David Simpson, director of ticket sales and service, Fox Theatre, Atlanta. (Photo courtesy Fox Theatre)
The Grand Opener
Every day at the Fox Theatre is a different puzzle to solve for David Simpson.
He learned that ticketing is all about solutions at his first job in the industry, as box office manager for the Harrisburg Senators, a minor league baseball team that plays at FNB Field in Pennsylvania.
It was a new venue called Metro Bank Park when Simpson got the job. His first crisis was days before the ballpark was to open, when he walked in and realized that the seats were not numbered 1-10 as the manifest called for. They were numbered 10-1, meaning people who paid for a better seat weren’t going to get it.
“We were out there with crowbars changing the numbers around,” said Ryan Miller, director of ticket operations for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, who was interning with the Senators.
While that was an easy fix, Simpson’s next learning-curve moment was not. The venue didn’t get its certificate of occupancy until a few hours before opening day. When it arrived, several of the sections were missing a seat.
“Seat No. 7 was missing from a few rows on the occupancy certificate, and the first game was starting in about 25 minutes, and we couldn’t seat anyone in those seats,” Simpson said.
While many ticket managers may have crumbled, Simpson was all about a fix.
“We decided to move the people impacted into the premium club, but we had to get the OK from the president because there were food components involved,” he said. “We got the go-ahead and we got everyone seated, somewhere. It was a scramble.”
Simpson’s career in ticketing was “a very happy accident. I worked for the Cleveland Indians in high school in the team shop, and then customer service. I eventually helped in the ticketing office and fell in love with it.”
While with the Senators, Simpson learned about new construction and the daily predicaments that go with opening a new facility. “I feel like it set me up for all the things I’ve gone through, and I’m very grateful to have had that opportunity in Harrisburg,” he said.
After staying with the Senators for three years, Simpson took a job as director of ticket sales and customer service with the Sugar Land Skeeters, an independent baseball team in Sugar Land, Texas, that plays at Constellation Field, which opened in 2012. He took the job specifically because it was another new building.
Now an expert in opening new venues, Simpson said there were three tips he wanted to pass along to anyone undertaking such an endeavor.
“First, make best friends with the architect,” Simpson advises. “Second, check the seating manifest and check it again. And last, don’t skip any details. One small inch is a missing seat down the line. Pay attention in those facility meetings.”
Simpson went on to the University of Houston’s TDECU Stadium, another new building that opened in 2014; Las Vegas Motor Speedway; and the Washington Redskins. Then he got a call from a headhunter who wanted to know if he’d be interested in a job with the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. He started there in July 2017 — and it was a whole new ballgame for Simpson.
“The position spoke to me because of the challenges,” he said. “But I really took the job because of Allan Vella (the Fox Theatre’s president and CEO) and Jamie Vosmeier (vice president of sales and marketing).
Simpson brought his sports approach to the theater world and hit a home run. He modernized the way that the Fox Theatre runs internal operations and has streamlined ticket purchasing. He has coordinated partnerships with VetTix, FanShield, ReplyBuy and StubHub, and solidified the relationship between the venue and Paciolan, its ticketing provider since 2012.
In 2019, Simpson brought in over a million dollars in revenue through his restructuring of the ticket fees, the introduction of a ticketing insurance program and reorganizing the ticket office and how the ticket agents are commissioned.
Miller said that Simpson is “someone that really looks at how can I help this person develop. He taught me how to deal with people, both customers and with the people we work with, how to pay attention to details.”
Vosmeier said that he and Vella picked Simpson because “he has vast experience in ticketing systems and his knowledge of the sports industry made him stick out. David inherited a challenging department that had been without consistent leadership for a while. He’s created a positive and healthy culture. He mended all the fractures and inconsistencies and now we have a really strong ticketing team.
“He’s really a great guy and solution oriented. He’s a quiet storm.”
And while Simpson thought he was done with new builds, he was not. The Fox Theatre started a partnership with the 5,000-capacity Gateway Arena in College Park — a new facility — to be its ticketing provider. The venue opened in November. The facility has a box office manager of its own, but it’s Simpson who is ultimately responsible for the ticketing operation at the venue.
“Yeah, I was sucked back into a new building,” Simpson said with a chuckle. “But I had the tools and we’re making it work.”
Despite his history of changing jobs, Simpson said he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. “I love it here and feel like I’ve found a home,” he said.
Along for the journey in all those U-Hauls has been Simpson’s partner of seven years, Bryan, and their dog, Charlie, a pug/min pin.
“It’s been quite a ride,” he said.