The Senior Vice President of Ticket Sales and Services for the San Francisco Giants is living his boyhood dream. Here, he reflects on his love of baseball and how he turned it into a successful career, thanks to the support of everyone from his parents to his INTIX colleagues.
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Who or what is the greatest love of your life?
It’s baseball. I’ve always loved this game. As a kid, I would get up in the morning and read the box scores. You didn’t have ESPN or a phone to go to, so you had to wait until the paper came the next day. Even when I started here in ’89, I would sit in the stands, eat my lunch, read the paper or box scores, and read the attendance at other parks. As I got here, I started caring about what teams were drawing.
I collected baseball cards as a kid. I wore a baseball hat every day at school. It was in my blood, and it’s amazing that I’ve been able to turn that into a career. I’m able to do something that I love every day. I’m not in some high rise or fighting traffic. I get to come to a ballpark every day. I consider myself very lucky.
Russ with game day staff.
What is your most memorable career moment?
Without a doubt, it was when we won the World Series in 2010. Eight years before, we lost the World Series in Game 7. Maybe you appreciate it more when you get that close and lose. But, in 2010, I had my kids with me, we’d just lost a couple of owners, Harmon and Sue Burns — they had passed in ’09 and ’08. I kept a ribbon from Sue Burns’ funeral, and I kept rubbing it every time we needed a strike or a hit. I just remember sitting there; we just needed one more strike, come on, Sue. We got the strikeout; my kids were jumping up and down, and all my friends were hugging me, but I was just sort of stuck in my seat. I couldn’t move. I was looking down and crying. I guess part of it is the relief of finally winning; we finally won a World Series, and being part of it was really special.
Who do you admire most and why?
I admire my parents most. They instilled a great work ethic and were very supportive in my quest to work for a baseball team, specifically the Giants. I remember working in my Dad’s basement office and him helping me type letters to teams. Never once did they discourage me from the idea of a sports career.
Russ with his father, mother, Kimberly and Carolyn.
Who is your mentor?
I have had many mentors over the years. One is Dan DeMato. He was with the Mets when I first started and is now a consultant. To his credit, he always answered my calls. Then there was Arthur Schulze. When I first started, he was the ticketing person here. Arthur really taught me the nuts and bolts of the hard ticketing world. Having him explain it all helped me get us on the computerized path. And then there’s Pat Gallagher, the Executive Vice President of Business for the Giants when I started. He’s the one who really allowed me to get creative with doing a secondary market. Now I report to Mario Alioto. I consider him a mentor, too, because he’s been here 45 years and is somebody who is always open to helping me. All of my mentors saw something in me and helped me grow.
Russ with one of his mentors, Pat.
What qualities do you think are important in a leader?
Someone who is results oriented and provides clear direction. “Here’s where we are, and here’s where we want to be.” Then they allow us to get there; they don’t micromanage. They give us the freedom to get to the finish line.
What do you value most in your friends?
A person with a good personality and a sense of humor but also who is there when I need someone. You know, somebody I can really count on. I’d say I have a small group of tight-knit friends, but they’re all that way.
Russ and his friends celebrating with World Series trophies.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
We have changed the ticketing business twice here. The first was setting up a secondary market for season ticket holders to post their tickets a year before StubHub popped up. It was obviously a good idea because it’s now turned into a multibillion-dollar company. My boss at the time kept joking with me, “Hey, you know, you should quit and go start this on the outside.” Obviously, I wasn’t going to leave. I finally get my dream job and now you want me to quit! Financially, that probably would’ve been the thing to do, but I stayed here, and I think we perfected our version of the secondary market.
The other achievement that I’m most proud of is when we rolled out dynamic pricing. We were the first team to change prices daily. Ticketing and certainly sports in general are conservative on things like that, so that was a pretty big jump.
What’s your favorite venue and why?
It’s Oracle Park. Of course, I’m a little biased because I was part of the group that helped build this venue. It reminds me of all the blood, sweat and tears that went into it and the bonds that my colleagues and I formed as a result. There were discussions over what we should call the promenade level or what should we call the upper deck. Here, it’s such a great view, so we call it the view level. It just sounds better than upper deck. It’s already our 20th year since we finished, but the good news is this park will be here for a long time, and all of us know that we worked together to get this thing built, so it’s obviously near and dear to my heart.
Jorge, Russ, Gene and Alfie celebrating a World Series win.
What’s your most treasured possession?
Funny you should ask that because it’s actually part of another venue, Fenway Park. One day, a friend came into my office with this cardboard box and said, “Here, I got you something,” and it was just a piece of sheet metal. I said, “What is this thing?” He said, “Well, it’s from the Green Monster.” The left field wall had been partially removed during renovations, and my friend had arranged for a welder buddy to save a piece for me. It even had a certificate of authenticity. In 2007, when the Red Sox were coming [to play], I asked their traveling secretary if he wouldn’t mind getting a few players to sign it for me. He handed it back to me with 30 signatures. I have to think it’s one of a kind. I don’t think anybody else has piece of the Green Monster from Fenway that’s autographed by the 2007 World Series team!
Other than watching baseball, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I read and watch a lot of movies. I especially like Stephen King books. My dad hosted a late-night horror show on television called “Creature Features.” So, I really grew up with scary monster movies and science fiction. At a young age, I’ll never forget reading “The Shining,” and I really got into Stephen King books then. Still today, I get excited when there’s a new one coming out. My Dad, who was also an entertainment writer, really showed me the appreciation of movies as a kid. In the early ’70s it was a big deal; on Saturday, he’d have to go review a movie, and I’d go with him. As a child, I did a lot of that, and so I continue to do it; I go with my kids to movies. I really appreciate just watching a movie.
What’s your favorite song, musician, band, artist, player or team of all time?
This is a good question, especially because we have three World Series championships, but I’m trying to answer as a fan, which I don’t get to do very often. There have been so many teams, bands and shows that I’ve been to, but the one thing that stands out in my mind is the 1975 Super Bowl when the Steelers beat the Vikings. I love that team with the Steel Curtain, Terry Bradshaw, as the quarterback. It was my childhood team.
What’s the best live event you’ve ever seen and why?
By far it was Robert Plant and Jimmy Page playing with the San Jose Symphony at Shoreline Amphitheater. I’m a huge Led Zeppelin fan, and I had no idea this was happening. I was just going to see Robert Plant and Jimmy Page together. I had no idea the symphony was backing them. I’ll never forget listening to Kashmir with the Plant and Page and the San Jose Symphony backing them up. It was just incredible!
Russ with Mario, one of his mentors.
What cities would you most like to visit and/or live in?
I am fortunate because San Francisco is where I would want to live. I travel a lot, and I’ve been to most of the other ballparks, but this is a place I love. I really enjoy going to Pittsburgh, too, for Pirates and Steelers games. The people I know with both teams are great people, and I love to catch up with them. It’s another city I love, and I think it’s very underrated.
If you were granted three wishes today what would they be?
I wish I was a better baseball player and was able to hit a curveball and a fastball. I was not a very good hitter. I hope that my kids are successful. I have one daughter who wants to work for a baseball team, so she’s got that in her blood, and another one that’s just about to graduate college. Hopefully at some point, I’d like to have grandchildren that I can teach baseball. Then, for me, I just need good health, because I hope to retire in 10 to 12 years, and I want to be able enjoy that time traveling with my girlfriend. I had a quintuple bypass three years ago, so I have to keep an eye on things. I see my cardiologist every six months.
Why are you a member of INTIX?
It’s the networking and the learning at the annual INTIX conference. The key is the networking that I’ve been able to do over the years. It’s a very smart group of ticketing people. I started here in ’89 and was promoted around ’92 or ’93. During those years, at the time it was called BOMI, and it became INTIX not too long after I started. I met people that I’m still friends with. I’ve built this group of people that I know I can call anytime and say, “What do you think of this, and what do you think of that?” That’s what happened with both the secondary market idea and dynamic pricing ideas; I presented both at INTIX before we went live to make sure that we weren’t missing something.
Russ with friends, coworkers and INTIX members, Devin and Todd, at the All-Star FanFest.
Do you look to INTIX to learn about trends or develop relationships or both?
It’s really both. I do like to read the articles on Access. I get emails that show new trends. We just rolled out mobile ticketing here in the last year or two, and there was a lot of good information about teams that were rolling it out and having trouble, so I looked at what they did. We called those teams and asked what we could do to enhance it or make it easier for our customers. So, when we did roll it out, I’m proud of the fact that we’ve not had a negative article. There are customers who are confused and the first time they use it you sort of have to walk them through it. I think it went really smoothly, and that’s really the group, the customer service team that we put together, a mobile ticketing team; they managed it, and there were a lot of articles from INTIX that I could send to them about the best practices. I set them up to call teams that were free to share information, so we had a pretty smooth rollout. It was my INTIX relationships that allowed us to learn.
What’s your most memorable INTIX moment?
It’s definitely when Dan DeMato won the Lifetime Achievement Award. He had no idea it was coming, and the look on his face was priceless. We were so proud of him. I love Dan. He’s like a brother to me, and it meant a lot to see that. We were probably all crying because we were just so happy for him. He’s done so much for the business when he was with the Mets and now with FutureTix. I’ve just got to give him a lot of credit because he is the one who helps share ideas. He keeps people thinking about new things.
Russ with Steve, a friend from INTIX and now a co-worker.
What do you love most about our industry?
Within the ticketing world, what I like is that people are willing to share ideas. We’re not competitors. I mean you can say the A’s are a competitor or the Warriors are a competitor, but we’re still open to sharing ideas. So, I really feel like everybody in the ticketing business is more of a co-worker than a competitor. There’s a group of us that run around the INTIX conference together. There’s a whole group out there that is open to sharing ideas and best practices, and I like that about the ticketing business.
If you if you go back in time, what advice would you give yourself?
I would try to enjoy things more. The ticketing business is very stressful. The biggest events, especially an All-Star game or World Series game, are probably the most stressful and pressure filled for us — working the events and making sure they go smoothly. You want to make sure the scanners are working and everybody gets in their seats and there are no duplicate tickets or counterfeit tickets. Or, if we’re on the road and dealing with player tickets, you want to make sure that all goes smoothly, too. Sometimes, you get bogged down with the phone calls, the texts, emails; it makes it hard to enjoy a game. I tell my staff to enjoy every opening day. Walk out there and see the park full. This place full is pretty cool, so I try to go and enjoy those moments, but it’s hard because it is so stressful. We’ve been very fortunate to have been involved in three championship parades down Market Street, and that’s probably about the time that you finally let go and you’re not dealing with tickets. I can go, I can be with my parents or my kids or my girlfriend and not be worried about tickets. Everything’s done; it’s sort of a relief.
Bruce Bochy and Russ.
Is there anything else you would like to share that defines you as a professional or as a person?
I love the game and the history of the game. Being a historian and then getting to work for a team with such a rich history [is incredible]. We have all these Hall of Famers here and statues around the building. I can walk around and see all the statues, but I can also go in and talk to them. They come to every game. We lost Willie McCovey on Halloween last year [in 2018]. I could go sit with him or I can go sit with Orlando Cepeda, or Willie Mays who is here all the time. As a historian and a fan of the game, I couldn’t ask for a better place to work when you want to talk history, though most of time we don’t talk baseball. Felipe Alou just had bypass surgery and he was here for Bruce Bochy’s last game. All we talked about was cardiology, diet, fishing — we didn’t talk baseball once. The ability to be able to do this all these years, whether it’s my parents or my family or co-workers helping me be better, a lot of people around me allowed for this. It’s my dream come true. This is my dream job that I get to come to a ballpark every day. And I can talk to my heroes that I used to watch play the game.
Orlando Cepeda and Russ.