Leadership / 06.15.22
Bruce Bielenberg Has Been Around the Ticketing Block
Bruce Bielenberg has been a resident of Las Vegas for two decades now, but he has also made his way around the ticketing block a few times. Before landing in what many call the entertainment capital of the world, he spent 15 years working all over the United States.
“I grew up in Minnesota and then I went to school in Des Moines, Iowa. That is where I got my first job in ticketing, working for the Iowa Cubs Triple-A baseball team,” Bruce, who today is Regional Director of Ticketing — Las Vegas for AEG Presents, says.
Bruce is a huge Prince fan. He took the VIP tour of Paisley Park, Prince’s estate in Minnesota, just before the pandemic. He was thrilled to view the vault, Prince’s office and the recording studio.
From there, Bruce went from Des Moines to Charleston, South Carolina, in minor league baseball, moved to Miami in minor league baseball, went back to Minnesota to work for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, moved to Texas to work for the NBA’s Houston Rockets, then turned to follow his path across the country with a move to Phoenix.
“We started an NHL franchise that had moved from Winnipeg, the Phoenix Coyotes,” he says. “Then I moved from Phoenix to Los Angeles and opened the Kodak Theatre (now the Dolby Theatre) in L.A.”
That is indeed quite a journey of success that brought him to his home today in Las Vegas. Along the way, Bruce was fortunate to have had a great mentor — a high-level female executive working in sports and entertainment who he admired deeply.
“Brenda Tinnen was our ticketing manager when I was at the Minnesota Timberwolves,” he says. “She was a pretty big part of BOMI when it started [and was both a previous board member and the 1994 Conference Chair]. She left and went to Houston, and I jokingly said, ‘If you need help when you go down to Houston, give me a call.’ And she gave me a call. I remember in the middle of the freezing snow in Minnesota saying, ‘Sure, I will go down to Houston. No question.’”
Bruce with the Houston Rockets’ NBA Championship trophy.
Bruce worked with Brenda in Houston, then followed her to Phoenix and L.A. too. He learned so much from her at each opportunity. “I think anyone you talk to who has worked with Brenda will tell you that she is totally customer service first. Every employee she has, [she instills in them] the golden rule — to treat others as you want to be treated … If you're going to an event, how would you want to be treated? Then make sure that person is treated the same way at our venues and our events.”
While working on the Celine Dion project at the Kodak Center, Bruce was asked to move to Las Vegas, where he became Box Office Manager for The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, a venue operated by Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) and a position he held for just shy of nine years. After spending the next five years with OutboxAXS, he joined AEG in 2016 and remains there to this day.
It would be no exaggeration to say that Bruce Bielenberg is now at the top of his game in a city that boasts some of the world’s top entertainment venues. “There are some great shows that I have been part of and great venues that I have opened up,” he says. “I have been so blessed. I will put [Vegas venues] up against any venue anywhere in the country.”
Bruce says, “I have done some work to my condo recently. I have so many show posters, plus so many autographed pictures with sports figures and artists I have worked with, and they are all hanging on the walls. Every time a contractor comes in [they say], ‘Wow, you are the coolest, luckiest person. You have met all these people?!’”
Those people include giants of the entertainment world including Celine Dion, Michael Jackson, Prince and dozens of Hollywood stars, including Tom Hanks along with the rest of the cast of “Apollo 13,” Kevin Costner and Rene Russo. Oh, and we cannot forget Jack Nicholson, who one day showed up in Bruce’s Kodak Theatre box office in L.A. after being told he could not smoke in his dressing room. Bruce previously met Jack during the NBA playoffs in Houston and had him sign a VHS copy of “The Shining” at the time.
The message on this VHS cover reads, “To Bruce, thanks for the ducats, Jack Nicholson.”
“Sure, you can light up a cigarette back here,” said a more than accommodating Bruce. “There are so many cool stories about people, but I think every one of us in our industry [has stories too]. Every one of those memorabilia pieces, photos, artifacts or whatever we have hanging on a wall, there is a story behind it. And only we know those stories. That is the cool part and makes it so much fun.”
Bruce’s fun times also include participating in numerous live events including “walking down the red carpet for the Grammys. How many people get to do this? Or sitting in one of the boxes and watching the Academy Awards? Or, standing on the floor in the NBA finals or in the locker room for gosh sakes.”
Bruce at the Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre.
And what does he see as having been his greatest career accomplishment to date? “I came here to open the Celine Dion show, which is still probably one of the most successful shows ever in Vegas. It was an absolutely incredible experience to go through, especially the first five years of the show when it was here on its first run. We did more than 700 shows with 3 million fans. People said it would never work, but it was so wildly successful.”
Photo from 2007 honoring Celine Dion's 2.8 million tickets sold during her first residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. Left to right: Phil Misiura, Ticketmaster; Celine Dion; Bruce; HC Rowe, AEG Presents; and Scott Schecter, Caesars Palace.
Bruce says it is those people, the fans, who have kept him going for so long in this business. “Brenda Tinnen [who I mentioned previously] instilled in us that we are throwing a party. There is nothing cooler … than to have an event get started, whether it is a concert, sporting event or a play, to watch the thrill of people [enjoying themselves], then to stand outside your venue and watch as people come out and smile. That to me means that we have done our job correctly and that we put on something that is life changing to most people. It is an event that they are going to talk about for the rest of their life.”
Bruce with Brenda Tinnen at the Grammys.
Another thing Bruce learned from his days with the Timberwolves is the importance of thinking out of the box and being proactive, a quality he admires in colleagues. Of course, that demands good leadership, a lesson that he has found invaluable over the years.
“Tim Leiweke was our boss at the time, and he created a culture called ‘Moment of Truth,’ which was based on a book by Jan Carlzon,” Bruce says. “He made each of us read it. It is basically a leader who empowers his frontline people with the ability to make decisions themselves, and that is important, especially in our industry where we are often the first contact that a lot of people have. A good leader is going to be able to pass along their philosophies and their strategies to their staff so that they think along the same lines and are able to make decisions without having to go through a lot of red tape.”
It is a philosophy that Bruce does not hesitate to share with at least some of the “six brand new people who I’ve never met before” when he goes to the annual INTIX conference, which he has been doing for at least a quarter century. “It is certainly because of networking and the people you meet on the vendor and venue side, the people you meet and the experiences you have. That just builds,” he says. “The next year I go to INTIX, I see one of those people and they introduce me to a couple of other new people. There is no question that the experiences from meeting people and the experiences from sitting in a room and learning something brand new, then being able to come back and apply what you learned at INTIX is great.”
Members of the Las Vegas Regional Ticketing Group at the 2019 INTIX Conference & Exhibition in Dallas.
Of course, the last couple of years have not been easy for INTIX members as the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions played havoc with the scheduling of live events and disrupted the lives of so many who work in ticketing. Bruce says he is grateful for the weekly INTIX community calls which helped him and so many others stay abreast of trends and feel less alone during this trying period.
“Everyone is going to be forever grateful to Maureen [Andersen] … for setting those up because it allowed all of us to understand we were all going through the same thing, whether we were a small club in Wichita, Kansas, a pro sports team in New York or the Hollywood Bowl in L.A. We were all dealing with the same issues and same trends. We also all realized how old and antiquated ticketing was and what a great opportunity [it was] for us to make some changes. And I think we saw a lot of those changes come through.”
While there are professionals in the industry who he admires including Brenda and Maureen, Bruce says, “Certainly whenever you [talk about] love and admiration, family always comes first. I have three brothers along with my parents, who are both still living. I had the luxury recently of having three nephews and nieces graduate from college. Being able to watch them grow, that is a time capsule not having kids myself. It is amazing how fast time flies when you look at someone who you were feeding French fries to in a highchair and all of a sudden, they are graduating from college. They are a great support system, so certainly I have to put my family [at the head of the list].”
Being a bachelor, Bruce has plenty of time to indulge in his personal passions. He loves going to all the shows in Vegas of course but, perhaps not surprisingly, tries to get away from the Las Vegas Strip whenever he can. “Here in Vegas, there is a lot of local stuff [to do]. We have some beautiful hiking and beautiful mountains. People think we are out in the middle of the desert, and we actually have some of the best hiking trails and most beautiful sites to go visit in the country. Zion National Park in Utah is just an hour and a half away from here, and it is gorgeous too. I like getting away sometimes, away from the city as well.”
Indeed, he once got away for a 10-day trip to Cuba on the trail of Ernest Hemingway, one of his favorite authors, “and it was pretty cool to see the influence that Hemingway had down there,” he says. “I liked Cuba and I would go back again. It is a shame that we have restrictions on what we can do down there. The people were so friendly, and the country was so beautiful when you get to the beaches and outside of the city. Havana was just absolutely full of history, so I did a lot of that [too].”
Bruce poses beside a bronze statue of Ernest Hemingway in Cuba.
And with around 70 golf courses in and around Las Vegas, you are almost certain to find him teeing off on one of them at some time or another. “I’m definitely a golfer, and I love taking Danny Frank's money on the golf course when he comes to Las Vegas. You are certainly welcome to put that in [the story],” he says, laughing. “And I'm definitely willing to take anyone else's money if they want to come and play golf.”
When it comes to money, Bruce is no different than most people. “An unlimited supply of money” was on his three wishes list. “But that is not to spend on myself,” he says. “It is to be able to take care of anyone I run into who needs help.”
Bruce’s generous spirit goes even further as he also wishes he could grant three wishes to anyone who asks him. But isn’t there something he would want for himself. Yes, he says, “I wish I could converse in every language in the world, that I could communicate and converse with everybody.”
Bruce says, “Here in Vegas, we have such an international audience that comes in, especially when we did our Celine Dion shows. They came from all over the world … What we would do is try to get all of our staff to learn to say, ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ and a couple other basic words in everything from Mandarin to Spanish, French to Italian. We would have it all posted on the board. Some of the [ticket office] agents took advantage of it, and they loved it.”
It is clear that Bruce loves to travel. He has done it extensively over the years, both for personal enjoyment and new professional opportunities. When the pandemic struck, so too did his desire for adventure. “Like so many others I did not know how long I would be out of work. I had always had this fascination with trains since I was a kid and had always wanted to play hobo and just jump on a train and ride around the country. So, on a whim I purchased a travel pass through Amtrack, flew to San Diego and began a three-week train trip up the west coast, across the northern part of the United States, through the Midwest and then back to Las Vegas,” he says, adding that he stopped in several cities along the way to visit friends.
Bruce made a “Furloughed Tour” T-shirt for his trip.
He says, “It was a great solo trip that allowed me to reflect on life and also take in the absolutely gorgeous views of our country via an Amtrak train. That was a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Not often in this industry could I just take off on a train trip around the country for three weeks.”
And, after nearly four decades in ticketing, what advice would he give himself if he could go back in time?
“My advice would be not to be intimidated, not to be afraid to go speak to somebody,” he says. “I have learned that even when we have athletes or celebrities or somebody [we admire professionally] in a room with us, you can be awestruck, but everyone is a normal person. Do not be afraid to go ask them questions … Maureen opened that up [for me], made everybody [at INTIX] feel comfortable to interact with each other, to not be afraid to reach out to each other, ask questions and learn from each other. I think she has done a great job of that.”
As with all our interviewees, Bruce has been quoted throughout this article. But, sometimes, he likes to quote people too. Among his favorites are Mark Twain and Will Rogers. He reminds us that it was Twain who said, “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything,” and Rogers who said that “We can’t all be heroes, because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as the parade goes by.”
“I kind of like being one of those people who claps as the parade goes by,” he says. But then, there was that time when he “was riding in the NBA championship parade in Houston with a million people [watching on]. We got to ride as staff on the fire trucks. It was a surreal experience and something nobody could ever pay to experience. That was probably one of the best [experiences of my life], but man, there have just been so many … I have been so blessed.”
And along the way, Bruce has helped to create incredible experiences for others too. Indeed, in that and so many ways, his life is doubly blessed.
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