Q’s With Laurie Jacoby On Her New Gig At Brooklyn’s Barclays Center &The Ultimate ‘70s Concert
Earlier this year, Laurie Jacoby was named EVP and Chief Entertainment Officer of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center where starting March 1 she will oversee programming and marketing, including the booking of concerts. No stranger to the highly competitive New York market, Jacoby worked for 22 years for the market leader, Madison Square Garden, where despite the building’s massive volume of events, still managed to win three Pollstar Venue Executive of the Year awards. Here, she discusses the new gig, the ultimate 1970s concert, what having a championship team does to a venue and, of course, seeing “The Beard.”
Pollstar: Congratulations on the new job.
Laurie Jacoby: Thank you. I’m over the moon. It’s awesome. It’s just so funny how life is. I always say the only constant in this world is change, so you have to ride it and here I am.
It wasn’t lot of time between jobs in the scheme of things.
I needed some time to figure out what I wanted to do especially during COVID and couped in a small space. You just feel out of sorts, so I really needed to take some time and figure out what the next big move was. And John Abbamondi (CEO of Barclays Center/Nets) in Brooklyn came forward early and that planted the seed very early on.
What’s it like with a new CEO? Are you rethinking everything?
It’s fresh energy because almost the entire executive leadership team are pretty much brand-new hires. There’s a few who were part the organization or part of the company with Joe Tsai, but it’s so exciting because there so many who are part of the executive leadership team who are coming in on the same footing and we all have great ideas. John’s put together a great group of people. I felt there was a kinship and it was really important for me that the culture of the workplace be one that I felt aligned with.
Are you in touch with your predecessor, Keith Sheldon?
He actually just sent me a text yesterday. He reached out to me when he was leaving and heard about my situation. He was one of the first people to reach out. We haven’t spoken since I’ve accepted the position, we’ve just been texting. I don’t officially start until March 1, but it’s great to have that resource and a good relationship with somebody like that.
So you are one the most beloved executives in our industry, I know because I saw the standing ovations at the Pollstar Awards when you won Venue Executive of the Year Awards. But this is a tough business with lots of hardnosed negotiations and egos. Why all the love?
I have never worn my title on my sleeve. I am, first and foremost, a music fan, that really knew from the very first concert that I ever went to that this is what I wanted to do.
What was that concert?
I’m going to date myself here, it was Loggins Messina, Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers.
Is there a more ‘70s line-up than that?
I grew up in Long Island. It was at the Nassau Coliseum, and I was in the nosebleeds, the very, very last row – I’m talking can’t-get-any-higher in the building – but I felt the magic. I was like, “Oh, my God. I want to do that.” This is corny, but I still get excited when the trucks roll in. I’m like, “Oh my God I’m part of the team. I get to do what I want to do.” Not everybody gets to have that dream realized. I’m a fan first and I have enthusiasm for every job I do.
In the live business, it’s easy to get into difficult situations without great partners or communication between artist, agent, manager and the building and yet, you’ve somehow come out smelling like roses, at least according to the standing ovations at the Pollstar Awards.
I like to talk, I’m a good talker, I have no fear. I talk to people who are disgruntled and unhappy, they could walk in the building that way and my job is to turn it around, and make sure when they leave they have a smile on their face. I always see it as I am hosting the biggest party for them and whatever they need, how can we help you? Life is unpredictable. A truck may show up late, it might have a weather delay. I’ve dealt with power outages. I’ve dealt with two parts of a tour that are not getting along. I have dealt with almost everything. The thing I come away from it with is that if you can talk to people and they know that you care, and that you are listening, and you’re trying to find a solution, that goes a long way. That’s what I try to do.
I think that’s pretty normal for this business, but you’re talking about Madison Square Garden for 22 years and the amount of shows they do and tickets they sell, they’re always on the top of our arena chart every year and the caliber of guests, fans and sponsors. There may be no more pressurized place to be work.
I feel if I can do that, I can do almost anything. It actually empowers me, because I have no fear. I also don’t mind making a call and introducing myself to somebody I don’t know, and letting them know, “I’m around. How can I help you?” I’ve befriended a lot of people. I’m not going to name names, but I’ve had to deal with some people that were not the most pleasant, and then by the end of the night, they’re giving me a hug. You’re not going to win every person over, but by and large, I’ve been able to make them feel comfortable. People are intimidated by playing in the New York City market. If it’s their first time playing an arena in the market, they already have a set of nerves before they walk in the door. How’s the show going to go? Are they going to get a good review? Is the sponsor going to be happy? Is the band going to be happy? Is the catering good – it’s all about the food. I take all that into consideration and I try to diffuse situations before they flare up. And it has nothing to do with the venue. It’s just life on the road. There’s also managing all of the people that come and hang out because, usually, it’s not the artist. It’s the manager, the tour manager, the record label, everybody has a stake in it. And it’s just trying to make them all feel welcome and make them feel like they’re a part of it and build those relationships to the point where they know the next time they see me, they’re going to be taken care of and that I’m not going to drop the ball. I understand the pressure they’re under. I’ve had many people tell me I helped alleviate a lot of their worries when they walked in and realized, “Oh, my God. It’s fine. It’s chill, we’re going to be good.”
When you were at The Garden, how did you view Barclays?
New York is a very competitive marketplace, and so a lot of times I was a little limited with avails, so sometimes it was just purely matter of dates being available. But look, they were competition. No doubt about it. When they opened, and every new venue has a honeymoon phase, The Garden transformation was still occurring at that time, so we didn’t have the full slate of avails. I think everybody has to do the best that they can for the venue they work at. I’m friends with everyone in every single venue. I know every person that’s in our market looking at venues.
Erik McGregor / LightRocket / Getty Images – The Town Square:
Protesters gather on May 29, 2020, outside Barclays Center to demonstrate against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in police custody in Minneapolis.
It’s interesting how Barclays organically became a town square of sorts for Brooklyn when there’s a protest or celebration, which it wasn’t at all the case before it was built.
Obviously in front of Barclays, and Barclays Plaza is a natural space to gather. The Garden has no place to gather. You have the sidewalk and then you have the street, so there’s not that natural place that where all roads and literally all subways lead there. This summer, it became this area where people felt safe and they could speak their mind and it really became the place to be. And also, it was where people got information from. Just from watching it, I wasn’t living anywhere near there, it was like, “Okay, updates are happening here. People are meeting there. Change is happening.” I just remember every day when, unfortunately, while all those incidents were happening, that nothing was happening inside the venue. There was a lot happening outside the venue.
Do you think you’ll program in a way with that in mind? Are there opportunities for the town square?
There’s ways to enhance it. I’m not on the job yet. I have lots of ideas. But I think there’s ways to enhance it and to encourage it and to tie it into events that are happening inside the venue as well. There’s great opportunity there.
You’ve worked in a building where sports franchises have achieved greatness and it looks like this Brooklyn Nets are on their way. What does it do to a building when you have a championship team in terms of programming?
First of all, the vibe of the building, it definitely helps and enhances it. I have people reaching out to me, and I know what they want right now, they want to come to a Nets game and I’m not even there. I have people who are like, “Oh, hey congratulations. Oh, wow, you’re in Brooklyn.” I know exactly what they want. So it’s exciting to be at a building that has that vibe and that has a team that has the potential of the Nets because it only adds to the allure of the venue.
Have you seen James Harden’s beard?
Yeah, of course, but I don’t think we can get too close right now with the COVID protocols.