Managing Director, North America, Ticketmaster
Marla Ostroff’s title at Ticketmaster is managing director, North America, but after 35 years with the world’s pre-eminent ticketing company, she’s also witness to history with a front row seat as the firm evolved into a high-tech behemoth.
Along the way, she has worked with visionary CEOs like Fred Rosen, Paul Allen and Barry Diller and now is a key lieutenant to Michael Rapino, CEO and president of Ticketmaster’s parent company Live Nation.
Born and raised in Ohio, Ostroff attended the University of Cincinnati. She was originally interested in broadcasting but switched to communications with a minor in business.
“While I was in school I worked at a bar/club where I met a guy who told me how fantastic ticketing was and how I should think about working in the industry because it was revolutionary to have computerized ticketing,” she said, recalling the advice she received from the late Mark Shoner, who was general manager at Ticketron Cincinnati.
After spending some time in Europe, Ostroff headed to New York to start working at the old Ticketron.
“I left when I saw Ticketmaster was really engaging with the clients and listening to what they felt was the most important thing,” she said. “At the time, Fred Rosen said to me, ‘I’m going to take over. You’ll see. There’s going to be no Ticketron. There will only be Ticketmaster.”
Ostroff said back in Ohio, she used to make her father stand in line to buy her show tickets.
“It fascinated me that you didn’t have to do that anymore,” she said. “You could be standing at any location or call on the phone and you’d all be going through the same inventory.”
Rosen understood the need of listening and responding to clients, Ostroff said, noting that Ticketmaster had been around for about 12 years at that point, “in a smaller capacity until (Rosen) took the business and branded it and made it more of a household word than Ticketron.”
Ostroff started in Boston after joining Ticketmaster in 1988, “but right away I was asked to start opening offices in different areas” of the East Coast. Ticketmaster was set up regionally compared with today where it’s separated into sports, music and arts, Ostroff said. “I ran the East Coast and after many years, we started to segment our business and I wanted to be in the space I thought I could add great value,” she said. “I had already been dealing with arenas and sports teams and various different clients, so I took over arts and national clients which are some of our larger building management companies, and larger promoters. I oversaw that until 2020 when we became more of a global company, and they asked me if I would be the managing director of North America.”
In her current role, Ostroff remains focused on clients and managing Ticketmaster’s team that handles client renewals and securing new business.
“That’s the thing that has always driven me, the relationship with the clients,” she said. “The greatest enjoyment of mine is to see how the business has grown for so many of the clients we work with.”
A Ticketing Superstar
“She survived Fred Rosen. In fact, Fred respected her, so that makes her a superstar by itself,” said Ed Rubinstein, who ran the old Philadelphia Spectrum before doing the same at Target Center and what’s now called Bon Secours Arena (formerly Bi-Lo Center). He’s known Ostroff for more than 25 years.
“I say that in jest, but Fred saw something in her that has been borne out over all these many years later: Marla is the ultimate customer service person, which is why she has been given ever increasing responsibilities at Ticketmaster for such a long time,” Rubinstein said. “She has earned this honor by being a friend, a problem solver and a great Ticketmaster representative to so many people in the live entertainment industry, including me.”
Rosen recalled meeting Ostroff at an IAAM (now IAVM) conference in the mid-1980s and credited her as “one of the most valuable people we had in terms of the creation of the company.”
”I heard there was somebody working at Ticketron that was really capable,” Rosen recalled. “The first time I met her I was like, “Why are you working for those idiots? There was another word before idiots. Basically from that we entered into discussions over a short period of time and she came to work for us.”
Lasting as long as she has at Ticketmaster speaks to her legitimacy as “someone clients can trust,” he said.
“She clearly understood the business and is capable in dealing with client relationships,” Rosen said. “I left Ticketmaster almost 25 years ago and she’s survived all the different administrations, from those who knew what they were doing and those that did not.”
Another former colleague, longtime Ticketmaster executive Karen Swope, said Ostroff leads by example.
“She passionately fights for her clients and expected her team to do the same,” Swope said. “As a woman, she effortlessly maneuvers in what is still a largely a male dominated industry, always making sure her voice is heard, compromising as necessary, but never belittled or put in the back seat.”
It all comes down to listening to clients and then investing in the technologies and products that empower them to do their business, Ostroff said. On the subject of forging and maintaining ties in a relationship business Ostroff said there are too many examples to mention.
“When anybody says to me, ‘Why are you still here?’ I would say, ‘The relationships with our clients,’” she said.
“Hopefully I drive that (mindset) down to the people who work with me, because it’s probably the thing that makes me come in every day,” she said. “You know that nothing is perfect, but you’re doing it together. There are so many different types of clients. We get to see everything from the music business to the building management side, to arts, family entertainment and sports. We get to share many of the best practices that clients bring to us. The scale that we have in clients helps us bring more innovation to our current client base.”
Ostroff learned from Shoney, Rosen and others, and now finds Rapino, who went from being a client at Live Nation to her boss, to be an innovator who’s led Ticketmaster to new heights. A recent earnings report backs her up. Amid the pandemic-fueled rush to digital ticketing, Ticketmaster boosted LN’s profitability, growing its client roster and adding 12.8 million net new fee-bearing tickets in its record-setting second quarter of 2022.
One of the people she worked with along the way was Jared Smith, former Ticketmaster chairman and now president and CEO of Alterra Mountain Co., an operator of 15 ski resorts. Smith has known Ostroff for 20 years, from the time he started working at Ticketmaster in 2003 as a regional sales representative in Birmingham, Alabama.
“Marla was the person who really taught me about the business. She was an early champion for me and a mentor,” Smith said. “Without her time, confidence and commitment to her people, there is no question I would not have had the career I had at TM. In every relationship we ever had — I worked for her for a long time, we worked together as peers, and then she worked for me for some time — she stayed that same steady voice of reason and champion for me personally, for our people and for the company.”
Smith said he’s always been impressed by how Ostroff is universally liked and respected.
“Live entertainment can be a tough business with hard deals that sometimes leave some people at the table happy and some not so much,” he said, comparing Ostroff’s longevity with Ticketmaster to how pro athletes used to stay with the same team throughout their careers.
“Marla’s commitment to being fair and transparent in all of her relationships has meant that even in tough circumstances, people may have been unhappy about the outcome but never about how they were treated along the way,” Smith said. “I’ve seen that hold true with clients, partners, employees, and peers. To have been at the level she has been at for as long as she has and still carry that type of style and reputation is pretty remarkable to me.”
Ostroff has witnessed firsthand Ticketmaster’s evolution since the days that Rosen elevated the company’s profile.
“We’ve had different iterations from Paul Allen, who took us to the internet world, to Barry Diller, who brought in different types of businesses and tried to figure out how we could all work together with different online companies, and then the Live Nation group,” she said. “What’s been great is knowing, because Live Nation is a promoter and a venue operator, they understood our business. So, when we say, ‘This is what we need for our clients,’ to have that kind of support and understanding makes all the difference in the world.”
While Ticketmaster was evolving, so too was the venues industry it services. Working closely with clients meant all parties would try to see and prepare for future trends in how to communicate with fans, use technology and ultimately help artists, teams and other clients sell more tickets.
“In the last 10 years, digital innovation and where we are with social media has forced us all to be five steps ahead if you can,” Ostroff said. “The venues all want to be there because they are able to understand their fans/customers even better because of where technology is today.”
Ticketmaster takes its lumps in the media, among some consumers and lawmakers, but the stability the company and its platform offers its clients should not be understated, Ostroff said.
“The ticketing industry is more competitive than ever. It’s amazing from where I started when there was only one other company you were competing with. Now there are many,” she said. “Because we have a strong brand, people forget that part as well. A lot of our clients who have left, most of them come back because many times the tech (of competitors) doesn’t hold up.”
“When you’ve been with somebody a long time, you take them a little bit for granted,” Ostroff said. “You sometimes forget, we’re investing millions in our technology every year and we invest to handle those massive on-sales and getting people into a venue, the scanning systems. All those things you go, ‘OK, if somebody else is out there, maybe we can work with them. They’re telling us they can do that.’ But, one glitch, and we’ve all had them, if you don’t have the technology behind you and you don’t have the investments to fix whatever that glitch is, it’s a problem.”
When she encounters negativity toward Ticketmaster, Ostroff takes a deep breath. “Sometimes I do take it personally,” she said.
“I’m very passionate about what we do and what we always try to do, which is for the fans, but I think there is a lot of misinformation about the ticketing industry and sometimes TM gets caught up in that,” she said. “Our clients understand the value of what we offer the industry and what we do to protect an on-sale or make sure that people are receiving real tickets, that they’re verified, that the on-sale goes well. But for others, the ticketing industry can be complicated and it’s not explained in a short headline. People aren’t always interested in how ticketing works. They’re more interested in when it doesn’t work, but we are working to better explain how the industry works to consumers, media and policymakers. That’s the most important thing right now.”
Smith said Ticketmaster and its clients are fortunate that Ostroff hasn’t moved on to another company.
“Given her skillset, there must have been countless opportunities to test free agency, join another company and pursue different perspectives,” he said. “But to me, it’s been her unwavering dedication to her clients and employees that has kept her there and that is truly unique in today’s world.”
“It’s not by chance that she’s been a constant,” Smith added. “Anyone who has had the privilege to lead Ticketmaster, whether coming from the outside or coming up from within like me, quickly recognizes that Marla is an irreplaceable asset. In many ways, she represents everything that makes people proud to work there; always acts with integrity, always wins and loses with the team and is rock-solid reliable.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.
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