You can’t be successful without tickets….


No, I don’t mean from Ann Calvello’s expression.

At Northwestern I majored in business, so of course I had to learn basic accounting.  In the summer of 1957 we were living in Los Angeles, and I was working for the Roller Derby Skate Company (what do you mean you didn’t know about this company?  they are still one of the largest in America).  Leo’s brother Oscar was operating a “unit” that was going to play in the baseball park in San Diego, and since that was part of my sales territory, I was asked if I would like to work in the box office.

Yes, I know this is a year before I actually joined Roller Derby as a manager, so I don’t really count this time.

Image by djshaw from stock.xchng.com.

At the time there was an extensive amount of discount tickets used through supermarkets in the area, and they had to be redeemed at the event at the ticket booth, and there was an amazing statistic of over 97% of all tickets sold at the box office (there was no other way then; before computerized ticketing)were sold at a discount.  It was obvious that the ticket sellers were getting discount tickets, bringing them to work, and claiming that virtually all tickets were discounted, and keeping the 50 cents per for themselves.

I immediately set up a system to put someone I trusted in a separate location who would issue a discount slip with their initials to the customer who would then go and buy their tickets……for some reason, discounted tickets dropped to about 35% of all sales.

Event promoters think that if they get 1000 people and they paid $15 they have maximized attendance.  From almost the beginning of when I started in Derby of my intent was to maximize sales for any given game.  And since distribution systems were so inefficient, and the public does not like to have to go to a lot of trouble to get tickets, they will just give up and do something else.  Thus, as I explained in another post, when Ticketron came into the marketplace, I saw that computerized ticketing was a way to make buying easier, and our attendance jumped an average of 15% with no additional promotion.

So I won’t re-bore you with my exploits in computerized ticketing (read Ticketmasters, from Amazon – and you will will see why distribution and service charges are where they are, and my particular contributions to the distribution system), but obviously I have kept abreast (ok, no tickets pun intended) with developments and especially what could be done with the relatively small user.

My friend and former compatriot at Ticketmaster, James Goodman, contacted me and asked if I would take a look at a paperless system, the ideal approach to ticketing.  I did, and have now become a consultant with Scott Thorpe at Mogotix.com.

This system seems to solve all the problems and eliminate the need for many people to sell tickets and for long lines.  You simple take any mobile phone, access the event app, buy any amount you want;  pass your credit card in front of your phone, and voila, that is the transaction – and your credit card is not captured for the future.  When you get to the event, your phone is read and you are sent to your seating area.

No paper, no will call,  no fuss, no muss.  And if there are long lines, the so-called ticket takers can just move through them and scan your phone.  And people who are approaching the event who haven’t bought their tickets, can do so as they near the entry or from their car…..no need to go to a ticket window.  Of course you still  can print from your computer if you don’t have a phone.

And the service charge is ridiculously low, and if the league or event has another game they are announcing that night, fans can just pull out their phones and buy then.

Don’t believe me?  Go to mogotix.com and run a demo.  No set up fees or nothing.  The Commissioner loves these easy solutions.

A lot of interest from this post…..go to Jerry Seltzer or Gerald Seltzer home page on facebook and there are three different short videos demonstrating how simple and effective mogotix is.  Would the Commissioner lie to you, even for money?

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?

Tickets, please…..maybe not


Event entry has changed so much in just a short time.  Now we have Mogotix.com (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 stock.xchng.com

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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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.