Extra, Extra, read all about it…..

Have you read a newspaper lately?

I used to subscribe to three and I gave them all up several years ago……..I hated to throw them out unread (killing all those trees!), and their “news” was already a day old;  I would look at the New York Times, SF gate, etc on line in the morning and check later in the day.

Photo by Arjun Kartha from Stock.xchng.com.

Now they all are mere shadows of themselves.  Craigslist posts want ads and regionalizes and they and other online services have destroyed the most profitable section of the newspapers:  the classified.

In the San Francisco Bay Area entertainment used to be announced in the Sunday (Pink) Calendar section.    There would be pages of contemporary music ads, as well as theater, concerts, and clubs.  No more;  social networking on facebook, twitter, etc is almost the preferred way of announcing events, as well as venues and promoters using their databases to reach their core customers.  And now Dibbs.me makes it even easier for entertainment seekers by listing daily events, concerts and sports on smart phones.

The major sports teams are fortunate.  Not only do they post their schedules, but they are paid a lot of money for broadcast rights, and that builds a following for them as well as promotes their upcoming games.

Virtually all the Roller Derby leagues have their own facebook pages or websites.  And their followers are in the thousands.  And that is how they reach their fans and get such tremendous crowds when the facilities are available to hold them.  And there is lot of old fashioned personal contact by the players as they sell advance tickets to the games in addition to the regular ticket sale channels.

It is extremely rare to see Roller Derby featured in major newspapers, or even to see ads on television, radio, or billboards (a few markets like Denver and Seattle are exceptions).  There is irony in the fact that although hundreds of thousands of fans see the games every month in the 768 leagues in 25 countries, it is still considered underground because it is seen so little in the mainstream media.

But the Derbynewsnetwork.com carries a number of games each week and has a great following.

So the newspaper business is suffering, and maybe will disappear.  But you are seeing more and more of the news personalities blogging in order to reach their former audience.

So everything is the same except changed.  And the Derby Girls don’t care if there are newspapers or not, they just keep doing what they are doing and keep on  adding new fans all the time.  And I think they portend the future.

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?


I hope that is how you spell it.  Today is just a collection of remembrances and thoughts.

Photo by sagarenas from stock.xchng.com

This little story may help you if you get discouraged and think you have made the wrong choice in what you do.  When I was with Ticketmaster we also had parties in our major cities around Christmas time.  We would fly from LA to Detroit to New York to Orlando to meet our people and our clients.  Generally it was Fred Rosen, Bob Leonard, me and some others.  In New York (this was in the eighties) Fred and Ann Mooney had arranged for us to be at a club.  Ann and Fred had rounded up some great entertainment, and Fred had seen a new comedian on late night in LA and booked him (probably for $2000 or $3000 or less to perform.

Now the audience were our clients: Arena and Theater managers, box office people, etc with some promoters also.  Out of the several hundred attending not a great amount of hipness was present.  Some wonderful surprise performers showed up and then it was the comedian’s turn.  To say he bombed would be putting it lightly.  Wrong audience, not listening to him, and those who did were put off by his language.  He cut his act short, sat down head in hands backstage, and I said something to him, I’m sure he didn’t hear.  And that was Chris Rock’s introduction to the big time in NYC.

A woman I was dating at the time was on a flight to Los Angeles (early 80’s) when Robin Williams sat next to her.  As they neared landing he suddenly realized something: he didn’t have a dime on him and couldn’t get his car out of the airport.  He asked her if he could borrow $20 and he gave her a check.  She framed the check and put it on her wall.

The ticket business was often a pain in the ass.  We really made our money from the service charges of the regular concert, sport, and theater goers.  But when a tremendously hot act went on sale, especially one that appealed to yuppie or older demographics (Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, et), we would hear from all the “important” people (primarily their secretaries) who would say, “I am calling for Mr. So and So and he needs 4 tickets in the front row for Sinatra.”  They didn’t seem to realize we were not a resale company and held back no tickets, and they would get very offended when we said we couldn’t provide those, but had some seats left in the upper arena.  There is a whole category on facebook by box office and other people about what a pain these calls are.

In an early posting I mentioned Peggy Brown’s two favorite ticketing stories:  the person who called and asked “Is this where you pick your seat on the phone?”  and the phone call from the San Jose Arena from a little old lady with a tremendous noise in the background complaining she had bought tickets for Rush since he was her favorite radio personality and she and her friend had come to the Arena and there was this loud music playing….(we gave her back her money).

During the Giants-Yankees World Series in San Francisco in 1962, my father came up to see his old friend and partner, Tom Gallery, who was the head of NBC Sports.  When the series was supposed to be played at Candlestick a veritable monsoon hit the Bay Area (in October, just like today when it is raining lightly), delaying the series.  So my Dad and I visited with Tom at his suite at the Fairmont.  He had other Yankee personnel there, including Mel Allen, the voice of the Yankee telecasts and broadcasts.  The 49ers game was on television and Bob Fouts was doing the commentary only stopping long enough to take a breath.  Tom turned to Mel and said “You see what I mean, just shut up sometime”  Mel never did.

In 1949 I was a freshman at Stanford and since I was admitted late, I started summer quarter, was off fall quarter and then returned to campus for the winter and spring quarters.  During that time I went to New York as the Roller Derby had just hit hugely on television and was the toast of the town.  Although just 17, I had a great time.  I went with my Aunt Agatha (Oscar Seltzer’s wife) to see “South Pacific” shortly after it opened.  My brother-in-law Ken had obtained first row tickets for “Guys and Dolls” which had just opened on Broadway.  We went to the theater and found someone in our seats.  We were one week early.  We went the next week and had a great time.  Robert Alda (Alan’s father) played the lead;  the price of the tickets? $4.40.

Richard Lester, who became famous for directing the Beatles in “A Hard Days night” and “Help” was shooting a movie in San Francisco called “Petulia” (1962, I believe) and wanted to shoot some Roller Derby scenes.  The stars were George C. Scott and Julie Christie.  The film company rented Winterland (this was before Bill Graham used it) and Lester had two women’s teams, including the Bombers, come out for an all day practice in order to set up a particular shot.  The two stars were going through some tension in the film (not personally) and he wanted to use the skating to heighten it.  He said that at one crucial point in the dialog he wanted skaters coming around, one to get hit and fly over the rail directly in front of the stars.  He asked the women how many hours they would need.  The skaters said let’s practice.  He started the scene, had the cameras rolling, Peanuts Meyer and another jammer came out, Peanuts was blocked, came directly over the rail and landed at Julie’s feet.  Lester was stunned.  Peanuts looked at him and said, “I can land in her lap the next time if  you like”.  It was all done in just one take.

I received a phone call from Al Ruddy, the producer who had just completed “The Godfather” and was on top of the world.  He said he wanted to meet with me as he had a treatment on a film about Roller Derby.  I said of course.  He flew up to Oakland and we met.  He had with him who he felt would be the stars of the film:  George Hamilton, Mama Cass, and Michelle Phillips.  George would play the manager/promoter.  George was even prettier in person, with his tan and something I had never seen before:  wearing loafers with no socks.  We went around, checking locations and I took the stars to our training school in Alameda, where they all (except for George) skated.  We had a great lunch, said goodbye and then the project fell apart.  Someone picked it up and make Kansas City Bomber, which was not Roller Derby.  Oh well.

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So you want to be an entrepreneur

One of the best compliments I ever received was when I was at Ticketmaster.  I was the sales and marketing guru and one day Scott Wahl from Operations was touring someone through the offices and he stopped at my door.  “This is Jerry Seltzer.  I don’t know what he does, but he does it very well.”

Ticketmaster – LA XMAS card circa 1986(ish) Share By:Jane Shore

As someone who came out of the army, got married and then sold wholesale sporting goods, I never had any concept of being a promoter-entrepreneur.  My father was probably the best at his profession I have ever known, but in reality I never had a chance to work with him.  When we lived outside of Chicago, I went to Stanford.  Then when I transferred to Northwestern he and Belle had moved to Encino California and was promoting Roller Derby in Los Angeles.  And so it went until I got a call from him when we had moved to Palo Alto to announce some games in San Mateo.  He was starting to get interested in land development, and Elmer Anderson was in charge of the “unit” I was in.

Then, as I related in an earlier blog, one day they were all gone and suddenly I was in charge of Roller Derby at the age of 26.  I guess the Seltzer/Weinstein genes came to the front and suddenly I was creating promotions, television distribution, a new kind of scheduling of games, changing from wooden wheels on skates to plastic and more.  The changing of the wheels was extremely important:  since a slate powder had to be put on the masonite surface in order to keep from slipping; the audience, the skaters and the building all ended up with a green hue;  and that kept us from playing in a number of arenas.

I had this concept of adding games in the surrounding San Francisco Bay Area which were covered by KTVU, channel 2, so that we were not playing too often in our main arenas in San Francisco and Oakland.  One of the cities that was partially covered was Stockton, about 1 and 1/2 hours away.  I made an appointment with the general manager of KOVR, a television station in Stockton that also covered Sacramento.  Glover Delaney was a delightful man from back east, and he loved the idea of a promotion.  He said to me, “you are the professional, how can we make this happen.”  I, the professional?  Then it hit me, if you seem to know what you are doing, people will take you at face value, especially if you live up to what you promise to deliver.   I never forgot this lesson.  It also set the basic promotion we had with TV stations we were on when we played live games all around the US and Canada.

I was at Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis and we sold out weeks in advance for this 10,000 seat facility.  A writer from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was at the game (not bout, dammit) and was amazed.  He asked me how could we have gotten this attendance  when there was no publicity in his paper?  That should have forewarned him.  Now with TV, social media, blogs, etc, newsprint is becoming history.

We made arrangements to play a game at the Stockton Ports baseball stadium under the following arrangement:  Glover would provide tv spots all across the programming starting two weeks before the scheduled date; we of course promoted it on Channel 2, and we would take 60% of the gate and the station would get 40% to cover our own expenses, and the cost of the venue would be taken first before the split.

The game sold out, and we both came out quite well, with almost 6000 in attendance.

Since I didn’t have to answer to anyone in what I was doing, I expanded my activites.  And the formula I found was one that doesn’t seem to be obvious to others:  see what the opportunity is, see what is available, and connect the dots.

An example:  Oakland usually had a wonderful fireworks display on the 4th of July, but one year they did not have the funds.  Then Jo Downs who was our controller came to me and said that Sister Mary from Providence Hospital had called and they were having a fund-raising drive to add a new wing to the Hospital.  I checked the Oakland A’s schedule and saw they would be out of town on the 4th of July,  so I rented the Stadium, contacted a fireworks show provider, had Ron Gibson get every free drum and bugle corps and other free talent and the US Army flag team, and we announced that to help out the people of Oakland, we were having a pageant, a Bay Bombers game, and a huge fireworks display.  We had almost 35,000 people (which was about our maximum since the fireworks were in the center outfield),  At halftime we presented Sister Mary with a check for over $13,000 and she almost fainted (remember, this was 1970).   So it was a great success on many levels:  financial, community, PR, and the effect it had on everyone who heard about the attendance.

The opportunities are there, you just have to find them, and sometimes you guess wrong and lose.  If you can’t accept that, you shouldn’t be a promoter.  My mantra was you did everything you possibly can before the event, and then you have to accept the results and move on.  My excitement has always been about creating something successful, the money part never the prime objective (it does usually follow, though).

I have already told you how Ticketmaster was able to go into Los Angeles almost a year ahead of schedule, because of getting the US Festival (with non-computer tickets, see earlier blog) and selling movie tickets for “The Empire Strikes back”.  We really invented the movie ticket business.

I believe I can promote almost anything, as long as it worthwhile.  Whether Willie Nelson, helping Cecil Williams produce the 30th anniversary of Glide Church with Robin Williams, Herbie Hancock, Maya Angelou and more; or flowerslippers.com for Judi’s footwear.  As long as I can figure it out, see how to spend as little money as possible and get the maximum promotion with cross tie ins. And I always worked with a great ticket company who did a lot of the work for me and actually helped promote my events.

Can this be learned?  Of course, I did.  I also can consult for you at a fee (see, I did it again!)

And what am I looking at now?  How Roller Derby can remain what it has become and expand into a world-wide event.  Stay tuned.

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