June 30, 2014
Paul McCartney. Jimmy Buffett. Justin Timberlake. Coming face to face with one of these superstars could send you into orbit, but it's just another day in the life for 2001 marketing alumnus Jeff Nickler.
Nickler, a Morgantown native, is the general manager of the Bank of Oklahoma (BOK) Center, a sports and entertainment venue that seats 20,000 people and hosts some of the biggest names in the business. There, his job is two-fold: managing a large full-time and part-time staff, and booking entertainment.
Although he has only served in this capacity for about a year, being around those in the limelight isn't new to him. His first job out of college as guest services manager for the Miami Beach Ritz-Carlton normalized the idea of meeting celebrities for Nickler, who recalled that he was indeed star struck when meeting his first celebrity — Oprah Winfrey.
These days, he regularly deals with agents, promoters and artist management to convince them to play at his venue, and he gets to meet just about every star that comes through. But even though it has become routine for him (he said he attends roughly 200 concerts each year), there have been a few meetings that have been extra special. One of these most memorable moments was when he hosted country star and fellow West Virginian Brad Paisley.
"It's very cool when he pulls up his tour bus backstage. The first thing they do when they get here, they put a WVU floor mat outside of all his tour busses," Nickler said. "I had the wonderful opportunity of presenting Brad and his father with personalized WVU football jerseys. We also presented two miniature children's WVU jerseys for his sons. That was amazing for me, to be such a huge Mountaineer fan and to be so proud of my state, to sit backstage for a couple hours and hang with Brad and his father who are also devout Mountaineer fans."
"I get to meet a lot of people. I don't get too excited anymore," he continued. "But to meet Brad, somebody who grew up in West Virginia…" Nickler paused. "As you know we all have a really special bond growing up in West Virginia."
Nickler is a member of the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association, and as a member he votes and helps nominate the winners for the annual CMA Awards. He said he was happy to see Paisley wearing the hand-crafted sterling silver necklace that was engraved with the West Virginia State motto: "Montani semper liberi," ("Mountaineers are always free") that they gave him on stage at the CMA music festival.
Rewind to the mid-00's when Nickler first came to the BOK Center in 2008. He was hired as the premium seating manager, working with suite holders, club seat holders and the high profile sponsors for the new arena, which is home to the Tulsa Shock (WNBA) and the Tulsa Oilers (CHL) in addition to serving as a music venue. In late 2008, Nickler was tasked with creating a winter festival event – in only six weeks.
"I love to take a project, work on it from scratch and see it to fruition. The unknown is always a little scary, but if you plan appropriately and get good advice, it makes it a lot easier," he said. "In about a month and a half we put together a giant outdoor festival which has grown into an annual tradition here that welcomes about 150,000 people every year."
Taking on this challenging project allowed Nickler to learn new skills and perfect existing skills.
"Personal growth and growing professionally – that's definitely a driver for me. I don't think you can ever give up growing," he said.
To say the entertainment industry is fast-paced is a huge understatement. While that can make the job tough and stressful, Nickler's okay with that.
"There are good days and bad days, but when I walk out into a sold out arena, and I see that crowd and see the experience that crowd is having at the show, it makes me realize why I'm doing this and it's all worth it," he said.
In order to thrive in a cutthroat industry where several venues compete for a handful of shows, Nickler has had to rely on his excellent interpersonal skills to succeed.
"For me, it all comes down to relationships," he said. "You can't always hide behind e-mail or the telephone. A face-to-face meeting or dealing with a difficult situation in person is best. You get a lot more accomplished and a lot more problems solved in person."
Of course, becoming comfortable with uncomfortable face-to-face interaction demands a great deal of confidence and charisma. Although Nickler was naturally blessed with these traits, he said his time at WVU helped those attributes truly blossom in a way to help him professionally.
"The leaders I had in the marketing program attributed to my success. I had some phenomenal professors who taught me the cornerstones of marketing, which gave me a lot of self-confidence," he said, crediting Dr. Karen Donovan for helping him to develop the creativity he has needed throughout his career. Additionally, his work as an advertising sales rep at the Daily Athenaeum, WVU's student newspaper, prepared him for the sales aspect of his career.
"I think it's important for students to spend time with instructors outside of the classroom if they have the opportunity to do so," Nickler said. "Career-wise, I am where I am today because of my mentors who cared about me and who invested their time in helping me grow."
Nickler said one of the coolest parts of his job is his frequent travel between Los Angeles, New York and Nashville to scout new talent and meet with agents and artist management. But he was able to think of at least one feeling more special than that of his glamorous industry.
"I don't think anything compares to the excitement of WVU during the week of a big football game. There's a special energy that surrounds WVU and there's a little piece of WVU that I think everybody keeps in their heart after they leave. It's an unwritten bond."