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

The Building Managers: Peter Sullivan

General manager, University of Phoenix Stadium

As a teenager growing up on Long Island in the 1970s, Peter Sullivan sneaked into Nassau Coliseum to see Dr. J and Rick Barry perform their wizardry for the New York Nets.

“It’s not something I’m proud of,” Sullivan said. “[But] I vividly remember that this would be the greatest thing of all time if you could work in a building like this. From that point on, I set my sights on getting involved in the business.”

Forty years later, Sullivan’s buddies no longer have to “pop doors” for him to attend an event without paying for a ticket. He’s managed, among other facilities, three NFL stadiums in Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and Phoenix, plus a World Cup venue in Italy.

After earning a graduate degree in sports administration from the University of Massachusetts, Sullivan got his start in 1982 as an intern at the Worcester Centrum working for Tony Tavares, the arena’s general manager for SMG, the firm operating the building.

“That was a time in the industry when arenas were doing killer numbers of concerts,” Sullivan said. “The Centrum was one of the busiest buildings in the country. We did 50 to 55 concerts a year.”

During his tenure with SMG, Sullivan worked on the feasibility study tied to building a new stadium in St.
Photo by: University of Phoenix Stadium
Petersburg that ultimately became the model for Tropicana Field. His days in Jacksonville coincided with the Jaguars’ startup in 1993.

In early 2004, while on spring break with his family in Florida, Sullivan got a call from Global Spectrum officials asking if he wanted to run the first NFL stadium featuring a cutting-edge design where both the roof and the field were retractable.

At the time, Sullivan ran a minor league ballpark and a convention center in Lansing, Mich. He took the Arizona job and, close to 10 years later, shakes his head at the dramatic change he’s seen in the West Valley landscape surrounding the Glendale facility.

“The Coyotes’ arena was about five months old and the stadium was 15 percent complete,” he said. “I looked around and saw nothing else. It was daunting. Now, there is [Westgate] outdoor mall, [Tanger] outlet mall across the street, the Renaissance Hotel and condominiums.”

There have been many highlights over his career, but Sullivan points to the startup of the Common Ground Music Festival in Lansing as one of his best moments. The event — as he promised the city would happen — lost $400,000 before turning a profit in its fourth year.

“That’s a big deal to me because it’s not every day you can start a festival that’s still going to be around after 14 years,” he said. “It’s hard to keep those things going, so I feel really good about that.”

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