Hard to believe
The company has become a major facility operator in less than a decade, overseeing more than 80 venues worldwide and even hosting a Super Bowl at the University of Phoenix stadium in 2008. It’s quite a step up from its beginnings, when the company’s predecessor, Comcast-Spectacor, oversaw operations for the Spectrum in Philadelphia and its neighboring arena, the Wachovia Center, prior to 2000.
John Page, Global Spectrum’s chief operating officer, would insist two people above all others be credited for this success: Ed Snider and Peter Luukko. But it is Page who handles most of the day-to-day of Global Spectrum, overseeing its corporate support team, including human resources and operations, and other staffing worldwide.
Page was named COO of Global Spectrum in 1997 when Snider divested himself from Spectacor Management Group, a company he founded. Two years later, Snider bought a small business named Global Facility Services, changed its name and grew it quickly. With the goal of expanding into minor-league baseball facilities, Comcast-Spectacor added Ovations Food Services and its own ticketing company, New Era Tickets. It also added Front Row Marketing, a commercial rights and premium seating division.
Snider not only owns Global Spectrum’s flagship venues – the Spectrum and the Wachovia Center – he is a co-founder of Global Spectrum’s parent company, Comcast-Spectacor. Luukko, a longtime employee of Snider’s, has gone from working at the L.A. Coliseum and Sports Arena to chairman of Global Spectrum and President of Comcast-Spectacor.
Last September, Global Spectrum announced a collaborative agreement with British firm NEC Group Birmingham that has expanded Global Spectrum’s reach into Europe.
With the next decade upon it, Global Spectrum should expect to see more successes and challenges, and Page will be there, guiding it to the next level.
So how did you get started in this biz?
I was born in Phoenix and lived there until I was 11 when my dad, who was working for Allstate Insurance, got transferred in 1976 to northern San Diego county. It’s one of the best things that ever happened to me, just being able to live in a different geographical location. Particularly in Escondido. I was there from sixth grade through high school, got recognized for my football ability and was recruited by a number of schools.
Ultimately, I had the opportunity to go to USC. I redshirted a year, had some injuries like a lot of people do – tore up a knee and had some foot problems – but I had a great time.
I always thought I’d live in Southern California my whole life. I was awarded a postgraduate scholarship, applied to graduate school was accepted into the masters program for public administration.
I was also working as an assistant strength and conditioning coach. I just saw that as a way to stay involved with sports until I found out what I really wanted to do with my life. I still don’t know what I want to do but I’m having a lot of fun doing what I’m doing.
I had been in contact with the folks over at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum and the L.A. Sports Arena, which were managed by SMG at the time. I stayed in touch with the GM and interviewed a couple of times and in March 1991 started working at the Coliseum and Sports Arena as an event manager.
I had no experience at all. It wasn’t my only option – I looked at some nine-to-five jobs and sales but I really gravitated toward that sports and entertainment concept: It’s not nine to five, anything can happen and it’s diverse. It is special. I jumped in with both feet.
My first event was Wrestlemania, during the first Iraq war. The lead event coordinator had a wedding to attend.
I had no clue. I relied upon the operations guys and the box office personnel to walk me through it. It was an eye-opening experience and I just couldn’t wait to go to work every day to do what I was doing.
So you look back on that event without second-guessing some of your decisions?
Well, I look back on that experience today from the perspective that we manage all these other venues at Global Spectrum. As long as you have somebody who’s willing to take the initiative to ask the right questions and not say no, it works out fine.
So I’m working through this event, fresh out of USC. The college has high-profile events, the football program being what it is, so there was some star appeal – we’d see Jerry Buss on the sidelines, certain actors and actresses, USC veterans.
But at that Wrestlemania event I saw Donald Trump and Marla Maples and some other celebrities like that; it was really interesting. I’d go back home at two in the morning and tell my roommates all this crazy stuff.
It was just fascinating.
How long before you felt comfortable?
Our general manager, George Gonzales, told me you really need to get through the first year and then a lightbulb goes off. He was so right. Until you go through that first cycle, you never knew what to expect, either emotionally or in preparation.
Us outsiders would think there would be a template already prepared for you, so even the inexperienced could do it.
Well, there is, there absolutely is. But I don’t think a lot of people really understand what goes into our business. They think you just show up, and things happen. The game is played and the building gets cleaned.
In any situation, particularly because there are so many variables, especially at an arena, the template gets modified and challenged based on what’s happened the day before or the next day.
There are so many factors: the time you have from one event to the next, and how many people you are scheduling based upon attendance levels whether it’s for cleaning, event staff, security, ticket-takers, ushers.
There were a lot of factors that went into even a USC game – like when to paint the endzones so it wouldn’t cut into the visiting team’s practice time. There could be a soccer game between two football games. Maybe there was a pro football game the next day. We needed to get the field prepped; we needed to paint. What’s the weather like? You just have to have the right people in place and the communication has to be significant so you can manage the staffing levels and the expenses.
What brought you to Philly?
Peter Luukko, my main mentor, was regional VP of SMG at the time and he made sure we were all very involved. Our GM, George Gonzales, left to go work for a promoter in Mexico. Peter Luukko came in to run our facility for about six months before he took a job in Philadelphia to work directly for Ed Snider, to manage the Spectrum and plan for what would become the Wachovia Center.
His going away speech – I’ll remember it as long as I live. He made an announcement to the room that, “Hey, I’m going to call somebody here on the phone some day and say, ‘Hop on the big train and come out East and help me work in Philadelphia.’”
In the back of my mind I was like, “Oh man, he’s gonna call me!” And I told everybody as a condition of employment that I was willing to move!
I dreaded every day that the phone would ring. And we didn’t have caller ID back then, so I couldn’t see the 215 area code.
The months rolled by. But one day in mid-August the phone rang and I picked it up and I hear, “Hey, this is Peter! How ya doin’?”
I thought, “Oh no, here it comes.”
He told me about a position he had available. It was for event manager, a lateral move with more responsibility, working directly with Peter. I may not live in Philly forever but at that point in my career I thought it was worth a chance to take.
So I came to Philadelphia, spent a few days looking around. Peter formally offered the job. I was offered a counter proposal by SMG – a bump in title and a couple of bucks more in salary, but the challenge of moving to Philly and really looking at my career was something that was more important to me.
So I started working at the Spectrum, right at the beginning of the hockey season in October 1993 and it was great, working side by side with Peter.
There were a lot of things that we needed to change. Some of that was staffing so there were some difficult decisions that had to be made. Some of it was just adjusting the templates we talked about earlier, how to manage the business, all the little tangible details. This is a volume business and all the nickels, dimes and quarters add up.
Plus there was the communication process so that people understood about the deals we were entering into, if we had risk, if we didn’t, if there was a co-promotional arrangement or whatnot.
So that’s where working with Peter and the rest of the staff really turned the venue around. Although the Spectrum’s got great history, there’s always something you can do a little better, like tweaking the labor deals.
So what was the most enjoyable part?
It was the day-to-day challenge, working through the cultural adjustment of coming from Southern California to south Philly.
There were a lot of people who’ve been in the building since the day it opened and I didn’t want to be seen as a carpetbagger, just coming into town for a couple of years. I wanted to make a commitment to work through the process and really support Ed Snider’s vision and dream. He was the owner at the time and is still very involved in our business.
Is this a case where “event manager” intersects with the title “talent buyer”?
In some cases it can be. In L.A. we were all very involved because of the diversity of events. And in Philadelphia it did evolve into that. There was the circus, the Globetrotters, “Sesame Street,” some of the dirt events. And Peter was working directly with a lot of the agents and promoters, particularly at the local level, tweaking the deals to really drive business into Philly.
Philly’s a great market. Larry Magid, who’s been the prime promoter for 40-plus years, was really instrumental in the success of the Spectrum and the Wachovia Center and a lot of the other venues around the marketplace. So I was working with Larry, getting an understanding of the relationships and how the deals work in Philly versus other places.
So, yeah, it did evolve into that role.
Your number of facilities seems to be climbing rather quickly.
It’s been pretty dramatic over the past 24 months, and probably more in the 12- to 15-month range. Our growth has been tremendous. Our development team, led by Frank Russo and Todd Glickman, has done a tremendous job out there pushing the envelope, spreading the word about Global Spectrum and really getting us ahead of the curve to allow people to choose us in the competitive bid process.
Is Canada one of those expanding markets?
One of the first markets we jumped into was the John Labatt Center in London, Ontario. Following the United States, a lot of these junior buildings with their suites, premium seating, capacity, concessions and customer amenities can thrive and support a junior level hockey team. They also have additional bookings and revenue opportunities to really support a lot of the initiatives that support the city.
London was the first to get on the map with that. We were fortunate enough to work with the city, have an equity position and work with the Hunters, who own the hockey team.
As people saw the kind of job that we were doing, it allowed our reputation to spread. We were able to pick up the three British Columbia accounts – Dawson Creek, Abbottsford and Penticton and, along the way, we inherited Oshawa from Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, then Windsor.
You oversee Global Spectrum Europe too?
Yeah, and that’s one where we’re really starting to get going. We had an experience where we transitioned Croatia from a pre-opening scenario to an operating model and then transitioned back out into a consulting role.
We’re actively pursuing other accounts. We’re looking at consulting in some other areas in the Middle East and we’re getting ready to find some contracts there.
We’re looking at Asia and we’ve got a deal in Singapore. We were selected as part of an overall consortium to work on the Sports Hub concept that the government is really supporting, despite some of the recent economic issues that relate to banking and financing. The government is still going to step in and provide the financing model.
There’s probably another three, four months before that will close and construction will begin. At that point we’ll take over the existing arena in Singapore then probably in two or three years the Sports Hub, which is a 50,000-seat stadium coupled with a lot of other Olympic-type sports venues.
Can you conduct all of this from Philadelphia?
Personally, you can’t do everything. I’m fortunate that we have a great staff of regional vice presidents. Many of them continue to run their own facilities and have great assistant GMs to support their initiatives and effort.
But we’ve allowed them to grow personally and professionally by giving them the oversight of other facilities and encourage them to share their experiences with other GMs.
Ultimately, our vision is getting up and running in certain areas to create a hub. If we get into Singapore, we can develop a core operating model that can be demonstrated to potential customers in Japan or Korea or wherever else.
Not to take away anything from your marketing staff but do you think your growth has helped your competitive bidding?
Oh yeah, it’s definitely come up. The one thing we try to impress upon people is that, although you may say we’re big and we’re not going to pay attention to a particularly sized client, that’s where we really shine.
We really view ourselves as a sales and marketing company. We like to encourage our GMs to become part of the fabric of the community. These GMs are managing city assets. They’ve got to get involved with certain organizations and go to Cub Scout and Girl Scout meetings and – it doesn’t have to be that severe of a range – but they’ve got to get involved in the communities. It really makes a difference.
And if the cities don’t think private management is the way to go, we’ll talk about the things we bring to the table. The financial efficiencies of corporate reporting. Reevaluation of their insurance programs. Health and welfare and benefits that can flip off from city payroll. Just giving people the opportunity to grow and maybe even move from their native city. If they want to do more, we can give them opportunities to do more.
And just by our operating experience we can put this facility in a position to have more revenue, to have less expenses, to lessen the taxpayer burden because, whether they want to hear it or not, the venues are publicly subsidized. It’s our job to lessen that burden by operating effectively and efficiently, reducing overhead, enhancing revenue and driving all that we can through the facility to make people proud of it.
Because of your experience with New Era Tickets, do you see a day when there will be an all-inclusive ticket price?
Yeah, I guess. I mean, it’s possible. Some venues have the luxury to control a lot of the different aspects, whether it’s a parking fee or an included food and beverage opportunity.
I think things are going to change and evolve. Now you see a lot more paperless initiatives to try to reduce or at least control the secondary marketing aspects. There’s a lot of things people are willing to try as long as the consumer will embrace them and we can still sell tickets.
The biggest challenge is how to reach the consumer these days between the fragmentation of radio, TV and print. The Internet is the key, particularly in a large market like Philly.
We can do ticket sale opportunities via our database to reach a targeted audience and we can see the return automatically. We don’t have to spend much to reach these people. They like it, we like it, the promoters like it.
So if you can make it more efficient and you can sell tickets quicker, quieter, and still get the bang and do the business, it’s going to enhance everybody’s ability to continue to grow this business.
How do you manage so much human resource?
A lot of it is delegating, coaching, getting input from people. For people to be in charge and to manage appropriately, they have to have autonomy. Especially when you’re managing throughout different time zones.
I really like people to be involved in the process and, if there are decisions to be made, at least understand what they’re thinking. Even offering, “Hey, that’s great, but at the same time try this or that.” A lot can be done in these days of BlackBerrys. You just need to pick up the phone every once in a while to avoid any miscommunication.
We like to hire good people and let them do their jobs, and just make sure we’re checking in on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
Any concert over the years that stands out, be it good, bad, or otherwise?
There’s been so many great nights of success. In our business, when you don’t hear from anybody after the fact, it’s a great night.
I was working on a Guns N’ Roses / Metallica show at the L.A. Coliseum and Sports Arena back in 1992. Both were at the pinnacle of their success. Your adrenaline’s flowing just being in that environment. Making sure it’s done safely, the music as it pulsates, the excitement of the crowd, the immensity of the production and the satisfaction of the employees.
Just seeing 90,000 fans clamoring and frothing at the mouth and so excited about the process. And seeing it all kind of ebb away, the clean up and moving on to the next event – it’s one of my great memories.
But I’ve been fortunate to see so many great acts and artists perform. Some of my personal favorites are AC/DC, Jimmy Buffett – it just goes on and on. And Prince. I was never a big Prince fan. I grew up in the height of his music in the late ’80s in college, but seeing him perform was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen in my career. What a great entertainer, what a great musician. And I became a true fan by seeing him.
Going full circle on Guns N’ Roses, we had two shows when the band got back together. One was at the Center on Friday night and one at the Spectrum on Sunday night.
The Center show sold out. We didn’t have as many seats sold for the show on Sunday. And we were really concerned about Axl just because of some of his inconsistencies, like the Vancouver incident where he showed up late.
So we were set up, ready to go Friday night, but we had met prior to this to have a crisis plan, to have an evacuation plan in case something would happen. There was an incident, supposedly, the night before in New York.
Ultimately he didn’t show up. We had 15,000 people in the building. And somebody had to cancel the show. It wasn’t going to be us. Watching the whole backstage drama as this unfolded was amazing. It was this minute-by-minute walkthrough of “Hey, where we at? Is he coming? Is he not coming? What are we going to do?” One minute he’s coming, the next minute he’s not.
So we got to the point where we had to cancel the show. So we called the police and we got everything into position. Having the foresight and working with a great staff here in Philly we were able to minimize damage and do the best to preserve the health and safety of the people who were here and preserve the integrity of the facility and live another day.
A facility manager is not omnipresent but still has to take the angry phone calls.
Absolutely. And I think that’s a great part of it, the accountability and the responsibility.
I like to tell some of my young managers in the field that an arena or stadium or convention center is like a small city. People can get sick, people can get into a fight, various things may happen, people may die.
At all times you have to maintain control and just rely on your skills to make a decision or assess the situation to the best of your ability to make sure people are safe.
Are the feelings mixed watching the Spectrum disappear?
It’s a tough, tough decision. It’s such a great venue and we’re fortunate to have another great venue, the Wachovia Center, built in 1996. Chicago tore theirs down, Boston tore theirs down, but we made a collective decision to try to make it work.
And since 1996 we were able to do it. We operated magnificently. But when this opportunity to develop the site came up, it was time to sit down and make the hard decisions.
Were we going to keep it based on its age, its use and how many great years it’s had for us? Were we going to have to invest significant capital if we’re going to upgrade the ice floor to continue to play hockey?
But as we weighed that value proposition versus the ability to really change the climate down here, having two other relatively new stadiums, six and seven years old collectively, we decided now is the right time to move to divest ourselves of the Spectrum, as tough as it is.
I think the Spectrum is the reason there’s private management today; it’s the reason there are so many other great opportunities in and around this business.
Anything in conclusion?
It’s such a tremendous business to be in. I really do feel fortunate to have been involved and work with some of the people I’ve worked with – namely Peter Luukko, Ed Snider and the great staff we have here. Guys like Bob Schwartz, who is our VP of marketing who was in L.A. when I was there. Ike Richman. Larry Magid of Live Nation. You can’t thank these people enough for their time and their effort to really share what it’s all about.
I also view that as our responsibility and duty as well – to make sure we’re doing everything we can to embrace this culture of public assemblage facilities, live music, family shows and all that goes on in the arena business, making sure it continues to grow and flourish.
It’s such a competitive world out there between the Internet, the movies and everything that goes on in people’s lives that it’s our mission to make sure we properly service these customers and these sports teams so that people will want to come back and back again.
John shares memories of his first-ever concert with Cheap Trick during a visit to the Wachovia Center.
John and Comcast-Spectacor President Peter Luukko welcome Don King to the ring at The Wachovia Spectrum.
Promoter Terry Bassett and manager Irving Azoff give John something to look up to during a recent Eagles visit.
John Page and Global Spectrum Regional VP Peter Sullivan welcome promoter Michael Cohl to the University of Phoenix Stadium before a November 2006 Rolling Stones concert.