The late Vince Egan with the late Jim Henson, the originators of Sesame Street Live!
When Feld Entertainment bought Ice Follies and Holiday on Ice, Vince Egan, who was VP of marketing for the shows when they were owned by Tom Scallen and later, Arthur Wirtz, saw an opportunity. He went to Jim Henson and Joan Ganz Cooney at Sesame Workshop and together they hatched Sesame Street Live!
Egan, 74, who passed away unexpectedly Dec. 1, founded VEE Corp. (for Vince E. Egan), with backing from Norwest Growth Fund and mortgages on his home, toured the first Sesame Street Live! in 1980. He was an icon in the industry, tredding where none had gone before, founding a family show that wasn’t on ice featuring puppets that grew to life size. He entertained millions with Sesame Street Live! and other family shows that grew from that first endeavor, before selling VEE to a company that is now called VStar Entertainment, just two years ago.
His sudden death was caused by a heart attack following cancer surgery from which he was expected to fully recover. He is survived by his wife, Sue Rawlings and tons of friends and family. A casual celebration of his life will be held Monday, Dec. 12, at Word of Peace Lutheran Church, 21705 129th Ave. N., Rogers, MN 55374. Visitation will begin at 10 a.m. and service will begin at 11 a.m.
Memorials have been pouring in and Venues Today will publish a special tribute to Egan and other legends who died in 2016 in its December issue. A taste of what’s to come was shared by Jay Humphry, who worked with Egan throughout his career, first at Ice Follies where he was a champion skater whom Egan and Henson convinced to don an Oscar the Grouch costume to entertain the kids, to booking and producing Sesame Street Live! and various other VEE productions. He was VEE’s first road manager.
Humphry recalled Egan’s style, lessons learned and triumphs through a stellar career.
Sesame Street Live debuted at Bob Reid’s now demolished Met Center, Bloomington, Minn., with a black tie party for which the industry convened. The building was full of arena managers who had booked the new show. Bob Shipstad, of ice show fame, did all the music.
It was an immediate hit, but the first two years were rocky at times. A low point came when VEE sold floor seats 45 rows deep only to learn that after row 12, the kids couldn’t see the stage. “Our audience was two and three year- olds,” Humphry recalled. They pulled those seats at future shows.
Vince Egan and friends.
Educating and attracting the consumer was touch and go until they got to New York and Al Grant and his team at Madison Square Garden, New York, sold 5,000 tickets. It was marketing genius and led to creation of another unit.
At one point, Egan had eight shows on the road. Besides three units of Sesame Street Live!, he experimented with several other titles: Muppets Live, Muppet Babies Live, Bear and the Big Blue House, Dragon Tales Live, Barney, Curious George and Kidz Bop among them.
Some worked, some didn’t. But it was steady as she goes with Sesame Street Live! “He had a really good brand in Sesame Street,” Humphry said. “He treated it very, very well.”
Egan’s main barometer of success was toy stores. Humphry recalled that when they were in London, Egan wanted to go to Harrod’s. Why? To see where Sesame Street toys were placed in the kids' department. He always went to Macy’s in New York. He always went to the toy department to judge the relevance of the brand.
Egan was an entrepreneur of legendary proportions. But he was first and foremost a marketer. Every VP of marketing at VEE Corp. reported directly to Egan. “We called him the Senior VP of Marketing,” Humphry said. His legacy is his marketing genius.
Interviewed for this story: Jay Humphry, (941) 251 6755