Lucas Reflects on a Changing Industry
Q&A: Jack Lucas, retired president of TicketsWest, continuing president of West Coast Entertainment
- by Brad Weissberg
- Published: April 18, 2017
Jack Lucas helped start TicketsWest 30 years ago. He retired at the end of March and handed over operations to VP Dusty Kurtz, though he maintains his ties to the industry through his promotion and production house, West Coast Entertainment. Lucas spoke with Venues Today about three decades in the ticketing industry, what he’s learned, what he’s taking away.
Why is now the time to retire?
I’ve been contemplating it for a while. I can’t believe it’s been 30 years. I’ve enjoyed the whole damn thing. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been a ‘pinch-me’ type of career. But I didn’t want to be one of those guys that people say, ‘is he still there?’
How do you feel about leaving a company you started?
I thought there would be a lot of emotion transitioning out after 30 years, but it’s not the emotion I thought I’d have because I know Dusty has it all under control. Ten or 11 years ago, Dusty came aboard and one of my guys said I should keep on eye on him; he’s pretty sharp. He did a great job as regional manager in Denver and then when I was looking for a VP, I thought he was perfect. I’ve been mentoring him to take over for the last four years. He’ll do a great job, and it’s time.
What is the best advice you have given Dusty?
Our business is like a three-legged-stool. One leg is a great product; leg two is great clients and the third leg is getting great people to work for you. If you don’t have all three legs, that stool is not going to stand.
How have you kept up with the dramatic changes in the ticketing industry in the past few years?
We’re constantly changing. If someone says they are not good with change, I will not hire that person. When I started ticketing technology moved like molasses. Today it’s very client-centric, customer-centric, and both bases are telling us what they want. It’s a whole different paradigm. You have to be willing to adapt and move quickly.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in 30 years?
I started with four employees and now we have 150. Now we have call centers, IT people, network specialists, marketing people, social media people, it goes on and on.
What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the job?
My favorite is the client interaction. I can sincerely tell you I know every one of our clients. Some of our clients include Spokane Public Facilities District, which we never take for granted just because we are in Spokane; Colorado Rockies, which took three years to land and they’ve been with us 25 years and Portland'5 Centers for the Arts, another account it took several years to get. I love working with Robyn Williams, she is a strong leader. My least favorite part of the job is the business aspect. You have to keep growing the business, ensuring profitability and making a lot of decisions. Sometimes the business side can overwhelm you. The thing that keeps me up at night is that I have to set the vision. My employees are dependent on me, and I take that responsibility seriously. You have to keep pressing and moving the bar up.
How did you get started in the ticketing industry?
I’m a Vietnam vet and came home after two tours in the Navy. I went to Eastern Washington University, Cheney, to get my degree in music. I was almost ready to graduate when my dad, a former hockey player, suggested I go down to the Spokane Entertainment Facilities, where he knew some people, to get a part-time job. I got hired as an usher. I worked for Mike Kobluk, former president of IAVM, and Kevin Twohig, one of the charter teachers for the IAVM school at Oglebay. They both played a key part in my career. A few years later, they created a new position, events supervisor, which involved being there at night. I thought I could teach during the day and work there at night, and I got the job. I used the money to buy an airplane that I still own. The local 93 stagehands asked me if I wanted to work move-ins and move-outs. I took that job and did that during the day, went home, put on a coat and tie and returned as the events supervisor. When the show was over, I put my jeans back on and did the move-out. It gave me an up over a lot of people who don’t understand the backstage part of the business.
How did TicketsWest start?
In 1985, the city of Spokane talked about going from hard tickets to computerized tickets. The city put out an RFP and picked a local businessman named Don Barbieri to run it. A few years later, in 1987, Don created a company called G&B Select-a-Seat and asked me to come work for him. I was called ticket manager. We sold our first ticket in 1987 for a Cyndi Lauper concert. In the mid-90’s, we changed it to TicketsWest.
What was the model?
There’s always going to be Ticketmaster out there. I don’t want to compete with them for the rest of my life. So I found a niche where we can be successful, and that was in the tier two and tier three markets. We have offices in Denver and Portland. so we’re in tier one cities, but we built our client base in tier two and tier three markets. That’s how we built our success and sustained our business. Around that time we got a phone call from Columbia Artists. They were playing a “Cats” tour and lined up Portland and Seattle but needed a third stop in the Midwest to make it financially feasible. We did it in Spokane and started G&B Presents. We grew it, and now we’ve produced everything from Willie Nelson to Tony Bennett to Ray Charles to Broadway musicals to circuses.
What is the biggest highlight from your 30 years at TicketsWest?
My biggest highlight is the first time I put Garth Brooks on sale in the early 90’s. We ended up doing six performances. We’d sell out one show, open up another, then another, and that was a real high point. We pulled it off without a whole lot of challenges, but we brought down the phone system in Spokane and no one could call 911 or the hospitals. We eventually had to have a meeting with the city to make sure that didn’t happen again.
- by Brad Weissberg
- Published: April 18, 2017