Landing a gig booking Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, N.Y., is enough to make most aspiring talent buyers salivate with envy. But for Jon Petrunak, Nassau is just one of over 100 prestigious venues the 32-year-old talent buyer from Philadelphia must fill each week. Petrunak’s territory extends across North America. He books shows for Coliseo de Puerto Rico in San Juan, Soldier Field in Chicago and Long Beach (Calif.) Convention and Entertainment Center.
Petrunak is the winner of this year’s Generation Next Readers’ Choice Award, chosen by readers for the most promising up-and-comer in a class of very talented young executives.
“My job is to work with promoters to help them route shows and develop products” for the 109 North American venues in his territory, Petrunak said. “If there’s a tour out, I’m going to call the promoter or agent and say I have these 10 venues in their region and try to get some of my buildings booked.”
His greatest resource — information. Booking hundreds of shows across a wide swath of territory means relying on an array of intel that comes from constant communication with venue managers, visits to booking agents in Nashville, New York and L.A. and lots and lots of phone calls.
“You’ve got to stay on everyone’s radar. The phone is not going to ring in most cases, especially in a lot of the markets that I’m dealing with,” he said. “You’ve got to be proactive. You’ve got to develop relationships with your territorial agents, your national promoters and your independent promoters.”
Petrunak said he’s wanted to work in entertainment since high school. He began his career at the Sovereign Center in Reading, Pa., where he booked the arena and the adjacent 1,800-seat theater. A graduate of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., the former defensive lineman said Mike Evans, who is now with Live Nation, eventually recruited him to his current position in 2007.
“Back then, Mike was the executive VP of SMG. He has been my biggest influence in the industry as I worked for him for several years at a time when I was still really learning the ropes,” he said.
Many buildings in the SMG family rely on Petrunak to assist booking high-grossing national tours, and there’s not a local talent buyer in an SMG facility that hasn’t interacted with him.
“As a young man in this business, Jon is someone who is relatable, easy to talk to and someone who is looking out for all of us in the field. He has risen so quickly in SMG, yet his ego has not,” said Brian Sipe with Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington, W.Va. “Without Jon Petrunak working as hard as he does every day, I know there would not be as much traffic in my building.”
Besides working with the bigwigs at AEG Live and Live Nation, Petrunak said another important part of his job is dealing with independent promoters and cultivating regional players into long-term partners.
“I’m not only traveling to big cities where agencies are based, but I’m also meeting a promoter in Baltimore, someone in Pittsburgh or Youngstown (Ohio).”
What are some of his biggest success stories? He’s very proud of the work he did with promoter Robin Tate of the Tate Group to help promote comedian Jeff Dunham, who is in the midst of his nationwide tour that runs through July.
“Dunham is an example of an artist who really understood the meaning of development,” said Petrunak. “We started him in our theaters and he’s grown into an arena act. I have no doubt he’ll continue to go strong.”
Petrunak said he’s also proud of the success he has had with metal band Avenged Sevenfold and country star Jason Aldean, who he’s helped cultivate with Buddy Lee Attractions agent Kevin Neal.
His proudest achievement, though, came in February when his wife Tonya gave birth to twins, a daughter named Charlotte and a son named Kaden.
“Being a first-time father has been amazing and life at home has changed drastically, like waking up at 6 a.m. for bottles and diapers instead of heading to the gym,” he said. “I have been able to continue to focus on my work and my wife has been incredible and very supportive. The twins definitely give me more motivation to work hard and succeed.”