Jeff Nickler never planned to be in the live entertainment industry. Living in Miami, Nickler was an avid fan of live events, but began his career in public relations for a high-end hotel.
“I was working for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company in Miami Beach and was looking for a change of scenery and heard about an opportunity in Oklahoma where a brand-new arena was being built,” Nickler told Amplify. “I was hired initially as BOK Center’s premium sales manager before the building was even opened. That was the parallel between the two jobs.”
Once he arrived in Tulsa, Nickler was mentored by GM John Bolton and hit several promotions that led him to the corner office.
“I never in my wildest dreams imagined a career where this would be my job,” Nickler said. “Booking is what I am most passionate about. Booking isn’t necessarily difficult. There is no industry knowledge that you need to know, but you do need to know how to make and build relationships. That’s all it is. Booking is about developing and maintaining great relationships with these agents and promoters. That’s where I really excelled with no true experience.”
Over the past decade, he held a variety of job titles at BOK and with great advice from Bolton, Jerry Goldman (SMG- US Bank Stadium), Gerry Barad (Live Nation) and Louis Messina (Messina Touring Group), Nickler was promoted to GM in 2014.
“I tell my coworkers and employees, we have good days and bad days,” Nickler said of the job. “But when you have a sold-out show in your building and you walk out onto that floor during a concert and look up and take that in, you realize that’s the reason we all do this – to see those fans having that experience.”
Amplify caught up with Nickler to learn about his five favorite live experiences.
Michael Jackson at Pittsburgh Civic Arena
Sept. 27, 1988
My father took me to my first-ever concert when I was 7 years old in Pittsburgh. As a young kid, Michael Jackson was my idol and I knew the words to every single one of his songs. Perhaps this show planted a seed in my head for the industry I would one day work in. I can vividly remember standing in the rafters of the old hockey arena (maybe it was the top row?) with my dad and a capacity crowd singing “Man in the Mirror” at the top of our lungs.
Garth Brooks at BOK Center in Tulsa
Jan. 10, 2015
There is nothing quite like a Garth Brooks concert and few entertainers can match the electricity and energy of the country megastar. We had the pleasure of welcoming Garth back to his hometown for seven sold-out shows at BOK Center in early 2015. Over 150,000 tickets were sold in just hours, a state record. My favorite memory of his two-week residency was the late show on January 10. Slated to start at 10:30 p.m., Garth finally took the stage at midnight and played until after 3 a.m. Just before his final song, Garth got emotional and, wiping back tears, told the crowd how blessed he was to be back home in Tulsa because “everywhere else they treat me like royalty, but here you treat me like family.” I think 19,199 people were crying along with him at that moment.
Coldplay at BOK Center in Tulsa
Aug. 25, 2016
As major fans of the band, Michael Owens (former BOK Center Director of Booking and current Director of Live Entertainment at Rogers Arena) and I worked for many years to convince Larry Webman at Paradigm to bring his band to Oklahoma for the first time ever. Our persistence finally paid off in 2016. The show was electrifying and felt more like a revival than a concert with the sold-out crowd on their feet for two hours, each fan’s arm glowing with a colorful LED wristband.
Stagecoach Country Music Festival at Empire Polo Club in Indio, California
April 24-26, 2015
I attend several music festivals every year but Stagecoach has become the event I look forward to the most. I believe that this festival produced by Goldenvoice and AEG Presents is one of the best-run and top festivals for the fan experience in the country. My first year attending this event in the California desert was 2015, and the headliners were Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw and Miranda Lambert. The lineup is always great, but for me Stagecoach is less about the music and more about the annual tradition of catching up with agents, promoters and friends like Cara Vanderhook (Staples Center), Cassie Zebisch (AEG) and John Bolton (SMG) in Indio.
Tiësto at Bicentennial Park in Miami, Florida
March 28, 2008
I moved to Tulsa from Miami Beach, where I spent a decade living and working in South Beach, and when I was in Florida I developed a great affinity for EDM music. At the time, Tiësto was my favorite DJ (and later on in life I would name my first dog after him) and although I have seen him perform countless times, the most special was at the Ultra Music Festival in 2008 in downtown Miami. I got to join 70,000 of my closest friends dancing in front of the massive stage beneath the Miami skyline.