Leadership / 02.15.23
Ticketing Legends: Russ Stanley Has Already Changed Our Industry, But He’s Not Done Yet
When Russ Stanley was still a youngster, he collected baseball cards and wore a baseball hat every day at school. But not in his wildest dreams did he imagine that he would one day be on a first-name basis with baseball legends like Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey and Willie Mays — idols from his childhood.
“They are [still] around the ballpark, and I bump into them and say hello once in a while,” Russ says with clear enthusiasm.
Russ with Will Clark (right) on the day his number was retired. Pictured on the left is Dirk Smith, the club’s travelling secretary from Russ’ early days with the team.
But this story is not about legendary baseball players — it is about a ticketing industry legend, a young man who, just after university, launched his career with the San Francisco Giants way back in 1989.
“It is funny. Every ticketing person you talk to never expected to land in ticketing, but it was something that I enjoyed from my first day on the job,” he says. “I started in sales and really enjoyed the challenge of selling tickets to someone. It brought back my competitive edge as a kid playing sports, specifically baseball. Over the past 34 years, I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish. I hope there are still many years to come, and I still have a few things to get done.”
Russ is not quite sure yet what those things will be. Still, he knows he will be ready to tackle anything that lies ahead thanks to all the help he has received from others over the years, particularly five special people he describes as his “Mount Rushmore” of mentors: Arthur Schulze, Mario Alioto, Dan DeMato, Larry Baer and Pat Gallagher.
Russ with his mentor and great friend of 34 years, Mario Alioto.
“I would never be here without them,” he says. “In many cases, they have been through whatever I am going through, and whether it is a ticketing issue or something with budgets or HR, they are that guiding light to keep you on track. I always joke that while I am driving the bus and trying to get to wherever we are going, I may be steering the wheel, but they keep us on the road.”
Russ with mentor Dan DeMato (left) and BAPTA founding father Shane Mealor.
Along the way, these mentors helped Russ think differently, see the other side of situations and remain open-minded.
“Sometimes we would change, sometimes we didn't, but we were open [to think about what would happen] if we did this or if we did that. I think that is where Arthur instilled in me thinking through what happens to a ticket after it is sold, resold or transferred. The hard ticket background has helped me a lot in this digital world because that ticket is alive and has always been alive. Which ticket is the right one is probably the most important if it's been sold and resold. Having that hard ticket background helped me through that process.”
Russ continues, “If I had a mentor who was a teacher, it was Arthur and Dan, who would always pick up the phone when I called with a question. And I had a lot of them when Arthur first retired. We had a pretty good run to get in the playoffs, and I think I called Dan 20 times asking him questions about tiebreakers, allocations and how this was all going to work … Dan was the person that taught me about the postseason.”
Russ with girlfriend Kimberly (left) and daughter Jordyn (center) in the 2014 World Series parade down Market Street.
Other mentors give Russ advice, then let him take things from there. “We had a group of ticketing people who, along the way, were my peers, and we worked together to deliver on ideas. Pat, Mario and Larry allowed us to be entrepreneurial and guide the process … In many cases, the best thing they did was leave us alone, let us figure it out and give us guidance when we needed it along the way. Mario has been great about that. Mario and I have been through so much through the years and even more so in the last [few] with the pandemic. We talk every day, most of the time, about work, but sometimes about what is going on in our lives, our kids and our parents. He has been a real guiding light for me.”
When it comes to leadership, the most important thing Russ has learned is always to stay focused on the customer.
“I've tried to instill that [in my team]. If I am not there to help them decide, or if they have to make a decision on the fly, if you do what's right for the customer, you’re most likely going to be right every time. If you make a decision and it is not the right decision, let's talk about it and be sure that we do not make the same mistake twice. I have always had that philosophy that it is OK to make a mistake as long as you don't make it again, and if the thought process is to help the customer, we are going to be OK.”
As Russ has risen through the ranks to his current position as Senior Vice President of Ticket Sales and Client Relations for the Giants organization, he has gained a well-earned reputation as a risk-taker and an innovative thinker. He launched a secondary marketplace for Giants season ticket holders a year before StubHub went live and introduced dynamic pricing as the first club to change prices daily.
Russ with Annemarie Hastings (left), who helped develop the Giants first client relations team, and Carolyn Uroz (right), BAPTA President. Annemarie brought the first-class experience to Giants customers who had yet to learn what to expect when coming from Candlestick.
“Ticket revenue is a large chunk of our overall revenue,” Russ says. “Obviously, we have revenue from sponsorships and TV and radio rights, but ticketing is a big chunk of [the overall picture]. I have always taken pride in the fact that we're responsible for helping deliver whatever is on the field. I felt really good in 2010 and 2012 because we were overachieving on our revenue. This may have given our ownership group confidence heading into the postseason, and maybe that freed up some money to help sign a player that we did not have in July or August, and we were able to make a trade heading into the postseason because they knew that we had over-delivered on the revenue side.”
Russ continues, “I think dynamic pricing helped us illuminate that because we were able to show in the year before we brought in X number of dollars, but we are going to bring in X this year because we were able to raise prices and — in some cases — lower prices [to sell more tickets]. We were not locked into a number that we had chosen six months earlier, but by being entrepreneurial and delivering a little more on the revenue side, that allowed us to make some deals that helped us be more successful in the postseason and then go on to win three World Series in five years. It was an incredible time, and I like to think that the ticketing group played a small part in that.”
While he is proud of everything that has been accomplished to date, as Russ indicated earlier, he still has his eyes squarely on the future.
“[With the pandemic and labor issues], this is the first regular selling season we have had where we can start thinking forward [again]. It has been a difficult three years, and I finally feel like we can get on the offensive and come up with that next new idea. I feel like it may be something in the season ticket world. Everyone talks about the death of a full season ticket, but trying to figure out if the customer is not buying the same number of tickets for every game, what is that new product?”
There are a couple out there now, Russ says, including the flex tickets that a few teams use as a ticket bank while treating the purchasers like season ticket holders.
“I am hopeful that is the sort of thing that can evolve. I do not think we have landed on what the final version will look like,” he says.
The Giants are trying to attract a new generation of fans through experiences like The 415 Membership program, the club’s center field area located 415 feet from home plate. Alongside vouchers redeemable for tickets in The 415, fans get a DJ and more in a supporters’ atmosphere.
“We are trying to attract the younger audience, but potentially blending all of that into a season ticket package that is not your traditional four tickets for every game. I think there is a product out there. There is a group of people who want consistency, and they want to protect great seat locations. The non-fanatic, what is it that they are looking for? That may be our next idea. I'm not sure."
One thing Russ is sure about has been his commitment to the professional sports and college athletics breakout session at the annual INTIX conference, which he is credited with significantly expanding over a decade ago.
“I like to think that I enhanced what was already there,” he says. “There was a sports breakout [at the conference], and it was an hour where sports people got together … but every time I left, I felt like there were so many other things I wanted to talk about. We would go into those meetings and the conversation would continue after the meeting. I thought if we had a full day of sports, wouldn't that be great?”
Russ continues, “I am very happy that Josh Ziegenbusch from the Oakland A’s, Anthony Esposito from the Atlanta Braves, Daren Mitch from the Phoenix Suns and Josh Logan from the NCAA have continued that tradition, and I really enjoyed it [in 2023]. I went to a couple of their sessions, then the two-hour session where you talked about what's keeping you awake at night. I thought it was perfect because we all have the same issues. We are all coming out of COVID. We are all moving to digital ticketing. We are all dealing with the same sort of issues, and sharing those with each other in person was really beneficial. Everything we talked about in the sports session translated into something we are going through with the Giants.”
Russ (center) with Josh Ziegenbusch (left) and Josh Logan (right).
In addition to INTIX, Russ is also a strong supporter of the Bay Area Professional Ticketing Association (BAPTA), which he helped found around 2000.
“At INTIX in Albuquerque, I was standing with Rïisa Walters. We were talking about how it was unfair that so many people didn't get to participate because it was such a great exchange of ideas and we learned so much at INTIX. We always felt bad because you talked to so many people at different venues around the city and their company wouldn't provide the budget for them to attend INTIX. And I said, ‘Well, wait a minute, what if we did something at home and we just do our own little mini INTIX and have a couple of topics.’”
In the beginning, probably 8 to 10 people attended BAPTA meetings, and Russ loved it.
"It was a very casual exchange. I think we did it at the ballpark on the club level, or it might have been in one of our original field club bar lounge areas. We got everybody together and talked about trying to do this. Everybody behind it felt like this was a good opportunity to get the people who could not go to INTIX and give them a voice in all these discussions,” Russ says. “Today, BAPTA is still going strong. [My assistant] Carolyn Uroz is the current president. She has taken the lead in that, and I am really proud of what she has done.”
Russ and BAPTA President Carolyn Uroz preparing to announce this year’s Sprinkles of Love award winner. The Giants present this award annually to the employee who most exemplifies Anita Sprinkles’ inclusive, hardworking and loving spirit.
Another key figure in the regional ticketing association was Anita Sprinkles, who passed away in 2013. Russ spoke of her fondly when we talked about things he would and would not change about his life and career.
“For me, it is all about the relationships and friendships I have made,” he said with a smile.
But then, his tone got more serious.
“If I could change anything in my life, it would be that Anita did not have cancer and that we did not lose her. She had two dozen Giants employees holding her hand in that hospital room when she passed. I would not change the way that we made her feel. We gave her that comfort as she was passing. In my wildest dreams, when she was first sick, I never thought she would pass a year later. Anita was such a key person in keeping BAPTA alive for us that it was a hit to the whole ticketing industry and the local ticketing industry when she passed. I have always been very proud of how our staff reacted to that. I could go to her hospital bed at seven in the morning and there would be somebody there already. Everybody banded together to get her through what she was going through.”
Russ with Anita Sprinkles at INTIX.
There is something else important and close to Russ’ heart that he would change if going back in time was possible. When he started working for the Giants, Russ said it was a badge of honor to be at every game, and that mentality stuck with him for the first couple of decades. He learned the importance of work-life balance later in life.
“Up until about 10 years ago, I never took a weekend off,” he says. “Looking back, I missed a lot of things, including time with my kids and going to their games, plus time with my parents, family and friends. I wish I’d had the mentality that we have today where I'll take Sundays off and someone else will cover Sundays. Now, I try to take Sundays off unless it's the Dodgers or the Red Sox. Physically, I had a quintuple bypass five or six years ago. I had to slow down a little bit. I slowed a bit on my gameday stuff, and I wish I had that mentality when I first came up [in Major League Baseball]. You still wore a shirt and tie Monday through Friday and worked weekends. I worked until the advanced sellers closed their windows an hour after the game. I wish I had had that mentality that I have today, which is if something important is happening, someone else can cover for me.”
While Russ missed some time at home with his kids, he always knew they’d be at the ballpark for big games. This photo was taken in 2010 when the Giants played the Braves in the National League Division Series.
After 34 years in the industry and with more years still to come, Russ has this recommendation for other ticketing professionals.
“If I could provide advice, it would be to listen more than you talk,” he says. “When I first started, I listened to Arthur Schulze. Arthur said, ‘You seem to like ticketing. If you want to come in at 7:30 every day, I will teach you something.’ He took me under his wing and said, ‘I'll teach you the business.’ The next day, I was standing at the door at 7:30 a.m. He said, ‘I didn't think you would be here.’ I said, ‘I want to learn; teach me everything you can.’ And I just listened to him. Many times I would listen to him with our alumni players. They would come in on their way to a game of golf and stop and sit in his office for a cup of coffee. I would listen to the stories and listen to Arthur talking to our Ticketron rep. I just sat there and listened, soaked it all in and tried to learn as much as I could. If I had a question, he was very open for me to ask the questions, but I think listening and soaking in as much as you can while growing in the business is really important.”
Russ enjoys a game with good friend Mark Pidge, his parents and his daughter, Shelby, who also works at the ballpark with the Giants’ team mascot Lou Seal.
For Russ, ideas and growth have always come hand-in-hand. And while he has already delivered on some huge concepts, including secondary ticketing for season ticket holders, dynamic pricing and the Giants’ customer relations team, his mind is always thinking about the next big thing, which will only add to his legacy.
“I believe that in less than five years, we will have a new idea that can change ticketing. And I think we have changed ticketing. With the secondary market, we legitimized reselling a ticket online. This was before StubHub. The client relations team [is] servicing our customers rather than just trying to sell more tickets to acquire more [customers]. They are cultivating that sale, fertilizing it, and growing that customer rather than just looking for new business. Then our dynamic pricing obviously changed ticketing. I still feel like there are at least one or two more where I want to change the business, and I think I have the right team now to start focusing on that.”
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Tags: Leadership , Ticketing Legends