This was about Keith and the book, but now Keith is being honored!


My name is on it along with the real author Keith Coppage.  I gave him some stuff and photos but Keith (the OFFICIAL Roller Derby historian) did all the research and writing.  (Oh, the book is Bay Area Roller Derby, part of the America series by Arcadia Publishing which has done a great job on bringing America’s stories to us….check out their site, www.arcadiapublishing.com.  You will probably find a book about your town, county, or state).  Please click on to the link above as his school where he has taught for 25 years is honoring his cultural contribution to the school, the children and the community.

And the book is available at http://www.amazon.com.

Is the book just about the Bay Area?  not really.  Because Bay Area Roller Derby became nation wide in the 60s and 70s when our videotapes appeared on over 120 stations (in the US and Canada), and the original Bay Bombers became America’s team.  Superstar Charlie O’Connell was from New York, “Golden Girl” Joan Weston from LA, and the one and only Ann Calvello, an honest to god San Franciscan.  Tony Roman originally from back east, Francine Cochu from Montreal.  And they were loved and played to sold out Arenas and stadia everywhere.

I had the pleasure of taking Keith to his first modern Derby game at Craneway in Richmond, CA, and he understood the excitement.  Keith had become a fan at 9 years of age when his father took him to a game at the Antioch Fairgrounds, really a terrible place to see your first game….outdoors, the track over dirt.  windy and cool, and not well skated.  But Keith was hooked.  He convinced his family to take him to the Cow Palace and other venues (many miles from where they lived).

I would love to say that Keith ran off and joined the Roller Derby; instead (and this is so sad), he went to Cal Berkeley, became an outstanding English and writing teacher at a high school in Concord California and is the man (see Glee) who brings great Broadway productions on no money to an area that is long on immigrants from all nations.

So how did I meet Keith?  Hal Silen and Peggy Brown and I started BASS  Tickets, the first independent computerized service in the Bay Area in 1974.  When I would wander in the phone room (bad ADD), I would run into someone who was definitely different from our other operators – older, and didn’t look like he needed the job as much as others.

Then strange things started to happen: I would find cryptic messages on my desk:  “on this date in 1965 the first Founder’s Cup (our way of honoring Leo) was played at the Cow Palace.  The Pioneers defeated the Bombers 38  to 31.”  I knew Hal and Peggy weren’t doing it.  Eventually Keith and I started talking.  He had taken the job after school hours to be near the Legend!

Of course we became friends.  I found out that Keith had attended Joan Weston’s training school she had operated after we had shut down the Derby.  He had info on everybody (no, not like TMZ, just good stuff).  And he had writings and photos from over the years, so when Baron Wolman (the first chief photographer for Rolling Stone) and I decided to publish “Roller Derby to Rollerjam” we commissioned Keith to write it.  Baron edited it and added the wonderful photos he had taken at Kezar Pavilion in the sixties and everyone was happy with the results, except Rollerjam had folded shortly after it was published.

So now Keith had to find new material for the new book, and what is in it amazes me…..photos and stories I didn’t know existed, and pictures he took of the BAD girls and others from leagues that were submitted.

August 8th was  the official day of publication, just 5 days away from the 77th anniversary of  the very first game in Chicago (no, I wasn’t there…..damn it, it was my father).  You can now find it at any book store, or at www.arcadiapublishing.com, or at certainly at Green Apple Books to get those rare dedications from Keith and me.  You really want the dual set; the few remaining copies of “Roller Derby to Rollerjam” are available at www.rollerderbycommish.com.

If every league in the world (1299) orders 4 copies, I bet we get on the NY Times best sellers list.

The story behind ticketing and why Hal is upset at the Beatles


I had lunch today in San Francisco with some wonderful people I worked with in the Ticket business when BASS started.  Hal Silen, of course, Doug Levinson who managed BASS Tickets so successfully, and our two attorneys who steered a good course for us starting back in 1974, Art Shartsis and Tony Leuin.  Their law firm is now one of the most  prestigious in San Francisco, and we were among their very first clients.  (Art reminded me of my reaction when he won a very important case for us:  I called him and said “you are worth every dollar we owe you”)

Hal was a great lawyer, but because he was a principal at BASS, we had to use outside counsel when we had trouble (which I realize today was pretty frequently).

The ticket business is different than you might think.  It is based on the principal that unsold inventory (tickets) have a great value, and you try to get clients (promoters, clubs, sports teams, arts, universities, etc) based on their potential ticket sales.  Even though we were capable as a computerized company of providing the software for season or subscriber tickets for events, our revenue stream depended on the ability to sign clients who had tickets not all tied up in subscriptions, so that we could get service charges on the individual tickets available.

To give you kind of a backward view of the world as we saw it, we liked working with sports teams who had been so unsuccessful in prior years that they had lost their subscriber base as many more seats would be available for all games.  Thus the Oakland Raiders were of greater value to us than the very successful 49ers as the ‘niners virtually sold out by season tickets, and we had only a few thousand single tickets (i.e. not adjoining each other) to sell for each game, whereas with the Raiders, we might be able to sell 10 or 15,000 depending on whom they were playing.  (Peggy Brown came in laughing one day when we put the 49er tickets on sale for the season:  caller “I would like 4 tickets for the Green Bay game”.  Peggy: “they are all single tickets”.  Caller:  “well give me 4 of the singles together”.)

The Cleveland fans don’t want to hear this, but from the ticket company viewpoint only, the Cavaliers become a more attractive client because so many season ticket holders will cancel.  I told you it is a backward view.

When I was running Roller Derby I discovered Ticketron in the mid 60’s.  It really was not a very good system, but it was the only one.  What was great for us was that on our telecasts instead of having to give 10 ticket locations or telling people to come to the box office, we could say in the markets where they were (San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, New York, etc) that they could get tickets through Ticketron at Sears, or wherever.  And we could get an immediate sales account from our reporting printer so we could determine what needed to be done to make the game successful.

Previously, we would have to distribute hard tickets to various box offices which meant that if you wanted to buy middle of the arena on the West side, you might live in Oakland, go to the San Francisco ticket office and find they didn’t have the tickets there.  Also, since we had no control of the box offices, we would find the some of them would act as brokers, holding back good tickets and if they could get additional money from the buyer, they would provide them.  Then we would have to pick up the tickets the day before the games so we could see what we had to sell at the building box office, often losing the last two days of sales which could be the best.   Somebody in Sacramento who wanted to attend a game didn’t want to drive all the way to the Bay Area to see the Bombers without a ticket in hand.

When we started BASS, our service charges were generally in the range of 50 cents, sometimes with a small charge to the promoter also.  As people got more and more used to computerized ticketing, they couldn’t understand why they had to pay a dollar per ticket to buy in Santa Rosa Tower Records or wherever.  Obviously, they could get the best seat available from the computer, just the same as at the Cow Palace box office, but without the hassle of the drive, their time, etc.  People still complained.  We also had a phone service so they could call in and get the best available seats  from the computer.

As it became more necessary for us to make certain we had the inventory, we would have to provide expensive computers and box office equipment for clients, as well as training their personnel, and more service.  These costs had to be put into the service charges, and also a percentage of the service charge would be negotiated and given to the arena or wherever.  Whenever I hear complaints on why a hot dog or coke or parking is so high at a ball park or arena, it is because a private company has usually installed its equipment, personnel and bid a high percentage of the price each food item as rent to the building….the same with parking, and with the computerization of the box office and the right to sell “outlet” tickets.

This was pretty much the shape of ticketing when Hal and I got out of it in 1997.   It has changed considerably.  As promoters raised the ticket prices, I think figuring if the $20 tickets up front are going to be sold to brokers and resold for often hundreds of dollars, why shouldn’t the acts, promoters, and arenas get the higher price, and of course the service charges went up right along with it.

Today virtually 85 to 90% of tickets are sold to customers not through outlets, box offices or phones, but on their home computers, iphones, droids, blackberries, etc.  And the business is heading towards a completely paperless ticket….you will buy it on your phone, come to the event, get the phone scanned and go inside; your ticket is recorded as attending the event and you will show your phone to get your seat.  This will certainly limit scalping.  Both American Airlines and United Airlines today are testing at some airports paperless e-tickets for their flights.

What your device will do in the future is almost beyond our comprehension;  you will be offered show merchandise, preferred parking, maybe even dinner at a place near the concert or sporting event.  Stay tuned as I will try and follow events in the future.

Now here is something for you lovers of a good could-have-been story.  Hal Silen, my long-time partner, also represented Donahue and Mitchell who were DJs on KYA radio in the 60’s and concert promoters.  The Beatles after a highly successful tour were convinced to do some stadium shows;  and in a last- minute promotion Candlestick Park in San Francisco was included.  Since there was no computerized ticketing for Candlestick, Donahue and Mitchell ordered 40,000 reserved seat tickets for the performance…..despite a very short time for promotion, 26,000 people were in attendance.  There were 14,000 unsold tickets (“deadwood”), so each of the promoters and Hal took a few tickets as souvenirs, and the rest were destroyed.  After this concert, the Beatles decided they would do no more shows for awhile, then they broke up and never played together in public again.  I often remind Hal he could have moved to the Riviera and lived a great life, having 14,000 tickets for the very last Beatles concert to sell to the highest bidders.

Ticketron Goodbye


 

We had come off a semi-successful Roller Derby season in 1972, but in the fall a gas crisis hit and it was not because of high prices;  there just wasn’t enough..it meant long lines at gas stations, alternating days to get gas (based on odd or even numbers in your license plates) and most unfortunately for our tour, Arenas shut down because of lack of heating oil.

Usually we had Playoffs in the SF Bay Area and then shut down until the road trip started in January.  Because of financial difficulties, we were forced to schedule our Eastern trip starting in September 1973 with the hope of picking up additional receipts.  Because of football and other fall sports our telecasts (which were solely responsible for attendance at the games) were often pre empted in various cities and the viewership was down that time of year.   The tour started off badly but we were looking to make a huge killing with our tournament scheduled at Shea Stadium in New York.

We were on television every week on WOR channel 9 and had over 1 million viewers in the Tri State area.  We promoted the multi-team tourney on our Connecticut, Philadephia, and New Jersey spanish language station.  It looked like our attendance was going to be in the low to high 50,000 fans range.

The week before the event I checked ticket sales with Ticketron, our exclusive sales agent.   We were at 21,000 and sales were surging everyday.    Then on subsequent days I had trouble reaching my rep to see the progress, but as I was traveling I felt everything was moving in the right direction and we had three telecasts in the area that weekend promoting the games.

On the date of the match I arrived in New York and was able to reach someone in the Ticketron office.  When I asked for the sales figure I was told that the computers were down and I couldn’t get it then.  I finally reached my rep and asked what our sales were and he informed me it was 21,000; I was shocked!   How could that be?

He explained the Ticketron computers had been down for 5 days on the whole Eastern seaboard.  I said that means if someone has gone into Macy’s or any other outlet they were told tickets weren’t available.  I told him that if I had been advised instead of their hiding it from me, we could have at least distributed hard (pre-printed) tickets to all of the outlets.

He had printed tickets for the box office sales, but the weather was not great (oh the advantages of selling tickets ahead), and we ended up with about 27,000 people.  good, but not sufficient to give us the money we needed.

Things only got worse, and by December I found it necessary to shut Roller Derby down for good (or so I thought).  We were out of money.  Hal Silen (my long-time partner and attorney) filed action against Ticketron for our loss and we had to settle for a few thousand dollars.

Our revenge?  Hal and I started BASS Tickets in San Francisco Bay Area and successfully competed against Ticketron.  Then when Ticketmaster was starting up we joined them and I became Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing nationally, and using the guerilla marketing techniques I knew from Roller Derby, we were able to eliminate Ticketron from the marketplace.

That will teach them!

 

 

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