Dogs, biking and baking. These are three things that fill Daren Mitch’s spare time with joy. Add to that a hugely successful career in the town where he grew up, a kind heart full of service and gratitude, and an incredible ticketing team with which to share his days, and it’s easy to see why the Vice President of Ticketing for the Phoenix Suns and Talking Stick Resort Arena thinks each day is a blessing. Here, Mitch reflects on giving back, the people who inspire and mentor him, the valuable lesson he learned from his worst managers, and how INTIX has been there for him for several decades.
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What is the quality you like most in a person?
I like a positive attitude. When somebody is presented with a less than ideal situation, I like someone who is going to say, “Listen, this is not a good situation, so how do we deal with it? How do we make it better?”
Oftentimes, when I am interviewing people for a job, I do not ask a lot of the “where do you see yourself in five years” types of questions. Those are the questions that people study for in advance. I do obviously ask some questions regarding the job, but I am more interested in conversational questions to see where that person is coming from and how their thought process works. I can teach anybody how to do ticketing, but I cannot teach somebody an attitude or a sense of humor, so I like to see who the person is and how they have dealt with things in the past.
In a colleague, a huge thing with me is honesty. I feel as a team you can get through any situation, but you need to know the situation at hand, and we need to know exactly what we are facing, so honesty takes you a long, long way. We all make mistakes, and that is OK, but you need to know what those mistakes are. We all have great successes, but we need to know what those successes are so that we can recreate them again in the future.
Honesty is important in a leader, too, but a leader also needs to be confident, have the ability to inspire a team, and be empathetic and sincere. Sincerity is one of those things that a person cannot fake; you either are or you are not.
And in my friends, I would say I most value loyalty, transparency and the ability to laugh through a lot of situations. Laughter is very important to me. I laugh and joke around a lot.
Who or what is the greatest love of your life?
Your partner, family, friends and everybody plays a different role in your life, and each provides you with different nurturing factors. I will say one thing, though, that as bad as any situation gets, I can just look at my dogs and I get a smile on my face. I love animals, and anyone who knows me will tell you that my dogs live more comfortably than I do. I adore them. I cherish them. So while everybody plays an important role in getting us through this crazy life, I just love the unconditional love that I get from my dogs.
Daren's dogs, Fritz and Fergie.
My dogs come from very tragic beginnings, and they are both rescue dogs. I think they both have some Jack Russell in them and they look fairly similar. Fergie was struck by a car, dragged down the road, and left for dead on the side of the road on the border of Texas and Mexico. A Good Samaritan found her, and she was taken in by Lone Star Dog Rescue. She had four surgeries, and they nursed her back to health before I got the call, right at the beginning of the pandemic, to come get her in Dallas. It has been a rough road for that little girl, but she is making wonderful progress.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I played the piano, and I have wished that forever. I am so envious when somebody can just sit down and start playing such beautiful music. My friends are probably happy I don’t play it because I sing enough walking around the house without a piano, so I would probably drive everyone crazy if I did.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
For years, my friends had been doing the AIDS/LifeCycle, which is a fundraising bike ride that goes from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It is a fundraiser for AIDS research, and funds go directly to paying for people’s medications, doctor’s visits and other things they are not financially able to do on their own. I admired my friends for doing that. I was not a hugely athletic person, and I had not ridden a bike in 35 years, but one year I just all of a sudden told my friend, “I’m going to do it with you this year!” That was around February, and the ride is in June.
Everybody who knows me thought there is no way he is going to do this, including my parents. I went and bought a bike, started training and went through with it. And here is the thing: You are going 554 miles, all the way down the coast. You are sleeping in tents that you have to put up after riding 100 miles up mountains and through scary situations on the freeways. It was probably one of the most amazing experiences of my life, but it was terrifying to me, too. A lot of it was beautiful; you cry, you laugh and you see the most beautiful scenery. It gives you seven days of being alone on your bike with 2,000 other people going down the coast; it is a lot of time to think and reflect on things.
The biggest thing, though, and the point of the story is, you get to that seventh day, and you cross that finish line. I do not think there has been a time in my life — professionally or personally — that I have felt prouder of myself. We do not have that sense of pride for ourselves too many times in our lives, and it is the best feeling. Over my first three years, I raised a total of almost $40,000, which is huge. This year would have been my fourth, but it was canceled because of COVID-19.
What is the best live event you have ever seen and why?
It changes regularly for me. Right now, what stands out in my mind is “Jagged Little Pill” on Broadway. Any kind of work — whether it is a concert, theatre or musical theatre — it does not have to be deep. It could be something light and fluffy but has the ability to make you feel something. Anything that moves you, that is powerful enough to connect to you in some way, to me always stands out. “Jagged Little Pill” was the last one that really had that impact on me when we were at INTIX in New York.
What is your favorite venue and why?
Talking Stick Resort Arena. It is not because it is the best arena out there; it is actually aged and now we are going through a renovation, as we discussed. I have lived in Phoenix pretty much my entire life. I have watched our city grow, and I have been part of a lot of it through working at different venues. I was part of the team that opened up the Diamondbacks’ stadium, which is now Chase Field. I was part of the team that opened the new Herberger Theater Center way back in the late 1980s. I was also working at the new convention center when it opened up. I am very passionate about the city of Phoenix, and how much we have grown in the last 15+ years is amazing. The arena was the start of the renovations in downtown Phoenix way back in the day, and the reason it is my favorite venue is because I have so many wonderful memories there. It has always been the shining star of downtown Phoenix.
Who or what inspires you?
It is not any one particular person; my team inspires me. When I am having a day where I am dragging and don’t necessarily feel like being on, they inspire me to give it my all. They deserve that from me, and I deserve that from them. So, I think my team in the ticket office is a huge part of the inspiration that I get day to day on my professional side.
Daren and his amazing ticket office team.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself?
Embrace your failures. Do not shy away from them; own them and learn from them. I honestly do not think you can fully celebrate any major accomplishment if you have not also experienced the feeling of failure.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Cycle and bake. Those are the two things that remove me from the crazy world we live in. I bake a lot, and I love to just get on my bike and go. On any given Saturday, I will wake up early in the morning and I come back 50 miles later.
If you were granted three wishes today, what would they be?
Well, of course, I would love to win the lottery; I think everyone wishes for that one. I would wish for a cure for major diseases that have impacted my family, such as Parkinson’s, cancer and Alzheimer’s. And I think the most important one, to be able to see my dad again.
What brings you the most joy or gives you the greatest meaning in your life?
I get a strong sense of joy when I can bring joy to others. Every morning in my prayers, I ask God to let me be a blessing to somebody else. There are times in our lives, and that I have experienced, where other people have gotten me through or helped me through, and you do not know where you would be without certain things that have happened. So, I think just being able to be a blessing in someone else’s day with anything that they are going through, regardless of what it is.
Why are you a member of INTIX?
It is an extremely valuable tool. Not only for the resources provided by the organization, but simply with all the other members you are able to network with. One of the biggest things is when you’re looking at third-party vendors, or you’re going to roll out some new technology, or you are looking for new ways to be innovative, or you just need to figure out how another venue would deal with a situation — it basically gives you everything at your fingertips. And just because I work in a sports arena does not mean that I cannot get valuable information from somebody who works at a performing arts venue.
I use INTIX for almost everything. At the beginning of my career, I was at every single INTIX conference year after year after year. When I joined my current position, I wanted to share that experience with a lot of my staff, so I started taking turns sending one or two or even some years three people who never had gotten to experience it, and we kind of rotated who got to go.
Some of the best resources that INTIX provides are the ability to connect with other people in your industry who are going through the same experiences as you, who have done something that you are getting ready to implement. So, INTIX helps me learn about trends, and there is also nothing more powerful than the relationships you build.
Daren with some of his INTIX colleagues.
What do you love most about your job?
We work in an industry that changes every day, which is a wonderful thing, but it is also extremely challenging. At the end of the day, even on the worst days, when there is an event in your building, you can walk out to just check out the house and see how it looks. You see all the people that your work is directly impacting for an evening. It might just be two hours of them getting away from the crazy lives that they live — two hours getting away from a day that may have been horrible. You see everybody, and you feel the energy. You are giving them the opportunity to just escape for a while; it is really rewarding.
Who is your mentor?
My mentor is Dianne Aguilar. She was the Vice President of Ticketing for the Diamondbacks when they were awarded the team, and she was my boss. When all this was going on, she was a woman in sports, she had an extremely good executive-level position and she held her own. She was so inspiring in the way that she kept her calm and thought things out. Even to this day, whenever I am in a sticky or uncomfortable situation, I always think how would Dianne handle this. She taught me so much, she gave me my first huge break and there could not be a better person to have taught me the ropes. I have taken all of her lessons and tried to become successful with what she taught me by mirroring her style and management techniques.
Daren and Dianne.
What is your most memorable career moment?
When I was at the Diamondbacks, we opened up the ballpark in 1998, which was huge. That first opening day game was so exciting and memorable. And just when I thought nothing could get any better, within four seasons, we won the World Series. Opening a brand-new building, coming from the performing arts and going all the way to the World Series that quickly was definitely a challenge, and it was extremely rewarding. Things went as planned, and I could not have asked for a better outcome, both on the field as well as on the business side of things.
But what always sticks most in my mind is walking through the concourse when the game was over. There were 50,000 screaming fans and everybody was so excited but, by the grace of God, I turned around and there was my grandfather. My grandfather was a tough guy. He was very old fashioned, very stern and very idealistic. He had a tear in his eye; he was so proud of me and came running to me. I just thought that was the best ending to such a crazy time in my life. All those hours of work and literally living at the ballpark to get the playoffs going and operating the way they should, and then to see my grandfather and have that tender moment with him, which I have never seen. Just the look in his eye and on his face was the most memorable moment in my career.
What is your most memorable INTIX moment?
It was the first INTIX that I attended, which was in New York, back in 1994. It was so eye-opening and amazing to me that there was so many people who did exactly what I did. That the same amount of people were going through some of the challenges I was going through. It was the first time that I was with such a large group of people discussing the exact issues that I was discussing, and they were providing me with direction and invaluable education. Since then there have been many really good INTIX conferences, but nothing will ever compare to that very first one.
Is there anything else you would like to share that defines you as a professional or as a person?
This relates to my earlier answer about embracing your failures, and it is something that I would like people to really take a good look at, especially those who are just starting in the industry. I have learned the most from some of my worst managers. I remember driving home early on in my working career, and I was not even working in ticketing at the time. I remember like it was yesterday thinking, “If I am ever in charge of a group of people, I never want someone to be driving home feeling like I feel right now.”
It is not a good or a desirable position to be in, to be working with a bad manager or somebody that you just don’t click with, but if you really look at it and embrace it, you can learn more than you will from your very best manager. I think that paved the road for me, and some of those horrible times I lived through back in the day is what molded me into a caring, empathetic and sincere manager who expects a lot from his group. But I also try to give a lot to my group as well, so embrace those undesirable times and do different, do better.