Jerry Seltzer bio “Seltzer is the head of the third wave of American sports promoters this century” Frank Deford


Jerry was born June 3,1932 in Portland, Oregon.  His father Leo operated 3 movie theaters in Portland but had become intrigued with Walkathons, a marathon-type event that he then produced until 1935 when he had the idea of putting the participants on roller skates on a banked track.  Thus Roller Derby was born.

Jerry attended Stanford and Northwestern Universities, then entered the US Army where he served in the Counter Intelligence corps in Austria.  A few years after his return to the US he took over the operation of the International Roller Derby League and ran it from 1959  to 1973 when it ceased operations.  Roller Derby became so popular in the Bay Area, that it outdrew all professional sports teams except for the Giants.  He produced a one hour tape series weekly which was also distributed to over 110 stations  in the US and Canada.  He did color commentary on many of the telecasts and announced on a few.

Live games were scheduled in major arenas and stadia across the country, and some of the attendance records set were 19,500 at Madison Square Garden; 14,727 at Oracle Arena, Oakland; 27,000 at Shea Stadium New York; 34,544 at The Oakland Stadium; and 50,114 at White Sox Park in Chicago.

He was contacted by Lamar Hunt and a group of AFL football owners to head up a consortium to buy the Oakland Seals of the NHL.  Although his group had the endorsement of the Oakland Coliseum Arena and local media, the NHL chose Charlie Finley who had to suspend operations within two years.

His PR firm (Gerald E. Seltzer and Associates) consulted for the Oakland Clippers of the NASL Soccer league, and headed the campaign to keep trucks off of interstate 580 through the center of Oakland (still in effect today!)

Photo by kaeska from stock.xchng.com

Photo by kaeska from stock.xchng.com

While with BASS he produced  concerts for Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard for a client. Mark Rothbaum, Willie’s manager, presented him with a Platinum record of Willie’s for helping to boost his career.  Also co-produced two Russian River Music Festivals in Guerneville, Ca.

He also presented the Highwaymen (Willie, Waylon, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson) in two concerts for the BASS Ticket Foundation, which provided tickets for the underserved in the community.  BASS was also the exclusive ticketing agency used by Bill Graham presents, the Oakland Coliseum Complex, Shorenstein Nederlander theatres, The SF Giants, The Oakland Raiders, The 49ers, the Oakland As, Shoreline Arena, HP Pavilion, Arco Arena and dozens more.

He was also selected to handle the ticketing (and tour with) Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue.

In 1970 he produced “Derby”, a documentary about the players in the game, which was judged the best film at the San Francisco Film Festival , and which received excellent reviews from the New York Times, Saturday Review, and most of the critics of the day.  Roger Ebert gave it 4 stars….He also produced “First Position”, a cinema verite film centered on the American Ballet School in New York City, with appearances by many of the leading dancers in the world.

In 1974 he and partner Hal Silen started BASS tickets in the Bay Area, the first wholly owned independent computerized service.  It provided many producer and customer services that Ticketron hadn’t, and became the dominant ticket service in the SF Bay Area.  BASS systems were sold to Vancouver,  Houston, and Melbourne (Australia).  On November 18, 1985, San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan declared it as “Jerry Seltzer Day” in acknowledgment of his involvement with Thunder Road, a teenage drug and rehab center.

Hal and Jerry also created the BASS Tickets Foundation, which provided over $ 1 million in tickets annually to over 200 underserved non profits in the Bay Area so their clients could see various entertainments, and they worked with the San Francisco Ballet to have special presentations with children from urban areas to meet the dancers and understand and appreciate areas they might never know.

In 1983 Seltzer joined Ticketmaster as executive Vice President, Marketing and Sales, and created the same kind of services that BASS provided and within 5 years the company had virtually eliminated Ticketron from the marketplace.  He also provided management help for various local offices including New York, Chicago, Denver, Orlando and Miami.

After leaving Ticketmaster in 1993 he moved from Santa Monica to Sonoma, California, sitting on a number of non-profit boards including the Bay Area American Red Cross.  He was asked by Reverend Cecil Williams of Glide Church to help to secure a venue and help with the marketing and fund raising for  the 30th aniversary celebration of the church with Robin Williams, Bobby McFerrin, Maya Angelo and others that raised over $300,000.  He was also an initial consultant for Stub Hub.

In 1997 he co-founded the Sonoma Film Festival which today is considered one of the leading independent festivals. Proceeds from the Festival were used to restore the classic Sebastiani theatre. The following year funds were raised for lights for events at the Sebastiani.  He helped present “Derby Baby” at the festival in 2012.

He and his sister Gloria Gurian donated land in Seaside Oregon to create Seltzer Park near Leo’s home, and presented concerts with Willie Nelson and the Smothers Brothers to raise funds. He had served on the Bay Area Board of the American Red Cross and in the past three years was involved with the Red Cross and Brown Paper Tickets in co-ordinating blood drives in Northern California, New England, Chicago, Florida, Pennsylvania, and  New York….over the last several years over 3300 lives were saved from the blood donated.

He also serves as “The Commissioner” of modern day Roller Derby.  there are now 1967 amateur  leagues in 65 countries encompassing over 100,000 participants (www.derbylisting.com).  He has no official capacity other than advisor to the various leagues on a non-compensated basis.  The Seltzer Cup, named for his father, is presented by at the annual USARS national championship.  And Texas Roller Derby, the first modern Roller Derby banked track league, features the Ann Calvello Cup, which is presented annually to its championship team.

He joined Brown Paper Tickets in sales outreach in 2013 and recently resigned to concentrate on consulting.

He has a blog:  www.rollerderbyjesus.com.  Featured in “Five Strides on the Banked Track”, Frank Deford, Little Brown;  “A very simple game” Herb Michelson; “From Roller Derby to Rollerjam” Keith Coppage;  “Ticket Masters” by Dean Burdick; “Bay Area Roller Derby” by Keith Coppage and Jerry Seltzer.  and of course a wikipedia page. he twitters @jeryseltzer, and has over 8000 friends and followers on facebook…, and his blog has had almost 400,000 viewings.  He was featured in a recent BBC presentation on Roller Derby, in a segment of “Strange Inheritances” on Fox Business Channel and in the Mark Greczmiel documentary on the late, lamented, Oakland Seals Hockey team of the NHL.  And he was featured in the CBS television program “Decades” on 8/13/2018.

Recently he was the subject of the April 2017 issue of Valley of the Moon Magazine and a feature in the San Francisco Chronicle relating to the 20th anniversary of the Sonoma Film Festival.  He also co-presented on behalf of Brown Paper Tickets the World Roller Derby Week in Chicago August 13 to 19 2017..the event on August 13 took place on the original site of the Chicago Coliseum, where his father and he presented Roller Derby.

The American Red Cross Northwest selected him as a 2018 Red Cross Hero for the blood drives, and he was honored at a function in Santa Rosa, Ca.

.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

A midnight Rambler


I really was not into Rock and Roll until my 40’s.  I was re-inspired tonight by a documentary on the Stones (Crossfire Hurricane) on HBO …..it will continue to be shown at various times.

It was produced by the Stones…and I think it showed some footage from Robert Frank’s 1972 documentary “c*** s*****  blues” which is owned by the Stones and they never permitted a public showing (although I was fortunate enough to see it in 1974 when Frank brought his copy to UC Berkeley.  We sold advance tickets through BASS Tickets with CS blues as the title).  There were some very depressing scenes in it from open sex on the plane to Keith shooting himself up back stage…..They did have some flashes of the plane footage.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen the Stones, certainly after 1974 whenever they were in the Bay Area.  I think they still are the best-performing band.  The Who was more musically constructed, Springsteen more powerful, but nobody is as much fun as Mick and the gang.

It is so hard to try to tell anyone who has only listened to recordings the effect that live music has on a listener…..it can transform you.  For some reason some artists seem to have a shield between them and the audience; in my experience Merle Haggard, Bob Seger, Whitney Houston, and Diana Ross fall into that category; you like their music, you want to see them, and somehow they don’t move you.

The Stones can move the Walking Dead.  You know all of their songs, Mick’s moves, Keith and Ron’s riffs and Charlie’s indifference, but you just don’t want them to stop.  When I first saw Ron Wood he was with Faces, the band that played with Rod Stewart; he belongs in the Stones; some how those craggy faces seem to fit each other.

Photo by Rubenjob from stock.xchng.com.

They spent quite a bit of time in the documentary at the Altamount concert.  Bill Graham refused to front their free concert; he felt there was no way it could be secure, and it certainly wasn’t.  Watch it and see just how terrifying it was.  No real security, not the best idea to get the Hells Angels to do it for beer.  and I think I saw Deakon out front.

The best was when Bill convinced the group to do some dates at Winterland along with the big outdoor stadium shows.  To hear any of these groups in this intimate surrounding was a great experience.  At that hallowed 4400 seat venue I also saw The Last Waltz withThe Band and Dylan,  Blue Oyster Cult, Montrose (with Sammy Hagar), the Pretenders, the Sex Pistols, and on and on.  And I had the thrill of hearing the one band I managed (in my spare time !), the Russian Rockers Sasha and Yuri open for Blue Oyster Cult at Winterland.

I truly feel sorry for those today who don’t have exposure to these great musicians, with ticket prices at $10 and service charge of $2.50 (with $1 going to Bill Graham).  Brown Paper Tickets could make everyone honest and draw more people if everyone used them.

I would say to you all, if you get one more chance to see these almost 70-year old rockers – and it is the only live concert you go to that year – do so…….It is one of these things that will always stay with you.  and please complain about the service fees.  Tickets for the December show at Barclay Center in Brooklyn are on sale:  $454 plus $46.50 service fee…….the service fee alone is over 3 times what the tickets cost for the Stones when we sold them……sorry about that.

The Three Amigos


Collage by Mary LaVenture. Main photo by govicinity from stock.xchng.com

I was panicked after I was forced to shut down Roller Derby in 1973.

I had been running the Midwest and Eastern units out of  Chicago, and I drove alone from that city back to the San Francisco Bay Area.  I used to love that trip, but it was terror all the way.  I was in my forties, and all I knew what to do was to operate Roller Derby.  I had no professional skills at all (so I thought).  The Harlem Globetrotters were kind enough to offer me the opportunity to go on the road and advance the ‘Globies, but to me that was taking a huge step backwards.

I already told you how Hal, Peggy and I started BASS Tickets, and although it took years, it was becoming successful….we knew we didn’t have the money to expand to other areas, so after John Harris did his study (see earlier post), I arranged to go to Milwaukee where the annual meeting of the IAAM (arena managers) and trade show was held.  I knew many of the managers as I had rented their halls for Roller Derby.  But I went specifically to meet the new men who were taking on Ticketron with the company Ticketmaster.  I was dressed San Francisco style: a rock and roll tee shirt and jeans.  I came up to the Ticketmaster booth and was greeted by a distinguished looking man about my age who bore a striking resemblance to Tip O’Neill, the majority leader of the House.  The other man (both in nice suits and ties) was much younger, so I assumed the first gentleman was Fred Rosen….it turned out he was Bob Leonard and he directed me to Fred, who was busy talking to a prospect.  We agreed to meet later and have dinner and discuss the possible tie in of our companies.

Both Bob and Fred told me later that they had taken one look at me and thought that I couldn’t be the Jerry Seltzer they had heard about from the various building managers.  I was.

At dinner things got warmer between us; it was amazing how different we were.  Fred was a very successful attorney in New York City, who regarded Ticketmaster, a very badly run company that was on the block, to be a great opportunity.  He had met with Jay Pritzker, the head of the very successful hotel chain(Hyatt) and other companies, and said if he could raise a certain amount of money, would Jay finance it.  He did and Jay did.

Bob Leonard appeared very scholarly; he had attended Boston College and taught mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He became the head of one of the major corporations of ITT (Sheraton Hotels and 100 other companies), and had been persuaded to become the President of Ticketmaster.  It wasn’t until he had taken over that he realized the bad shape the company was in; that’s when Fred appeared.

We were so different, yet so entrepreneurial and all a little over the edge.

I had intended to go back and operate BASS in San Francisco, and we agreed that Hal and I would send down one of our executives to operate Los Angeles, while Fred was signing the Chicago White Sox and other leading clients.  Unfortunately, Fred decided that the person we had sent was not right for the position and he made me the following proposal:  he would come to Los Angeles for 6 months and I would too, and we would see if we could make a successful inroad.

So in March of the following year, I moved to Los Angeles to the seediest part of town;  how seedy?  The Safeway nearest to where I had the apartment featured full Pigs’ heads in the meat department.  A rare delicacy.

Lou Dickstein had come from Texas to share the apartment and to do the hard tickets for the US Festival.  Every night he would do a Kramer-like entrance to the apartment, claiming he had just eluded the Viet Cong in the hallway…..one night he said a friendly neighbor had invited us over for squirrel, and continued with other crazy stunts….a very good and funny guy.

But the initial story was the three of us (Fred, Bob and I) dividing tasks and I was in charge of creating a marketing department. Fred was looking for offices, and a temporary manager had said he had located the perfect offices.  Fred, Bob, and Lou drove to Torrance and came to this beautiful office complex.  They looked at the office, pulled back the curtain and saw the view was of an oil refinery, spewing noxious gases just a few hundred yard away.  Fred was not pleased, and we found offices on Wilshire Avenue in Korea Town.  We would meet every morning with our budding staff at 8 am and Fred would ask what everyone was doing that day.   He was a fast learn and had his own program which it took me a while to figure out.  I would call on potential clients and make a deal and bring them in.  Fred would listen, say unless they gave us their tickets on the basis he wanted, it was no deal.  One said: “but Jerry offered us a different deal”.  Fred:  “his ticket company is in San Francisco, if you want that deal, you have to go there.”

In most cases it worked, I learned not to bring in those kinds of deals.  One case:  a potential client told Fred he had decided to go with Ticketron (at the time we were selling about 300 tickets a day, Ticketron about 7000).  Fred said fine, but they would never get that deal again and not only that, but they could never come into any of his other buildings.   After they left, I reminded Fred we didn’t have any other buildings.  “I know, but we will someday”

The major meetings we usually all attended, especially when we needed the appearance of the very distinguished Bob Leonard.  Now Bob was probably the most off kilter of any of us.  We would drive down Sunset Boulevard and he would lean half his body out of the window yelling “Computerized Ticketing”.  And no, he didn’t drink.  He was also a very accomplished magician and he could amaze you for hours with his tricks.

We knew that eventually our success in Los Angeles would depend on the upcoming ticketing contract to be award by the Forum, the entertainment and sports center of the Southland.  Fred negotiated our proposal with Lou Baumeister, who handled business matters for the Forum.  A great gentleman who Fred knew would be fair.  Claire Rothman was the president of the Forum, the first woman to head a major arena and sports teams and to this day the most accomplished person in the business.   She retired a number of years ago.   It was a weekend, and Lou called Fred and asked if there was anything he wanted to change in the proposal.  He told Lou that this offer of full computerization for the Forum was figured at the best that he could do.   Lou said he would let both us and Ticketron (who had been the ticket service for years) know on Monday.

I immediately said to Fred, couldn’t you do better.  Fred, who has iron balls, looked at me and said in all negotiations, there has to be a point at which you are willing to walk away.  We got the contract.

Every night the three of us would have dinner, talk, and plan into the night and be back at the office early the next day.  It was fun for all of us.  We knew we had LA and eventually signed all the major facilities and sports teams.  The three of us then went on the road to different cities:  I stayed in New York, Orlando, Miami, and other locations, working with the managers and following the same template that we had established in Los Angeles.  The one thing that kept us all going was that it was fun, a great challenge and a great time, and we really liked the ying and yang of working with each other.

Fred had ADD worse than I do:  We would go to see the Yankees in a private box, and stay for 1 and 1/2 innings; saw the Rangers play at the Garden for half of the first period; saw Prince at the Forum for two songs;  he looked at me and I looked at him and we left and had a great meal at Mortons.

Fred changed the ticket industry and made a lot of money for a lot of  people (the Pritzkers, Paul Allen, and those who worked for him), but when new owners came in, for some reason they wanted to change things.  I left in 1993 to come back home to Northern California, my 6 months had turned into 10 years.  Fred gave me a great dinner at Chasens and we kept in touch.  Then in 1998 he left the company;  it wasn’t fun for him.  Bob had moved to San Diego and ran Ticketmaster there and was teaching at San Diego State when one day he was walking along the campus and fell over dead.  A great man and a close friend.

Fred did a lot of different things over the past 12 years and then I heard he became the US partner for Outbox, the ticketing system used by Cirque de Soleil.  And yesterday it was announced that AEG, the second largest entertainment company in America had signed an exclusive agreement with Outbox. Why are my palms getting itchy?

Bill Graham and BASS


For those of you thinking I am talking about the pontificating Billy Graham, you are so wrong.

Bill Graham in 1974. Photo by Tony Morelli.

Bill Graham invented Rock and Roll promotion, he was the very best at it.  I first met him right after Roller Derby had been shut down, and we had decided to go into the computerized ticketing business.  Hal Silen had some dealings with him on a legal basis (I think he represented another promoter), but Bill didn’t hold that against us.

If you are looking for a full biography of Bill here, you won’t get it; you will only get our dealings with him and what we knew about him.  We had heard that Bill was very unhappy with Ticketron who had been handling his tickets in Northern California.  The reason was that outside of lousy service, the executives in New York had decided it would be smart if Ticketron cooperated with another promoter on the East Coast in backing a festival.  Bill was furious; he felt that if Ticketron was making money from him, they should not be in the promotion business, and we approached him at the perfect time… Of course today the largest promoter is not only owned by the ticket company but also controls most of the best box office drawing acts…..Bill must be spinning.

What was interesting was that although we had never met, we had been presenting our Sunday night Roller Derby games at Kezar Pavilion in SF which was just a short distance from the Haight and from the Panhandle where the bands played and near the Fillmore.  I had gone to the Fillmore a few times, had seen John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, and two other major bands along with the light show for just $2.50 and had been given a choice of an apple or an orange.  Eventually I saw Jimi Hendrix and other early greats but was not really into it at that time.   I was always interested in what was going on that people liked.

Bill and I met at his office and he greeted my with “I have heard some very good things about you, and I believe that we should give each other an honest con”.  I think we understood each other from the start.

Bill had been separated from his parents during the Holocaust and fled across Europe with his sisters.  They were shielded by various wonderful people, and as unlikely as it sounds, they all made it to the U.S.  Bill ended up in a camp north of New York City.  He never heard from his parents again.  Every Sunday people would drive up to see the children there to consider adoption.  Bill was never selected.  His name was Wolodia “Wolfgang” Grajonca (I could have misspelled that).  Later on he had a music club in San Francisco which he called Wolfgangs, but I believe that was the only time he used his original name.  Obviously, his childhood and youthful experiences had a powerful imprint on the rest of his life.  When he was old enough, he went to New York City, opened the phone book, pointed his finger on a page and it came to rest on Bill Graham, and that is how he got his name.

He always felt that he was dramatic (boy, was he) and that he could be an actor, but he studied bookkeeping to be employable.  He headed out to San Francisco and became business manager for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, which performed throughout the City.  For a fund raiser they asked three of the bands that played for free in the Panhandle (maybe the Grateful Dead with Pigpen, Moby Grape, or others?) to headline a concert.  It was so successful that a light went on over Bill’s head and he left the Mime troupe to put on his own shows at the Fillmore auditorium.  Within a very short time, all of the great bands were playing at Bill’s venue, and he became friend and mentor to them, all which paid dividends when they hit huge,  as most remained loyal to Bill over the years.  Interestingly enough, the Fillmore was just a half a block away from Jim Jones budding religion, but I never asked Bill about it, especially after Jones essentially killed all of his congregation in the fatal Kool Aid mass suicide.  But I digress, which you should be used to.

There were a number of things you had to understand in dealing with Bill and his organization:  any ticket customer was his customer and had to be treated well.  (I hate to tell you how many times in the middle of the night either Hal or I would get a call from a screaming maniac:  “Pacific Stereo in San Jose opened late so they could pull tickets for the employees for the Dead shows and I am going to throw all of your f——  machines in the street!!!!)  We would respond immediately to solve the problems, including working out with him what tickets could be held for employees to buy – never near the front by the stage.  If Bill who constantly walked around with his clipboard at the concerts saw anybody who worked for us, for him for record labels, etc in those first rows, he could go into a rage.  Not like today where it is very hard to get those great seats without paying a tremendous premium.  And if any fans rushed the stage, he would get right in the middle and pull them away.

Also, his shows were presented like no other promoters.  I really got to know that as I traveled the country later with Ticketmaster.  Bill’s major concern was for the presentation and to keep his core audience happy.  That is one reason he did so well at the Fillmore, later at Winterland, and at all the other venues he promoted.  The Days on the Green were spectacular.  They were held at the Oakland Stadium with over 50,000 seats.  The stage design and what was surrounding it blew you away.  I really was able to understand what it meant to listen to music with a great multitude and understand the positive effect it could have.  Many parents never go to understand that.

If  someone was in trouble, Bill was a soft touch.  But the drive that was in him never stopped.  If he could make the best deal ever, he would.  Also, he did some things that you would have thought that would have been beneath him.  Every weekend there would be three or four nights of the same acts at Winterland in San Francisco.  Winterland was approved to hold 4400 people by the SF Fire Department.  BASS was given 4300 tickets to sell and Bill held 100 tickets at the box office “for the kids who just couldn’t get tickets in advance”.  Now these door tickets were magic tickets……somehow they were never torn and somehow ended up back in the box office.  Remember, no charge cards at the box office, it was all cash.  At some shows, the manager of the group would say “Great show, the audience was really jam-packed!”……and they were all settled on the basis of 4400 sold.  I heard a rumor that as many as 7200 were in the building one night.  Luckily, the fire department never shut it down.

One of his close associates told me a story about Winterland that I hadn’t heard.  At the end of a Friday night show the manager of the band came in to settle and remarked to Bill that there must be over 7000 people on hand, and Bill told him that was impossible, since the fire department capacity was 4400.   They got into a bit of a tiff.  The next night even more people were on hand, and when the manager came to settle, he asked testily how many people were there that night.  “4300” responded Bill.  “What do mean 4300, the building is even more jammed than last night!”  “Saturday’s crowd is always fatter” said Bill coolly.

Then again, the rumor goes, early in the week a “courier” would get on a plane for Switzerland and deposit the money in a secret account.   At least, that is the rumor.

We kind of reached an accord.  To keep his account, we raised the service charges on the tickets and split the proceeds with Bill (no I don’t think the bands knew).  When people would contact his organization about the high service charges, they would tell them it was BASS’s fault…oh well.

Bill still wanted to be an actor and was good friends with Francis Ford Coppola.  If you saw Apocalypse Now and remember the scene where a helicopter lands where the troops are, and a sleazy promoter  gets out with Playboy Bunnies, that was Bill.  His real acting coup occurred in the movie “Bugsy” where he was given the prime role of Lucky Luciano and acquitted himself quite well.   He told a friend while the movie was being made, that he should have played Bugsy, but that was Bill.

Photo by Mark Sarfati

Bill was bigger than life, but it all came crashing to an end when one night when he was in his helicopter with his girlfriend and pilot (whose name was Killer), and he had flown from Shoreline Amphitheater to check out a show and then on to the Concord Pavilion where Huey Lewis was performing.  The rain was really storming down and Huey said to Bill, wait till the show ends shortly, and you go back with me in my limo.  The next thing everyone knew, the helicopter roared off into the night and crashed into a power pole along Highway 37 on his way back to his home on top of a hill in Marin County.  The name of his house was Masada.  As he was not expecting to die, among other things he had left undone was to give anybody the code to the secret Swiss accounts.

One story I will always remember that was told to me by Dave Furano:  Bill and Dave were in New York and staying at the Park Lane Hotel on 59th Street by Central Park.  Bill went across to FAO Schwartz to get some presents for his son.  When he got back to the hotel he realized he had not only forgotten his key, but his room number.  Of course the front desk would not tell him, so he got on the house phone and asked for Bill Graham’s Suite.  “This is Dr. Billy Graham” a voice answered, and Bill went crazy, swearing and shouting “Dave, stop clowning, I need to get up to the room”  Yes, it was Dr. Billy Graham whom I’m sure never forgot the Bill Graham sermon I heard so often.