He’ll fill arena role for OVG much like the one he had at BOK Center

Oak View Group has hired John Bolton as general manager of the new arena under development in Palm Springs, Calif. Bolton, a 33-year facility operations veteran, will also serve as OVG’s senior vice president of entertainment, helping to book events across the firm’s roster of venues.

The 10,000-seat Palm Springs arena is the future home of an American Hockey League team that will be the top affiliate of the NHL Seattle expansion team. Officials are set to break ground in February, and the $250 million venue is scheduled for completion in fall 2021.

The new arena is a partnership between OVG and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. (OVG owns VenuesNow.)

It’s the second arena in which Bolton has been hired on the front end of development to help steer the project to completion and hire staff. At the old SMG, Bolton opened BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., in 2008, which became an award-winning venue, attracting 200,000 patrons annually and establishing itself as a thriving destination for live music in a secondary market.

Bolton served as general manager at BOK Center for three years before expanding his responsibilities at SMG as a regional vice president and vice president of entertainment, similar to his new position at OVG. Most recently, Bolton worked out of the SMG corporate office in Conshohocken, Pa. He was part of the executive team after SMG merged with AEG Facilities in 2019 to form ASM Global. 

“One of the most rewarding things about my career was building a staff and a culture at BOK Center,” Bolton said. “I loved doing it and look forward to doing it again in Palm Springs, as well as being involved in other openings with the corporate team.”

Bolton got the job in part through his relationship with Jeff Nickler, senior vice president of OVG’s Arena Alliance, a group of 30 venues working together to book events, among other services. In Tulsa, Nickler was among Bolton’s first hires at BOK Center. Nickler spent 11 years there and spent six years as the arena’s GM after Bolton assumed a greater role at SMG’s corporate level. OVG hired Nickler in January 2019.

Palm Springs is a homecoming of sorts for Bolton, who owned a home in the desert resort community before selling it a few years ago, and he thinks there is great potential for a new arena to draw crowds for sports and entertainment. Palm Springs is about 100 miles east of Los Angeles and has about 50,000 residents. 

“It’s a unique market, a destination for a lot of people from October through May, when the population basically doubles,” Bolton said. “If you look at all the events and festivals that go on in the Palm Springs market, it’s a place where people love to go.”

In addition, Bolton thinks some Angelenos would prefer to get away to Palm Springs and see a show compared with fighting traffic to attend events in the nation’s second-biggest market.

Hockey, Bolton said, is the right sport for the desert city. “When you think about hockey, tons of Canadians come to Palm Springs. Look at the airline schedules during the season and see how many direct flights there are from Canada,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense from that standpoint that people that have hockey in their blood somewhat and grew up with it in Canada can follow it in the desert as well.”