Oak View Group has hired Jeff Nickler as senior vice president of the Arena Alliance, a group of 28 big league facilities collaborating to book special events and sell national sponsorships at their venues.
Nickler comes from BOK Center in Tulsa, an SMG-managed facility where he spent the past 11 years, dating to before the arena opened in 2008. He worked his way up from premium sales and service to director of booking before becoming the arena’s general manager for the past six years.
At OVG (which also owns VenuesNow), Nickler will serve as an advocate for the alliance and work closely with Eric Gardner, the alliance’s director of booking, to drive more concerts through the more than two dozen NBA and NHL facilities.
“These venues represent the biggest markets in the country, with 50-plus sports teams and 65 million fans,” Nickler said. “I’m here to be a resource for them. In the future, we see opportunities where we can buy in bulk and have preferred vendors.
“It’s about thinking together … the ability to share information on the most important topics of the industry, whether it’s ticketing, security or other innovations.”
In Tulsa, Nickler turned BOK Center into one of the country’s top concert destinations despite being situated in the 49th-largest market. In October, the International Entertainment Buyers Association named BOK Center its Arena of the Year, two years after it won the same honor.
For 2018, BOK Center ranked 23rd among the nation’s busiest arenas with more than 372,000 tickets sold from about 40 shows, according to Pollstar figures. It was among SMG’s highest-ranking concert venues.
During Nickler’s tenure, the arena became the venue of choice for multiple artists to rehearse and launch their tours, including U2, Blake Shelton, Rush and Roger Waters.
“We really created a culture and got aggressive when going after tour rehearsals,” Nickler said. “We had quite a list of bands that kind of set up a little residency in Tulsa.”
The same was true for Fleetwood Mac last fall, and it was during that period in October when Nickler had serious discussions about a potential role with the alliance with Irving Azoff, the band’s manager and OVG’s co-founder.
“That’s what kind of pushed it over the finish line,” Nickler said.
“I got to spend a lot of time with Irving … and that was when I decided this new gig was for me. I did quite a bit of travel in Tulsa, because we had to chase every single show, so I spent a lot of time in L.A., New York and Nashville. Now, I’ll be spending time in those cities and (with those) alliance members at their venues, at least once a year.”
The concert forecast for 2019 looks just as strong as 2018, which was one of the best in decades, according to Nickler. Emerging artists such as Travis Scott and Luke Combs are poised to continue selling out arenas along with legacy acts such as Elton John and Cher, he said.
Stadiums should be active as well with summer concerts. OVG has deals with about a half-dozen MLB and NFL teams to book shows at their buildings, but at this point it’s unclear whether Nickler’s role will extend to those venues.
“We’re still trying to figure out that dynamic,” he said. “I certainly will participate in helping to generate new content for our stadium alliance members. Artists like Ed Sheeran have risen to the stadium level. Taylor Swift has been there for the past five years. The Stones are going out, which is incredible. It’s exciting that we have these tours actively playing stadiums right now because the grosses are unbelievable.”
Nickler said he was recruited directly by OVG co-founders Azoff and Tim Leiweke.