Leadership / 06.03.21
BOM Adviser’s Jason Varnish Talks Big Ticketing Achievements, Big Love for His Family, and Bleeding Black and Gold
In his position on the ‘front lines’ of entertainment, Jason Varnish, Founder of Box Office Management (BOM) Advisers, a North American ticketing operations and event staffing agency, says he likes to walk the talk. “I have always been a lead-by-example type, and I feel that helps me get the most out of my employees,” says Jason, adding that he truly values their strong work ethic. “Ticketing is not a 9-to-5 job. You are there until the job is done.”
Jason kicked off his career as a “brick-and-mortar box office guy” working at Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena. Later, he helped open the CONSOL Energy Center, now known as the PPG Paints Arena. He considers that to have been his biggest professional achievement to date. “I have always gauged myself on the big challenges — whether it is a large tour, a stadium or arena tour, a large artist that sells out so quickly and the production is enormous — but opening CONSOL Energy Center in 2010 was the biggest achievement, because we were essentially managing three venues at the same time. We were closing Mellon Arena, managing the Petersen Events Center and opening CONSOL with Paul McCartney.”
Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup victory 2009.
Four years later, Jason decided to set out on his own. He founded BOM Advisers and assembled a team of ticketing professionals with years of practical experience in touring, venues, concerts and sports. “We have become a conglomerate of box office professionals,” he says. “I think one of the curses of the box office is that it stands on an island of sorts. Through our work, we are helping to build bridges.”
Jason credits INTIX for breaking down barriers within the industry. “The one thing that I have seen in the past at INTIX is that the arts people stay with the arts people, the pro sports people stay with the pro sports people and the concert people stay with the concert people. But, more recently, I have seen INTIX breaking that down, not just through the calls this year, but through the conferences as well. I have seen arts people learning from sports people, sports people learning that they can take advice from festival people, and more. We are all ticketing people. We are all selling entry to an event that a person buys — a limited-time experience — and that memory is what they take with them along with the ticket. We are all in that business. We sell fun; that is what bonds us all together. I love going to INTIX and hugging my friends who work on Broadway, high-fiving my friends in the NFL and sharing a beer with my friends who work for Live Nation and in concerts.”
Jason at an INTIX conference with Maureen Andersen, President and CEO of INTIX.
While an in-person INTIX conference was impossible during the pandemic, Jason says the bonds remain strong. “I thank Maureen Andersen for that and all the others who have been able to get as much water out of a cactus as one could during this last year when there was nothing going on. The webinars have been invaluable, and everyone has done their best to keep everybody engaged. There were definitely some weeks in the last year where you are like, ‘I should start looking at other things, but do I want to give up the 17 years I have been in the business?’ I thought about it myself, as well. I have always wanted to work at Barnes & Noble because I love books, and there were a few days when I would see they were looking for booksellers, and I would think, ‘OK, I am just going to go talk to people about books.’
But then you wonder, ‘Well, what if my industry comes back, and what if I am needed? What if I miss a conference call?’ The community and the weekly INTIX calls were really important in keeping people engaged. We would hear, ‘Hey, guys, you may not be doing anything, but these people are doing this or that in this part of the country; do not give up hope just yet. Things are going to come back, and everybody is making their effort.’
It is that hard work, that support system that Maureen created, that is really starting to pay off as people are getting back to work. It has really opened my mind up to see that you were not in it alone, that the box office did not have to live in a geographic bubble; wherever you were at in the country, you could share best practices with people. That means a lot. INTIX helps me to connect with others so we can form bonds and not be alone anymore. Those relationships within the box office and within the ticketing industry right now are more important than anything else as we work toward getting things reopened, generating ideas and then sharing those best practices.”
Jason and fellow 2014 VenuesNow Ticket Office Star Award recipients.
With more time on our hands during the pandemic, many of us have had more time to spend with friends and family and pursue hobbies and other interests. Jason is no different. He not only works hard, but he also plays hard. In addition to coaching his 12-year-old son Jack and other kids in hockey and cheering on his athletic 14-year-old daughter in AAU travel basketball or club volleyball tournaments, he also loves to mountain bike and has recently started skiing again. “I love life,” he says. “I love pushing myself physically and mentally. I have run eight half marathons and four Tough Mudders (a team-oriented endurance event in which participants push their physical and mental limits over 10-to-12-mile-long obstacle courses). I do it just to remind myself that I am alive.”
Jason’s second Tough Mudder in 2017.
In his mid-40s, Jason also knows that sometimes he has to just sit back and relax. He reads (his favorite book is “The Catcher in the Rye”) and listens to music. “My favorite group is Pink Floyd. I am tattooed with Pink Floyd album covers. I found the band as a teenager and never looked back. To this day, the best live event I ever attended was Pink Floyd with three of the four original members in 1994 at Three Rivers Stadium here in Pittsburgh.” He also likes Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, The Killers and Public Enemy, in that order. And yes, it is true, his son Jack’s middle name is Brandon, as in Brandon Flowers, the lead singer of The Killers.
“My wife and I found The Killers years ago when ‘Somebody Told Me’ came on the radio. We were instantly like, ‘Who is this?’ They have only played Pittsburgh twice in the last 10 to 12 years, so we have actually traveled to Cleveland, New Jersey and then finally got to see them in Las Vegas three years ago, their hometown — so we have seen them five times. They are the go-to band that my wife and I share with each other.”
With such an interest in music, it is no wonder that Jason lists playing the guitar as the one talent he wished he had. “I have always been jealous of people who can play guitar. I love air guitaring, but my wife makes fun of me because I do not look good when I am playing air guitar. She says I am a better air drummer, so I guess I have good rhythm at least. I used to play drums when I was really young. I also played piano. I wish I would have stuck with that. It would be so cool to be able to walk into a room, sit down at a piano and belt away at it. I can still read notes, and I would love to be more talented musically rather than having to rely on my air instrument talent.”
Jason’s “absolute favorite family picture ever,” which he describes as “the joys of an amusement park with a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old,” at Kennywood Park in 2012.
As jealous as Jason may be of those who can play guitar, he may not realize that he, too, has something that would make a lot of people very envious: a fantastic comic book collection. “I have been an avid collector since I was a kid,” he says. “I spent all my allowance on comics, and now I have about 20 to 23 boxes with about 500 comic books in each of them. During the pandemic, one of my projects has been chronicling all of them. It has been interesting to go back to find things, like the first appearance of Vision who is popular now, and Marvel Comics. So, I am finding these things, but I am also sharing them with my son. Things like, ‘Hey, look, here is the first time Wolverine met the Punisher,’ and he is like, ‘Oh, wow.’ So, he is sitting down and reading these now. It really helps connect me to my childhood, and I love that I can share this with Jack, too. It is funny; during the course of chronicling everything, I am finding all these comics I forgot I had and getting the chance to re-read them. I am also finding out their current value and have found several that are worth $100 to $200 each. My daughter wants me to sell them. My son wants me to keep them. I think I am going to keep them and pass them on to him one day.”
Daddy and daughter night at Lady Gaga 2017.
Such friendly banter with his children is something Jason always looks forward to. In fact, when asked what brings him the most joy in life, he said, “I think being able to make my kids laugh, especially at my ‘dad jokes.’ I do have some pretty bad ones, or so my employees tell me when I test them out on them. But just getting my kids to laugh is important. It means they are paying attention to me and they still find me a little funny.
Despite all the joy his children bring him, Jason admits that sometimes it is nice to escape with Julie, his wife of 17 years, to a “non-family” place like Las Vegas. “She loves the slots. I love the sports book,” he says. “There is nothing I love better than being on vacation, waking up in the morning, getting a coffee, then going to get the morning sheets at the sports book. We stay at the Mirage or the Golden Nugget. I walk down, have my coffee, look at the games and then she will join me, we will go to the pool and try to catch a show at night — so Vegas is a great place for us to let our hair down. If I had three wishes, my first would be for a Winnebago in which Julie and I could tour the country entering poker tournaments.”
Jason says he would like to travel abroad as well, especially to England, not so much for the culture, but to see a live Premier League soccer game, preferably Manchester United, Everton or Chelsea. For now, however, he is content to follow his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers. “I bleed black and gold,” he says, referring to the team’s official colors. “I wear black and gold. My company logo is black and gold for a reason!”
Talk of branding leads Jason back to INTIX, which he says he depends upon for awareness to keep his company and the services it offers in the public eye. “I have used INTIX this year to stay relevant,” he says. “In the last year, I think it has been difficult for people in our industry to learn that our careers were expendable. And that is not to devalue what we do. It is just to show that, for a year, the world, as much as they did not need us, they could not use us. There was nothing we could do to fight against that, we just had to wait. We had to wait through restrictions and wait for people to get healthier through different waves of the disease and different geographic restrictions depending on where you live. It is a tough thing to find out that you are not needed. It is a tough thing to be told that you could be expendable, which is one of the big reasons why we are now so focused on getting people back to work so that they do not have that anymore.”
Jason and his “box office family tree” with Mike Oberst and Corey Roche.
As Jason tried to stay active, it sometimes meant switching the nature of his business. For example, he started doing shows in old drive-in movie theaters. “I was just trying to stay active, and that was the trend,” he says. I liked that at least we were doing something different, and even though some of my shows were in a drive-in that was built in the 1920s and my box office was a spider-infested shed that sold hard tickets, we were at least doing something. I like to think of it as a little ray of sunshine, a beacon of hope — kind of like, ‘Hey, guys, things are happening.’ I have looked at that across the country every time when Maureen starts [the Wednesday Wisdom calls] and says, ‘Here is what they are doing here. Here is what this part of the country is doing.’ That I was part of that small trend means a lot and keeping everybody’s spirit and hopes alive. INTIX also really helped us to build relationships and associate with people as everybody was working on different and unique things, and kind of adjusting to this new normal.”
For now, at least, it is probably safe to bet that Jason Varnish is not going to pack it all in and head across the country in a Winnebago to play in poker tournaments. But then, another thought comes to mind. “I have always wanted to open a comic bookstore, whether I am selling my comics or talking to people. Then I thought about that more. I would love to open a comic book museum because there are art museums and history museums, but no comic book museums.”
And in turning his thoughts to comic book museums, an activity that would absolutely require ticket sales, Jason reveals something we all know about ticketing professionals: Once ticketing is in your heart and mind, it is there to stay. Just as it obviously is for Jason.
You May Also Like
Want news like this delivered to your inbox weekly? Subscribe to the Access Weekly newsletter, your ticket to industry excellence.