SBJ/Nov. 18-24, 2013/In Depth

The Building Managers: Jack Larson

Vice president/general manager, Xcel Energy Center

Jack Larson’s love of hockey drove him down a path to managing major league arenas.

Larson played hockey at Richfield High School in Minnesota and his coach got the team jobs cleaning up after North Stars games at the old Met Center, where Mall of America now stands. As a prep, Larson also got to play on that ice during a 1972 winter holiday tournament.

“Just being around an NHL team and being able to work and get paid for it at the same time was a thrill for me,” Larson said. “I went to college [at the University of Minnesota] and continued to work at the Met, ended up staying there and getting a full-time job.”

In 1991, the late Frank Jirik, Met Center’s former general manager hired to oversee development of the San Jose Sharks’ arena project, brought Larson on board as the team’s director of booking and operations.

While the arena was under construction, the Sharks played their first two seasons at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. The facility, built in 1941, is shaped like an old airplane hangar and it did not have a hockey tenant for 20 years until the NHL expansion team arrived.

Larson’s duties included getting the venue ready for hockey, and it wasn’t easy. To get from their locker room to the
Photo by: Minnesota Wild
ice, the Sharks had to walk down a long flight of stairs. There were also challenges installing a new dasherboard system and getting the equipment working to run the ice floor, Larson said.

“It was like night and day moving into a beautiful new building in San Jose,” he said.

In 1994, Larson moved back to Minnesota, spending seven years at Target Center in Minneapolis before taking over as vice president at the new Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, home of the Minnesota Wild. It was his second stint working for an NHL expansion team.

Over the past 13 years, the two arenas separated by the Mississippi River have fought each other hard for concert tours passing through the Twin Cities. Larson knows the key to getting a show are the bonds formed between venue managers and the promoters and agents.

“There is always that challenge of finding and developing relationships that can get you business, that you can count on year to year to bring acts back to your building,” he said.

The Met Center was demolished 19 years ago but the memories, both good and bad, remain fresh in Larson’s mind, including the night the restrooms overflowed as the doors opened for a Neil Diamond concert after a two-by-four clogged the sewer system outside the arena.

Another bad day unfolded after a weeklong leather coat sale on the arena floor during a North Stars’ road trip. It was early in the season and humid outdoors, and the floor decking protecting the ice surface got stuck and came up in broken pieces.

The North Stars had a home game the next night and arena officials had to cancel both teams’ pregame skates so they could melt the ice to remove the rest of the decking before forming a new ice floor.

“We started at midnight and finished at 5:30 the night of the game,” Larson said. “We had future coat sales but we also made sure we knew what the conditions were outside to make sure the temperature controls [inside] were all set properly.”

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