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By Lisa White
Welcoming all who visit St. Paul, Minn.’s Xcel Energy Center is one of sales and marketing director Kelly McGrath’s favorite parts of the job.
“I want to provide the best experience possible, not just for fans but also for artists, so everyone feels truly welcome in our home,” she said.
McGrath’s career in live entertainment began in sales at St. Paul’s Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. She has been with Xcel Energy Center and NHL’s Minnesota Wild since the venue opened in 2000.
“I first started with the NHL team as group sales manager, then moved into selling suites and season tickets, while also managing the team’s salespeople,” she said.
When the arena began hosting national events in 2005, which soon included the gymnastics and figure skating national championships, a dedicated events person was needed. McGrath switched from the team side to the arena side as the venue’s director of sales. Three years later, she took on a dual role, adding marketing duties.
“In normal times, my day to day consists of PR, media buying and promotions,” she said. “I’m the direct link to promoters who bring events to the building, and our team gets as many tickets sold as possible to maximize attendance.”
Her team of seven’s big focus is on the arena’s main concert tours as well as Minnesota state high school volleyball, wrestling and boys’ and girls’ hockey tournaments. Xcel Energy also partners with the Minnesota Convention Center for events.
Along with providing hospitality, McGrath enjoys the variety of events that come into the arena and the diverse experiences these provide.
“We’ll host a high school wrestling tournament with a school from a small Minnesota town, and all its residents will come out to watch. They may only be here for that one event, but we’re creating memories, and that is the best part,” she said. “I’m a firm believer in the power of a live experience; people need it, and it’s what we’re built for.”
McGrath is particularly proud of holding her own in the male-dominated sports and entertainment industry, adding that she has rarely been treated differently.
“In this business, it can be challenging for women to make sure we’re treated the same as anyone else in terms of what we bring to the table,” she said. “But I’ve learned how to get things done and make sure the people around me are being treated fairly, regardless of their role.”
In addition to the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, McGrath is a member of Women in Sports and Events’ Twin Cities chapter and The Capital Club (CAPS), a sports and business networking group.
McGrath said that many women seek out marketing and PR opportunities in sports but shy away from sales roles but that it’s a mistake, as everything is driven by revenue. She explained that it’s those who can build relationships, strategize, make deals and partner with other organizations who bring the most value.
“There are very few marketing jobs in entertainment, but many sales jobs that can potentially lead to other avenues,” she said. “When people say they’re not in sales, I respond that everyone is in sales.”
First job in the business?
Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, sales.
Biggest career/business success?
Building and leading a strong team is a highlight for me as well as pulling national events together.
Pam Wheelock, former CFO for the Minnesota Wild. She is particularly good at helping navigate tricky situations, and one of those wise people who can see above the emotion and give practical direction. Also, my mom, who is one of my favorite people and a strong influence in my life.
Technology most affecting work or personal life?
My smartphone. Having a hand-held computer allows you to stay in touch and respond in real time.
A good steak on the grill.
Last live event attended before shutdown?
On Feb. 24, my best friend from high school and I saw Kiss in our building. I went as a fan and had a phenomenal night.
Plans for the rest of 2020?
As an organization, we continue to try and project into possible scenarios where we can help our clients navigate what our new normal will look like. We’re projecting what the guest, artist and promoter experiences will be. We’re also collaborating with organizations in our area and nationally on what we can do together so we come out of this stronger.