Leadership / 09.07.23
Ticketing on Your Terms: Garrett Nolan Finds Success as an Independent Contractor
Garrett Nolan is a small-town boy who dreamed of making it big.
“I grew up in a small town in western Massachusetts called Southampton,” he says. “It was a small community of about 5,000 people. We had our one stoplight, one grocery store, one bank, et cetera. We were within driving distance of larger cities, but it was a pretty typical small-town upbringing.”
Perhaps it is no surprise then that Garrett didn’t wander far from home in the early days of his career. Shortly after graduating with a degree in sport management from UMass Amherst, he broke into the industry as Manager of Ticket Operations for a minor league hockey team in Springfield, Massachusetts. Garrett then spent a couple of years as Box Office Manager for two theaters a few blocks from the same city arena.
Garrett says he enjoyed living in Springfield but “had the itch to experience different parts of the country.”
So, after seven years of living and working just a half-hour drive from his childhood home, Garrett began moving to bigger cities, venues or markets. Over the next nine years, his career odyssey took him to Roanoke, Virginia; Charlotte, North Carolina; Washington D.C.; San Diego and, finally, to Los Angeles.
“This is where I wanted to go,” he says. “This is where the entertainment industry is based, especially when you are talking about ticketing. All the companies are out here. A job with Live Nation is what brought me out here. They were a promoter partner at a venue I was working at on the East Coast, and the opportunity came up for a director of ticketing position in California. I jumped at the chance to relocate here. Now, for the most part, I still want to make it work.”
Making it work took some ingenuity on Garrett’s part. Like many others in the industry, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed him off his career path.
“Unfortunately, like many people, I was furloughed and then laid off from my full-time job,” he says. “I turned that around. Instead of just having the woe-is-me attitude, I branched out on my own, started my own business, and do my own contracting work in the industry I love.”
For the past three years, Garrett has been self-employed as a ticket operations and live event services specialist, working on events presented by the National Football League, the United States Golf Association, Premier Lacrosse League, WWE, Superfly, Red Bull, The Palm Springs International Film Society and other national brands.
“If you had told me four years ago that I would be an independent contractor, I would have called you crazy. Maybe even two-and-a-half years ago, when I was feeling this out as events were coming back, I would be like, ‘I do not know if this is going to be sustainable,’ but I am still here.”
Garrett poses with the sand sculpture logo at the MLB All-Star Oceanfront event in Santa Monica, California, July 2022.
When asked what he loves most about the industry and his work, Garrett quickly responds, “The freedom I have being my own boss. It is not like you can do what you want at all times, but a lot of the stupid BS of office politics or ‘Hey, did you see my email?’ [is gone] … That would kind of grate on me to no end. It does not exist anymore. I have the freedom to take on the different types of projects that I want to, I can play to my strengths, and I don't have to worry about somebody looking over my shoulder all the time.”
Garrett says, “I love my event peeps. [I love their] ability and willingness to want to get things done even when the odds are stacked against us. The show must go on, right? … At the end of the day, it is being able to make people's day, as in the fans and attendees coming to your events. When folks come to your event, that should be the best thing they are doing that day. Or maybe it's even that week, that month or that year. It feels good. We are supposed to be in the business of fun, and sometimes, I think we lose that a little bit. Being in a business that is theoretically supposed to make people happy is pretty rewarding.”
Of this photo, Garrett says, “Learn it. Know it. Live it.”
When it comes to live events, Garrett has his share of stories, including a couple from the Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement back home in Massachusetts.
“This was one of the best events [for me] because, for the first time that I can remember in Springfield, there was an event that everybody was talking about,” he says. “It was going to be on national TV. ESPN was covering the enshrinement. I was the coolest person in my social circle for weeks leading up to this because [I was] going to be working this event. And then, of course, everybody tries to ask if you can get tickets. That is just a byproduct of working in this particular industry. It was sold out. A very small number of tickets went on sale to the general public because most of them were sold internally through the Basketball Hall of Fame. Having this nationally televised event was such a big deal in my small neck of the woods.”
Garrett continues, “Two other random details from that event. One, when I was going through all of the unclaimed will call, this was back in 2009 when printed tickets were still a thing, and Spike Lee's envelope was still sitting there … What probably happened is he was just let in and never came to the box office to pick up his tickets. That's one of the more famous names I've ever seen on unclaimed will call.”
But it was something that happened before the event that Garrett will never forget. He explains, “I was walking back to my office. I think I went to drop off tickets, or I was in the venue for some reason. The easiest way to get from the venue to my office is to cut through a hotel lobby because it saves you from having to walk all the way around the block outside. You can cut diagonally through if that makes sense. There is an electric revolving door in this hotel area when you are walking in the main lobby. You walk in, and it moves slowly, and then you get out, but if somebody tries to sneak in or too many people overload it, the door stops for five seconds and then starts moving again. So, I am walking in, and then some random person tries to slip in behind me, and the door stops. I thought, alright, this guy, what is he doing? He tried to get in anyway, so I was stuck in the door. I look over to my left, and who is stuck in the door on the other side? Magic Johnson! We both looked at each other like, yeah, we are stuck in a door right now. And then the door moved, and we were both on our way. Presumably, there were a couple of cars out front, and he must have been getting a ride somewhere. It was just funny that we both looked at each other and kind of nodded like, yep, we are stuck in the door right now. I always thought that was funny.”
Garrett has other fond memories from his days back home, including when the Boston Red Sox broke an 86-year-old drought and won the World Series in 2004. As he told the story, you could still hear the excitement in his voice almost 20 years later.
“In the American League Championship series, the Red Sox were down three games to zero to the Yankees in a best of seven, meaning they would have to win the next four games to advance [to the World Series]. They did. And they did it in unbelievable fashion, including blowing them out in the last game. So, not only did the Red Sox win the World Series, but we also vanquished our rivals in the process. Being in Massachusetts at that time, the amount of camaraderie between people, even people you never thought were baseball fans or sports fans [was incredible],” Garrett says. “I don't think I will ever experience anything like that again with the whole region. All of New England was unified and together. The euphoria when they won was unbelievable.”
When it comes to Garrett’s most memorable career moment, he quickly switches from baseball to football.
“The serious answer for that is being able to work the Super Bowl,” he says. “I have worked two Super Bowls. In terms of being at the actual game itself, that was this past February in Phoenix. The Super Bowl is probably the largest one-day sporting event, certainly in North America, possibly even the world. It is something that anybody playing football or playing sports probably dreams of participating in one day. The reality for me to be able to play professional sports went out the window by the time I was a teenager, but being able to work in live events, I still think that Super Bowl is a goal up there for most people. It was tremendous. I still can't believe I had the opportunity to do that, even if it was working ticket resolution at the gate. Definitely not one of the sexiest positions that there are working any kind of event, but again, there are 70,000 people who have to get in, and you have to make sure that their tickets are valid. If there is an issue, we will fix it.”
While those stories bring back great memories, they are not necessarily what brings the most joy to Garrett’s life. “For me, it is helping somebody become successful,” he says. “I have been working in this industry for over 20 years and have had my share of frontline staff or assistant managers. Either helping them get another gig that is a promotion or just seeing them naturally move up and move on, even if they don't stay in touch. It is also great when somebody who I have not talked to or worked with in seven or eight years can still pick up the phone or shoot a text and ask for advice or just want to talk. I think it is great. Seeing other people being able to develop and grow in this industry is something that I really enjoy.”
Garrett says that is one reason he is a member of INTIX. It allows him to try to give back to others, just as others helped him over the years.
“I have been able to meet a lot of people through INTIX. It has been a tremendous professional asset for me, and I would consider some folks I have met through INTIX friends … There is definitely a sense of community here. We are all in this together, especially post-COVID and while all the COVID stuff was happening. Knowing that you were not alone and you had somebody else [was important].”
Garrett says, “If you have a problem or issue that you want to talk [about], you can find a person you want to speak with, send them an email or pick up the phone and introduce yourself if they don’t know you. If you say, ‘Hey, I am an INTIX member,’ you would be welcomed with open arms, and they would be willing to have a conversation with you … People could be having similar issues to you, but they attack things from different angles. Being able to see what everybody else in the industry has going on [is invaluable] … I have been a mentor for many years, so [now] it is more me trying to help and give back to others.”
Garrett poses for a selfie with the ticket office staff before doors open at BeachLife Ranch Festival in Redondo Beach, California, September 2022.
After two decades in the industry, Garrett has learned to value colleagues who he can trust, as well as leaders who are open and honest.
“Obviously, there are some situations where a leader is not in a position where they can share all of the information with you about what is going on. But for the most part, just being as upfront, honest and transparent as possible … In today's day and age, you can’t really hide things from people anymore [because of] social media or people's awareness of what is going on. There is almost a perception, I think, that if you are hiding something, even if it is a benign thing, it makes whatever situation [you are in] that much worse because people are wondering, well, what are you hiding? Why are you not saying something versus just being upfront? Maybe it is an awkward conversation, but when you can be upfront with folks, I think it alleviates concerns moving forward.”
As for colleagues, Garrett says, “You need to trust that they are going to get the job done. You need to trust that they have their best interests in mind, [but also] the interests of the company in mind, maybe your best interests in mind. The line is always ‘teamwork makes the dream work,’ but there is an element of trust in that where you have to trust your teammates to be able to do their job.”
When it comes to people in general and friends in particular, Garrett says he appreciates authenticity and passion.
“Be who you are, not what others want you to be. Say what you mean; mean what you say. For me, it is just about being your authentic self. [Also], be a good person. Be someone who people want to be around for the most part. We all have bad days, but if you are a good person, that in and of itself will tend to attract people to you, and I don't necessarily mean romantically. People want to be around you. They want to engage with you. Do you make somebody's day better by being around that other person?”
Garrett continues, “[I am inspired by] people who are passionate about stuff. I think it rubs off even if it is something that I do not necessarily care about. When you are sitting in a group with your friends and listening to somebody talk about their job, you can see that they really light up, even if what they are talking about is tax preparation or something that really does not necessarily appeal to me so much, but seeing somebody be passionate indirectly fires me up. [It makes me want to] dive into that challenge or the next project I have going on.”
In his spare time, Garrett likes to stay active, including playing in sports leagues and hiking with friends. His most treasured possession is not a family heirloom or sports memorabilia but something most people take for granted.
“It’s my health,” he says. “It is so important, and it gets so overlooked by people, especially in our industry when you are working crazy hours. Taking care of your body is important because if you do not have [your health], you do not have anything. You can't enjoy any of the things in life, or you enjoy them less if you are not in good health and not taking care of yourself. Health is really important … it is important to keep your mind and body in good shape.”
Garrett also does a bit of random surfing in his spare time, but not on the water.
“Lately, I have been watching a lot of random point-of-view videos on YouTube of people driving their cars in the ‘40s or ‘50s. I do not know why people did it, and I do not know why there are so many [of these videos] on YouTube all of a sudden, but there are views of different major cities all over the place. So, for example, you can see what it was like to drive down Wilshire Boulevard here in Los Angeles in the 1950s. You can get a real appreciation for the city's history, what people were wearing, what the cars looked like and how the cityscape has changed. Over the last few months, I have found this whole genre of online videos. Sometimes, late at night, I do not want to watch some bad movie or something on TV, so I float around and look at that. I have learned more about the city I live in now by just randomly surfing videos on YouTube.”
Interestingly, his fascination for travel videos from the past is the direct opposite of his travel plans for the future.
“What I would love to do is space tourism,” he says. “The idea that maybe we could get on a spaceship one day and leave the planet to either go to the moon or go to Mars with Space X, I think that that would be amazing. I do not want to be the first person to do it. I want them to work the kinks out [first]. But I think that that would be an amazing and out-of-this-world experience. It is something that has always intrigued me. I am surprised that it's not a bigger thing than it is. If you had asked me in 1988 about space travel in 2023, I would have figured we would be a lot farther along than we are.”
When he travels for events, Garrett enjoys having some time to himself to check out local landmarks.
And, if he could travel back in time, what would he do differently?
“[I would try] not to worry about being right at all costs. I think I have cost myself some relationships, both personally and professionally, by trying to hammer the point home and wanting to be correct without considering other people's experiences or that sometimes people are just not going to come around. I guess [the advice I would give myself] would be to learn to agree to disagree more. Everything doesn't have to be a never-ending argument.”
However, some of Garrett’s friends may argue that he should pursue a side hustle with his ticketing career. “I always wanted to be able to sing,” he says when asked about the talent he would most like to have. “I have tried to do it, not in the sense of officially taking lessons and stuff like that, but … I have tried to do karaoke. I do not have the voice for it. People tell me I have a voice for radio, which I kind of see, so maybe I should be doing voiceover gigs in my spare time.”
Given his success to date, Garrett will almost certainly continue the personal and career journey that took him from small-town New England to the center of the entertainment world in LA. “I love what I do,” he says. “And the sky is the limit.”
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Tags: Leadership , GTKY