out 3 days of the US Festival near San Bernardino, CA.  The US festival gave Ticketmaster a million dollars worth of advertising, we then in opened 9 computer outlets in Orange County, and sold tens of thousands of tickets for “The Empire Strikes back” which was playing at one theater in Orange county.

So the nation’s leading computerized ticketing company’s initial foray into Southern California began with non-computer hard tickets for the US Festival and computer tickets for “The Empire Strikes Back”.  You take the opportunity when you can.

On the next part of the story, how Ticketmaster captured the US, how ticketing has changed dramatically, and what will happen tomorrow.

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