Leadership / 07.26.23
Jon Secunda Brings Spirit, Mentorship and Friendship to a Successful and Diverse Ticketing Career
Jon Secunda’s ticketing and live events career has spanned nearly four decades, from pro tennis courts to a premier opera house and beyond.
Jon was presented with the 2023 INTIX Spirit Award in Seattle.
When Jon graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in sports management, he had no idea of the serendipitous path his future career would take or the joy it would bring to his mother and father. Raised in a family that shared a deep love for both tennis and opera, Jon found himself inadvertently fulfilling his parents’ passions through his own professional pursuits. Reflecting on the remarkable alignment of his career path with his parents' interests, he humbly remarks, "One of the coolest aspects about my career, even though it was not intentional, is that it allowed me to indulge my parents in two of their deepest loves."
Souvenirs from Jon’s early career in pro tennis sales and operations. Jon says the “Mr. Diplomacy” on the plaque is very sarcastic. “I was a bit blunt in my youth.”
This started in 1983 when Jon was hired on the operational side of the business for the Tournament of Champions/World Championship Tennis and also had a part-time gig with the United States Tennis Association.
“My parents saw some of the golden age of tennis,” Jon says. “They were there (at the US Open) for what's considered the greatest day in tennis in 1984 — Navratilova [took the title over] Evert in three sets, [and in the semi-finals] McEnroe [beat] Connors [in] five sets and Cash [lost to] Lendl in five sets. They were there for that.”
The ticketing side of Jon’s career really began in 1989 when he was offered a job with Ticketron in Chicago. He credits that experience, and one man in particular, for his later success.
“I think a lot of people in the industry know Charlie Williams,” he says. “He was the head of the region there who hired me. Although I came into Ticketron at the exact wrong time, when Ticketmaster was really coming into their own. I was only with Charlie for a year and a half before Ticketmaster bought all the assets and Ticketron went out of business, but we retained a relationship over the years … I learned so much about the ins and outs of the industry from him because he was there at the beginning.”
It wasn’t long before Jon took on a leadership role himself, landing a job as a Ticket Manager for Lyric Opera of Chicago, giving his parents one more reason to be ecstatic over their son’s chosen career.
“I think they thought they had died and gone to heaven,” he chuckles. “They came to Chicago quite a few times and saw operas put on by one of the premier companies in the world.”
Items from the inaugural 2001 season during Jon’s days as Director of Ticketing of the Chicago Rush Arena Football team.
Four years later, Jon moved into a new role as Director of Ticketing for the now-defunct Chicago Rush Football franchise. He then relocated to Nebraska in 2004, where he worked for Omaha Performing Arts and the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority (MECA) before taking on his current job with University of Nebraska Omaha and Baxter Arena in 2019.
Jon (right) with colleagues Nick Retzlaff and Ben Twarling in the TD Ameritrade Ballpark (now Charles Schwab Park) ticket office at the 2017 NCAA College World Series. They were the ticket management staff for the first seven College World Series in the new park. Nick is now the MECA Director of Ticketing (Jon’s old job), and Ben works with Jon at Omaha as Assistant Director of Athletic Ticketing and Group Sales.
“In my current position with Omaha, I work mostly with [people who are] a lot younger, who are just starting out,” he says. “I have student sellers at the window. Although I feel young myself … to me, they are a breath of fresh air with different ideas. It brings a new energy, so I love that.”
Jon at the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Baxter Arena.
Jon continues, “There is still a good diversity of events here. We're an arena, so we ticket eight Division I sports here at Omaha. We do special events. We do concerts. It's about a 7,000-seat arena, so it is mid-sized, in between where I used to work at MECA (as Ticket Director of what is now CHI Health Center Arena) and something smaller like Ralston Arena. We fill a niche, and I still get the full spectrum of events here, and I enjoy that … [More broadly], I've always loved the diversity of events I've been involved with. People have heard my stupid joke a million times that I'm probably the only person in the history of ticketing that moved from opera to arena football. You cannot get more diverse than that.”
After almost four decades on the management side of the business, Jon says there are two principles he has always tried to live by as a leader.
“The successes of your department are never solely your successes. It is always a team effort, and you better make darn sure that you acknowledge everybody's contributions. On the flip side of that, you take sole ownership of failures. Never assign blame, never make excuses to your bosses. For example, if one of my sellers botched a transaction or something along those lines, it doesn't matter if I was not even in the office. Guess what? I did not train them well enough. If you accept those facts as a leader, you will succeed. If you do not, you are not going to be effective, and you will probably lose your team, lose the locker room for lack of a better term, pretty quickly.”
When it comes to colleagues, Jon values honesty and accountability but also common sense. Indeed, if he could go back in time and live his own life over again, this is the advice he would give himself: “Step back, think before you speak, or, these days, before you hit send. That advice would probably apply to every stage of my life and career. We all do it, say something we would love to take back or push that send button and think maybe I should have reread that first … If I could have heeded that advice at certain points in my career, I would have had better outcomes. But we all have our failures and learn from them, right?”
Because failure often does lead to success, Jon tries to put doubts aside and also encourages others to believe in themselves.
“Accept challenges, have confidence in your abilities. That would be a piece of advice I would give to any young ticketing professional. You will probably more than likely surprise yourself … Even if you fail, you are going to learn from it, and you're going to be stronger for it. So, that's what I've done along the way. I've just accepted these opportunities as I went along, and I think I would have greatly regretted passing up a single one of them. Sometimes they worked out great, and they served as steppingstones; sometimes, not so great. Recently I had about a year and a half that was a pretty dark time, but then another opportunity presented itself.”
Jon says, “In my personal journey, I just love to see somebody move up the ranks to greater positions of responsibility, and it does not necessarily have to be somebody I hired, worked with or managed. Particularly somebody who had doubts like I did at the beginning … [I am inspired by] anyone who defies the odds. Anyone who doesn't necessarily take no for an answer. I am just a sucker for those stories.”
Over the decades, Jon says he has benefited significantly from his association with INTIX or BOMI (Box Office Management International) as it was called when he first got involved.
“I've become very involved with the INTIX Mentor Program. Although I’m still learning every day, passing on the little that I do know has become, quite honestly, a joy. I am always surprised when somebody reaches out and why they are reaching out, and then I start working with them and realize maybe I have learned a thing or two over all these years. [I enjoy] connecting with my colleagues and learning as much from them as they do from me. My INTIX family has been crucial to me being able to make many of my career advancements. These moves may not have been possible without the help of my INTIX colleagues and contacts. So, now it's about giving back.”
Jon, center, presents on the INTIX Mentor Program at the 2023 conference in Seattle. He is joined by Carol Foreman (right) and committee co-chair Raleigh Hawk.
In addition to his involvement with the INTIX Mentor Program, Jon is also on the INTIX Membership Committee. In 2023, he was awarded the INTIX Spirit Award, which is given annually to an active member who represents enthusiasm, friendship, participation and cooperation with colleagues and to the industry.
“The Spirit Award was quite a shocker,” he says. “I knew I was nominated, but when I saw the list of the other nominees, let's just say I didn't prepare anything to say. So, when I won, it was just, wow, an amazing honor!”
Jon says one of the things about INTIX that he values most is the networking and ability to build relationships.
“The relationships I have developed over the years and continue to develop are priceless,” he says. “I have been [involved with INTIX] for 30 years, and I have seen these relationships develop over the years. It is professional, but it is also personal.”
When it comes to personal relationships, Jon says his greatest loves are his wife, Peg, and their daughter, Sydney, who is a rising senior at DePaul. “Sydney took a semester abroad in Cork, Ireland, last fall, and we were able to go out and see her there. That was such a blast.”
Jon and Peg at DePaul University in Chicago for family weekend with Sydney.
Friends are also extremely important to Jon. “We have a friend circle that dates back to elementary school … We take a trip to Cape Cod [every year]. We have been doing it for 40 years. These are guys and gals I have known since the third grade. I have watched their families grow, so there is shared family history and loyalty. I would walk through fire for these people. They are a big part of my life.”
Jon’s annual summer trip to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with wife Peg and daughter Sydney. He has been doing this trip for 40 years with friends he’s known since elementary school.
Whether with friends or on his own, Jon definitely leads a very active life.
“I bike a lot these days. I bike to work two or three times a week. A little golf when time allows. I was getting back into tennis, but I have screwed up my shoulder, so tennis is on the back burner for a bit … I still snow ski [and] recently skied with Charlie [Williams]. He takes a place in Aspen every year, and that’s become the base of my ‘daddy-daughter’ ski trip. Charlie has us up there … and [my daughter] has gotten to know Charlie well over the last few years. Nothing better than that.”
Jon skiing with Charlie Williams in Steamboat Springs.
Of course, Jon also has downtime when he likes to just sit and read, mainly history, or watch his favorite sports teams on television, the names of which should come as no surprise given his New England heritage.
“I was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts,” he says proudly. “I lived most of my life until early adulthood in New England, so I am Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins right down the line. Die hard, never waver … I love the fact that the Patriots are as hated as the Yankees. It is such a wonderful thing to have people spew expletives at me when I tell them I am a Patriots fan. I'm serious. I love that.”
Jon is also into music, something he learned from his late father, who was the person he most admired as well as “a concert-level cellist and very good pianist … I would love to have his musical talent. I [do] play guitar. It is a hobby. I have gotten a little better over the years, but my dad had that gift.”
He says, “My most treasured possessions are my dad's old ski sweater … and probably my 1965 Fender Jaguar, which I got for about 150 bucks at an old store in my hometown when I was about 15 … I am a baby boomer, so I'm a classic rock guy. I love the blues too, but I have been getting into a little bit more folky stuff lately. I am learning the basics of mandolin, too. We will pull out ‘Wagon Wheel’ [by Bob Dylan] and ‘Maggie Mae’ [by Rod Stewart] and stuff like that.”
Jon continues, “I do not really have a favorite song … My favorite songwriter and performer is John Fogerty. The Rolling Stones have now moved into a tie with The Beatles [as my favorite band] as I find out more about how Keith Richards constructed his songs.”
Given that John Fogerty is Jon’s favorite performer, it is no surprise that one of the best live events he ever saw was at the Hard Rock Cafe in Chicago in the late ‘90s.
“It is a small venue,” Jon says. “I was standing at a table and got last-minute tickets. The reason it was cool is because I am a big Fogerty fan, and it was one of the first shows that he started playing his Creedence Clearwater Revival songs again. He had been embroiled in a big lawsuit for years and years and years and refused to play them. And that night, he played everything. His wife was in the audience. He sang a love song. It was fabulous.”
Jon and Peg in Ireland in October 2022. They were visiting daughter Sydney who was doing a term abroad at the University of Cork.
As for his favorite venue, that was an easy choice for Jon as it is in his own backyard, and he was involved on the ground floor.
“I was very blessed to be part of the Holland Performing Arts Center,” he says. “That's why I came to Omaha. It is an acoustically perfect performing arts hall, and I have seen so many great events there. I am just so proud to have been involved with building the manifest and the ticketing infrastructures for that venue. Now it's in tremendous hands with Ashley Voorhees, a very dear friend of mine and INTIX board member, who has been there for years now.”
For much of his career, Jon has changed backyards frequently. “If you look at my resume, a lot of it is four years, four years, four years. I am one of those,” he says. “I think we fall into two categories — nomads like me or the folks who have been at one place for 30, 40 years.”
Jon appears to have settled in Omaha, where he has been since 2004. Does he plan on staying? Where would he most like to live? Well, he says that might depend on where his daughter ends up after she graduates.
“The answer to that was always Cape Cod, but now I am not really sure I have found that place yet. My wife and I need to explore more. Our running joke, maybe not so much of a joke, is that it might depend on where Sydney ends up. I don't know if she wants to hear that … Omaha will be the anchor for now and we will see.”
Jon in Chicago in 2002 with his parents, Dan and Eleanor Secunda, and his infant daughter, Sydney.
And if Jon could have three wishes, what would they be?
“One would be for my parents to still be alive, to see their granddaughter flourish,” he says. “More years with my younger brother who passed at 24 many years ago [would be another]. And I would just say [remaining] healthy enough to enjoy my family and friends. We have so many good friends in areas of Chicago and Peoria, Illinois, where my wife Peg is from. Of course, there is the aforementioned group from Pittsfield. Just being able to have as many years as possible enjoying it with good health [no matter where that might be].”
Jon with daughter Sydney in the Chicago Loop in 2021.
Another place Jon still loves to visit is the area of Berkshire County and Pittsfield in Western Massachusetts, where the famed Tanglewood Music Center is located.
Jon and his family in Stockbridge, Massachusetts/Berkshire County, one of his favorite places in the world.
“That is where another good friend and [ticketing industry] colleague, David Winn, holds court. In fact, where he works at Tanglewood is right across the street from where my grandparents’ house was [located] … Every time I go back, I think I did not appreciate this area enough when I was growing up. Cape Cod is a close second, but we go every year.”
Indeed, traditions, like annual trips to Cape Cod and attending the INTIX conference, plus a loving family and group of friends, have given Jon a very full life, in ticketing and beyond.
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Tags: Leadership , GTKY