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Volume 20 No. 42


Don Muret
The music of the Grateful Dead has endured for 52 years, spanning multiple generations. Grateful Dead Night hasn’t yet achieved that status across Major League Baseball, but it’s off to a good start.

The 2017 season marks the eighth consecutive year that MLB teams will celebrate the Dead’s legacy, dating to the original Jerry Garcia Tribute Night at AT&T Park in 2010. At that time, the San Francisco Giants created the promotion to recognize the 15-year anniversary of Garcia’s death.

This year, the Giants are joined by the Red Sox, Cardinals, Reds and Phillies, all teams that have previously done the promotion, plus the Brewers, who recently announced their first Grateful Dead Tribute Night for Aug. 9 at Miller Park.

The promotion includes customized tie-dyed T-shirts, live music from Grateful Dead cover bands and, in San Francisco, appearances from the band’s surviving members.

It can help drive ticket sales for the seats least in demand, and most are midweek games.

Philadelphia held its first Grateful Dead Night last season, with a band and special T-shirts, and sold 2,135 tickets tied to the package.
For most clubs, full-price tickets are available in most sections of the stadium, with a portion of ticket sales forwarded to the Rex Foundation, the Dead’s charitable group.

In Milwaukee, the Brewers have paid attention to other teams’ success with Grateful Dead Night. They decided to hold one on their own as part of a theme night schedule that has greatly expanded for the 2017 season, said Rick Schlesinger, the team’s chief operating officer.

“The Grateful Dead are an iconic band that appeals to a wide demographic, so it was not a difficult decision to make,” Schlesinger said.

The Brewers plan to make 2,500 tickets available for Grateful Dead Night, at the regular prices of $18 for the upper deck to $30 for an outfield seat in the lower bowl. Depending on how it goes, the Brewers potentially could increase the number of seats for the promotion in 2018.

The Brewers, like the other teams, will distribute T-shirts co-branded with the Dead and team logo to those ticket buyers. Last season in Philadelphia, one of the Dead’s favorite markets, the T-shirt listed every Dead performance in Philly, including the band’s record 53 concerts at the old Spectrum.

Some teams book Grateful Dead cover bands to provide additional entertainment value. Last year, local band Box of Rain performed at Ashburn Alley, the outfield food court at Citizens Bank Park, said John Brazer, the Phillies’ director of publicity.

The 2016 event, the Phillies’ first Grateful Dead Night, drew 2,135 ticket buyers tied to the promotion for a Tuesday night game in early August. The first 2,000 ticket buyers got the T-shirt.

Those buying tickets on the Phillies’ site through the theme night page received a $4 discount for seats priced $47 and below, extending from the lower bowl to the upper deck, Brazer said.

In St. Louis, the first two Grateful Dead Night promotions at Busch Stadium resulted in more than 3,000 tickets sold for each event, a strong response to the promotion, said Martin Coco, the Cardinals’ director of ticket sales and marketing.

Last year, Jake’s Leg, a Dead cover band that formed in the 1970s, played at the ballpark before the game, then moved across the street to perform at Ballpark Village after the game.

William Roth, owner of a local advertising agency who worked 10 years for the Dead’s merchandise division, designs the T-shirts for the Cardinals and a few other teams, Coco said.

In San Francisco, where it all began for both the promotion and the Grateful Dead, the Giants alternate between honoring Garcia and the band as a whole. Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, both Bay Area residents and Giants fans, have sung the national anthem, and band members and their families participate in forums at the park as part of a special VIP ticket package.

Over the past seven years, the team has developed a retail line of Giants/Dead co-branded hats and shirts sold at the team store, said Faham Zakariaei, the team’s senior director of promotions and special events.

All told, the Giants sell between 4,000 and 6,000 tickets every season for the Dead-related promotions, Zakariaei said.

Don Muret can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @breakground.

John Wentzell has completed his first 100 days on the job as president of Spectra’s venue management and food service and hospitality groups. In an interview with SportsBusiness Journal facilities writer Don Muret, the veteran facility operator discussed the loss of NFL business, opportunities for growth, and the future of live entertainment.

What are your impressions of Spectra?
Let’s face it, this was a unique opportunity for me. You know my background [20 years at Delaware North], being in venue management and with teams. I also spent quality time leading a food, hospitality and retail company. The ability to merge those two together in one significant leadership role was the right fit.

Where do you see the firm’s strengths and weaknesses?
For a company like ours that has grown as quickly as we have, we have some growing pains as you might expect. We’ve moved a number of people from within around, so at some point, you need to re-establish the bullpen. Just assimilating and making sure we’re doing right by all of our clients. The strength side is we have a great core team. It’s a compelling story in the integrated services we provide and the ability for us to bring all those together for a client. It creates an opportunity to produce incremental profits and cost efficiencies.

Spectra lost a signature account last year in University of Phoenix Stadium. How do you make up for that key piece of business, given there are just [seven] NFL stadiums run by third-party management?
It is a very finite number of opportunities when you’re talking about any major league properties. Then it comes down to when deals are up and available, and is it a situation where they’re entertaining third parties. We’re absolutely in play for those, but at the same time, business goes on. It’s an ebb and flow in the contract space. Overall, we’ve got a pretty good overall retention rate, north of 90 percent.

Wentzell (second from right) and executives from Spectra, PPL Center, AHL and Lehigh Valley Phantoms at the AHL All-Star Challenge at the PPL Center last month in Allentown, Pa.
Where are the opportunities for growth on the food side?
If you look at just volume, it will continue to be outside the MLB/NHL/NBA type of space, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be in that space from time to time. MLS is an area where we have a base [with three food accounts] and I see that expanding for sure. We feel like we have a great story to tell there and we’re going to build on that. We have some real strong client relationships.

Spectra ticketing, the old Paciolan, dominates the college space. Do you see continued growth in that area?
The trend of collegiate venues, whether it’s football stadiums or indoor facilities, has advanced to the point where they now have a more sophisticated premium seating environment and are adding alcohol sales to the mix. It makes it a much more viable opportunity for a company like Spectra Food and Hospitality to make a real play and to work with them. We see the relationships from a ticketing standpoint as a stepping-off point with many major college programs. I think it’s a market that’s ripe for a lot of incremental business.

Feld Entertainment’s shutdown of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus surprised some, but many arena managers were not surprised by the decision. Where do you see the future of live entertainment headed in this space?
It’s an evolution. I think what we’re seeing is a continued retooling [of family shows], but I don’t think we’ll see it disappear. I think Feld in its own right, with Nitro Circus, is coming up with content to backfill traditional touring dates. Think back to when there used to be Ice Capades and Ice Follies and the circus, and that was it. Then it changed into the evolution of a variety of shows brought on by kids TV show content. Now you see movie content facilitating development of compelling product for family entertainment. I think it will seek its own level and it will be fine.