potpourri


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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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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