Voices From The Trenches: Jeff Nickler

Pollstar’s periodic snapshot of people in the industry. 

This week: BOK Center General Manager Jeff Nickler. ‘Nuff said.

What got you into the business?  What steps were there between starting and where you’re at now?

My first job after graduating from West Virginia University was working for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company in Miami Beach. After a decade in south Florida, I was ready for a change of scenery and coincidentally received a job posting for a huge new arena under construction in Tulsa.

I was hired on the pre-opening team for BOK Center as Premium Services & Sales Manager largely due to my experience with high-end hospitality clients.  Within weeks I was promoted to Special Events Manger and tasked with creating new revenue-generating festivals and outdoor concerts. Later, I was elevated to Director of Booking, Assistant General Manager and, eventually General Manager, all within a span of about seven years. 

I attribute my success to my work ethic and attitude but I was also lucky to be at the right place at the right time.

Tell us about one BOK story that won’t get anybody in trouble, at least by name.

We go to great lengths to convince bands to play Tulsa. BOK Center was not included on the original routing for the Imagine Dragons tour in 2014.  Using some creativity, we worked with Live Nation and the band’s agent, Corrie Christopher at Paradigm, to develop a charity show concept that the band loved. When all was said and done, a date was added in Tulsa and we raised $270,000 for a nonprofit dedicated to providing financial assistance to families with children battling cancer.

A ton of sellouts, oodles of concerts but does any one of them stand out? Why?  Any concerts outside the venue that have special significance to you?

In January, we hosted Tulsa native Garth Brooks for a two-week residency and seven sold-out shows. He had cut the ribbon during our grand opening ceremony at the venue and was our most-requested act from Day One. Also, Paul McCartney (three times), Jimmy Buffett, Roger Waters.

Outside of my venue, I attended Stagecoach for the first time this past April.  Goldenvoice does an incredible job of executing a world-class country music festival.  My fan experience was memorable for all the right reasons.

What is the one thing that the industry actually does right?

A new concert venue has the ability to completely change the course of a city.  It has been humbling to watch this happen firsthand in Tulsa.  Thanks to BOK Center opening in 2008, Downtown Tulsa has seen a resurgence of growth and nearly $1 billion in private development. Also as a result, a city that was once just viewed as “flyover country” has emerged as one of the best concert markets in North America.

What else would you be doing other than this? It’s never too late to be an Amway salesman.

Bartender in the British Virgin Islands or a professional dog whisperer.

You have three shout outs.

John Bolton, SMG’s Vice President of Live Entertainment. Since convincing me to move to Tulsa is 2007, John singlehandedly has had the greatest influence on my career in this industry. I am thankful to call him both a mentor and a friend.

Gerry Barad. For his sense of humor, no B.S., and for taking a chance on Tulsa.

Joe Romano and the entire SMG network. The great thing about working for a private management company is that advice, show research, and questions about best practices are just a phone call or e-mail away.

What’s the most common compliment from visiting tours?

Our backstage catering is renowned. Bob Roux has called it the best in the country. We pull out all stops to create a personalized and memorable dining experience for the artist and their crew. We understand that these folks are road-weary and living on tour buses so for a few hours we try to make them feel like they’re home.

What music are you listening to right now, and how are you listening to it?

I digest most of my music via Spotify.  Right now I am really digging Twenty One Pilots’ new album, Jason Isbell, Sam Hunt, and Chris Stapleton.

First concert ever?

Michael Jackson’s “BAD World Tour” in 1989 at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. If I could rewrite history, he is the one artist I wish I could see rock the BOK Center.