After 18 months as general manager for Ford Park in Beaumont, Texas, for SMG, Allan Vella has announced he will be leaving to start a new job as general manager of Fox Theatre, Atlanta, replacing Ed Neiss, who is retiring after 25 years. Before moving to the Ford Center, Vella managed the Dow Event Center in Saginaw, Mich., for SMG for three years; before that, he spent 13 years with Olympia Entertainment, managing their venues in the Detroit area, which included the historic Fox Theatre in that city.
“Atlanta was kind of a friendly competitor and leader in the industry,” Vella said. “And it was a venue we watched closely and always competed to be top grossing venue of our size.” Vella was contacted by headhunter Margaret Genovese about the available general manager position. “I was very excited,” he said. “There something exciting about running those historic and beautifully preserved venues. It's a facility with a heart and soul – a living, breathing thing that gives you a real purpose in ensuring its preservation continues.”
Programming the venue will be made easier by recent trends, Vella said. “There are so many event opportunities now well-suited to a theater like Fox Theatre in Atlanta. It bodes well for the future of Fox.” This will be Vella's first job with a nonprofit organization. “I think dealing with corporate structures and politicians have prepared me well for reporting to a board,” he said.
Neiss plans to stay on board as a consultant for two years, and Vella said he just hopes to emulate his accomplishments with the venue. “They've been so successful, I?m not going in with any major template for change.” Vella will be missed in Beaumont, according to comments in the local newspaper. “It wasn't just me,” Vella stressed. “The resources of SMG and the hardworking staff we have here at Ford Park, I think we renewed our energy and enthusiasm. We're really striving to increase our level of service and generate more event excitement and participation by the local market. We've been successful. We've had a number of sellouts and we've pulled in some events that [Beaumont] hasn't seen in a while.”
His replacement has not been named. Vella starts his job in Atlanta June 1. INTIX, the International Ticketing Association, has a new chairwoman. Karen Sullivan, vice president of ticketing at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J., took the reins at the group's annual meeting in Boston and will serve for a year. She has been with the Meadowlands for 29 years.
“It's still fun. I like the variety. I'm fortunate I work in two buildings, Giants Stadium and Continental Arena, with two football teams, soccer, NBA, NHL, Seton Hall college sports, in addition to concerts, Sesame Street, etc.,” Sullivan said. “You don't get bored.” Sullivan said her INTIX focus is on education. “We're trying to increase educational outreach partly through providing more one-day programs for regionals [groups] and partly through the INTIX Intensive prior to the annual conference,” she said.
The Intensive, which this year featured expert negotiator Peter Baron Stark heading up a leadership seminar, sold out. But the Intensive is limited in capacity to 75-100 students. Sullivan hopes to expand the program, even including a Box Office 101-type of class for newbies in the field. Financial and accounting topics are other requests, and personal growth.
“How can you work in a box office and maintain a personal life?”
As far as the biggest challenges facing box office managers, Sullivan said it is rising customer expectations. “I've been on the phone all day with thousands of people trying to get NCAA tickets, asking where are my seats going to be?” she said. “It's more and more difficult to make [people happy]. There are still only so many good seats in the house.”
There's an old saying that only 5 percent of customers are troublesome, but that they take up most of the box office staff's time. “I think that percentage is going up,” Sullivan said. “It is more and more expensive to go, and when you spend more money, you expect a better experience. Some people might think $200 for a concert ticket is expensive, but then there's someone with a $350 seat.”
“Spending that kind of money, people are expecting to have a great experience.” Packaging is a trend that is satisfying some patrons, Sullivan said. The venues have offered parking with tickets for the past year-and-a-half. “Every time we have that out there, it sells out. We do it through Ticketmaster.” Another goal of Sullivan's for her time as chairwoman is to increase the profile of INTIX with building general managers.
“There are not too many building managers that miss IAAM [the International Association of Assembly Managers conference], but we're getting a lot of building managers who think it's not as necessary for box office managers to go to INTIX. As much as they get out of IAAM, box office managers will get out of INTIX,” she said. “It really is an educational conference. You just come out with so much.”
Interviewed for this story: Allan Vella, (409) 951-5401; Karen Sullivan, (201) 460-4325