Hail to the Chief

  • Greg Hanrahan, Senior Director of Premium Seating, United Center

He’s the son of a U.S. Congressman. He’s the father of three coming-of-age men. He seems to know everyone in this association, and is willing to help every one of them. He has nine championship rings. He’s sold through many more non-winning seasons. He’s been called the Don Rickles of the ALSD. And now, Greg Hanrahan is also the President of the ALSD.

By Jared Frank, Editorial Director, ALSD

The ALSD has a new President. His name is Greg Hanrahan. You probably know who he is. I’m just saying, even Michael Jordan knows the man.

“This guy knows everybody,” says Brian Bucciarelli, fellow ALSD Board of Directors member and good friend of Hanrahan’s. “He understands the importance and power of leaning on your peers in this industry.”

Greg has been a pillar for industry peers to lean on since before the pillar of our business was even built. He came up through the ranks in the dark ages when (gasp) stadiums and arenas didn’t even have suites. His first gig out of college was selling tickets for commission-only at the old, premium-less Chicago Stadium.

Now the Senior Director of Premium Seating at the United Center, he just attended his 25th ALSD Conference, the only person to attend all 25 shows. The guy just won’t stop showing up, so we finally decided to just appoint him President. Maybe after his term expires, he’ll finally retire.

Perhaps the only thing Greg does better than take a joke (and sell suites) is dish out a friendly jab.

“He’s like Don Rickles with his one-liners,” says Bucciarelli. “I always run out of things to say to come back at the guy. He’s so funny.”

Bucciarelli remembers an episode from the 2000 ALSD Conference in Miami, where Greg and former ALSD President Tom Kaucic were in the lobby bar drinking mojitos.

“When Tom ordered another round,” Bucciarelli recalls, “Greg turned to me and said, ‘Hey Brian, in the minor leagues, do you even know what mojitos are?’ I’ll always remember that line. It was just funny.”

Prior to the ALSD Conference this past July, I sat down with Greg in the concierge lounge at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis. We drank coffee instead of mojitos. Although I suspect he had a few mojitos, or maybe a few glasses of Napa red wine this time, the night before with his pals Brian and Tom. Adorning a freshly minted Chicago Blackhawks polo shirt with a newly sewn patch, reading “2015 Stanley Cup Champions,” Greg, the guy who knows everybody, shared his vision for leading everybody over the next two years, that and a few well-timed one-liners.

...

Winning Stanley Cups never gets old. And it doesn’t hurt sales either. “I don’t have any pity for you when it comes to renewals,” Tom Sheridan, Senior Director of Ticket Sales for the Chicago White Sox, playfully told Greg at this year’s Board of Directors meeting in San Francisco. 2015’s conquest of Lord Stanley’s trophy makes nine championships (six with the Bulls, three with the Blackhawks) for Greg. Now he only needs one more for the thumb, the second thumb that is.

How’s the celebrating been going the past couple of weeks?

It’s unbelievable. This is our third [Stanley Cup] in six years. But if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that you never know if you’re going to get to go back. So you really have to stop a minute and soak it up.

There were two million people total [as part of the entire Blackhawks celebration]. In Soldier Field, there were 80,000 fans. So when we got off the bus and walked in the stadium, all we saw was this sea of red. It was incredible. And I’ll never forget it.

What’s new in your building these days? Do you have your eye towards any renovations right now?

Our ownership is tremendous about putting money back into the building. There’s a $200 million construction project that’s ongoing right now. Part of that project is building two new practice facilities. The Bulls [practice facility] is already finished, the $25 million Advocate Center.

We just broke ground on a five-story building by the Jordan statue [on the east side of the arena]. That east building will incorporate all of our offices, new retail, new box office, new restaurants and bars.

We literally have busloads of people that come every day to see the Jordan statue. It’s like Washington, DC and the National Mall. And they just keep coming. With this [new construction], we’ll be able to stay open all the time for fans to grab a T-shirt or buy tickets.

And once we move our offices, we’ll have all of this prime real estate in the [United Center] by the suite levels. We’re not even sure yet what that’s going to turn into. Right now, it’s a blank canvas.

By 2017, we’re putting in $15-$20 million to redo all of the suites. That’s not just painting and new furniture. We’re putting together a list of what we’ve heard from our customers, what we would like to see, what we’ve seen from conferences, where the future is going, and we’re compiling that list right now to give to the architects. And all of this is privately funded by our owners.

...

Greg and his wife, Caryn, are the proud father of three boys – Casey, Connor, and Kyle. Casey is a recent college graduate, now working in the financial market in Chicago. Connor is currently studying abroad in New Zealand. And Kyle just began his freshman year of school. All three young men are on unique paths, but are connected by a common thread other than their surname.

So all three sons went to Denison University?

Yes. We’ve built a wing at Denison, and it’s a big wing. That’s why I’ll be working for the rest of my life, to pay Denison off.

How does your experience as a young man compare to your sons’?

Totally different. My idea of studying abroad was going to Madison, Wisconsin or Lake Geneva on a weekend. There were those opportunities [like studying abroad], but there’s no way my parents or I had the money to do anything like that. I was just lucky to go to college for four years and not have a huge amount of debt. My parents were fortunate enough to pay for my education, so they helped me there.

I went to Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin, a small school in the Midwest like Denison. I was actually recruited to play basketball there. But I worked on campus. I was big into the fraternity.

So you didn’t get drafted by the Bulls?

No. Ironically, perhaps a foreshadowing for everything, the Bulls decided one year, Michael’s first year and my senior year, to have training camp at Beloit College. So all the guys were on campus. How weird is it that a year later I was working in the front office?

I went through the fall [basketball] program my freshman year, and decided that instead, I really wanted to use my four years to broaden my horizons. But I still played basketball everyday. They had what’s called Noon Brawl, where the kids and the professors would play everyday. Then I would play intramurals at night.

What fraternity were you in?

I was TKE (Tau Kappa Epsilon). If you’re going to go Greek, go TKE (pronounced teek). We are the ninth oldest chapter of the fraternity. We brought it back on campus. Beloit had a tough decade in the ’70s with some of the fraternities. [TKE] was kicked off campus, and they lost their house. We were the first freshmen group to help bring it back.

It wasn’t your rah-rah fraternity. My crazy experience with pledging was going to Chuck’s Bar in Lake Geneva and having a couple beers with the guys.

What are a few of the fondest memories from your hoops career?

I got to go to Taiwan my junior year going into my senior year [of high school] to play for the Illinois Junior Olympic Team. I was very fortunate to play with some great players. But I was just a role player, a backup point guard. We traveled for three weeks. It was tremendous to experience their culture.

Before there was AAU, I played in a camp that was called Five Star. I got invited to play there, at Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania, my junior and senior years. All the top athletes went there. Michael Jordan was even there.

So you had some game.

I was just a slow white guy. But I always guarded the best player. I played some rough D.

How I became a point guard was a weird situation. All my years, I had been a shooting guard. But my junior year, the point guard cut his toe off at a party, and they had to sew it back on. So we lost our point guard, and the coach looked at me and made me our point guard. That was an experience coming in as a junior, starting for the first time, playing a different position. I had a few bad games with turnovers, but overall, we had a great season. And from there, I turned into a point guard.

Did your boys play basketball?

All three went to my high school, Lake Forest High School, so I got to see Casey play basketball. Connor and Kyle played up until their sophomore years, when they went their ways with baseball and lacrosse. But Casey was on the Lake Forest team that was ranked tenth in the state. His team is on the wall of fame of the high school, which I never got to. To see my son on there, especially with basketball, is a very proud moment.

Have you always lived in Chicagoland?

I first grew up in the south suburb called Homewood, Illinois. Then we moved out east to Washington, DC. My dad was a U.S. Congressman. He won in Illinois and moved the family out to DC. For five years, we lived in Potomac, Maryland.

When we moved back, instead of moving back to Homewood in the south suburbs, we moved to the north suburbs and Lake Forest. So I consider Lake Forest my home. I lived there from 8th grade on, and then I brought my family there. It was neat to have my boys go through the same high school and experience some of the same things I did.

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Aside from the obvious, his 29 years of experience in the sports and entertainment industry, Greg also brings a variety of unique leadership qualifications, including 15 years of community service, to the ALSD President’s chair. He’s been an an alderman. He’s worked on planning commissions. He’s chaired his community’s parks and rec board, so he knows how to run a boardroom. All of these bullet points should translate to a stronger ALSD.

What are your thoughts on becoming ALSD President?

I’m very excited. I have the perspective of going to all the conferences over the years. I have a great relationship with a lot of the former Presidents. I know what they put into it. So I just want to keep growing and building upon what they’ve done.

There are great opportunities with the minor leagues and colleges. They’re going to be doing more and more construction, adding more and more premium seating. Where [major league sports] gets all the glamour, they’re going to be doing a lot that we, as an association, can help with.

We had [a balance of major and minor league teams] early on because we were so small. Then as we grew as an association, people started thinking that it was just run by those in [the major league sports]. But that’s not really the case. I want to bring it back to where it was.

I also think that expecting a little more from the board is nothing bad. It’s not just something for us to put on a résumé; it’s about doing something for our group. I think I can help with that.

How has the perception of the association changed over the years?

My old boss called this [conference] a boondoggle. He’d always say, ‘Greg’s going to his boondoggle.’ I used to say, ‘Well at the NBA meetings that you’re going to, you’re playing golf. I’m not playing golf. I’m going to sessions.’ And yeah, there are receptions, but we’re seeing buildings as well. There is education.

This isn’t a boondoggle. What it is is a tremendous opportunity for someone starting their career to network with great people. With the network that I have now, I can pick up the phone and talk to anyone in any league in any job in premium seating. Those relationships are so crucial, and they’re strong because of the association and because of the conference.

Our owners understand the importance [of the association]. Every month, I sit on our ownership committee, so that’s the Wirtz group and the Reinsdorf group, and they’ll say, ‘Hey Greg, you’ve got friends through that ALSD group. Make a call on this, this, and this.’ They know that I’ll get firsthand answers and get the exact information that they want. So I don’t get the boondoggle jokes anymore.

People don’t realize until they’ve been to three or four of these things just how important they are for your job, for your ownership, for your building, for your team, for your university, for your minor league team.

...

It’s easy to see why Greg Hanrahan is in the position that he’s in. He’s direct but open-minded. He can crack the whip or a smile, depending on the situation. A Chicagoan can’t survive in his brand of sales for over 25 years without being able to tell a joke, and tell it well. But he also knows how to communicate honestly and respectfully.

He’s been through nine rings worth of the good times but the bad times as well. He will be the first to tell you that there were days when MJ was around that he put his feet up on his desk, answered the phones, and suites sold themselves. But he’s also sold in the non-Jordan era and when the Blackhawks weren’t winning Cups.

“He’s seen both sides of it,” Bucciarelli says. “So he can speak to putting a sales strategy in place to sell during the rough times, and also how to stay motivated and deliver customer service during the good times. All of that experience will help in putting together tracks for future conferences.”

He adds, “He’s been at every single show for 25 years. Think about all that he’s seen. He knows what we should be doing to continue to grow the conference and membership.”

The profile of Greg Hanrahan, the guy who knows everybody, can be summarized by recounting the time he came to know Brian Bucciarelli. According to Brian, the two clicked from day one. Brian, who is the Director of Corporate Partnerships/Premium for Hershey Entertainment, was never treated like just a “minor league person” by Greg. One sells suites for $40,000 a season in small-town Hershey, Pennsylvania, the other for $400,000 in mega-metropolis Chicago, Illinois. But at the ALSD Conference, the two are equals in Greg’s eyes.

“He made me, a minor league person walking into the major league world, feel comfortable to ask him questions,” remembers Bucciarelli. “When we first met, it was always, ‘How can I help you?’. That’s what I always remember about Greg.”

“But I would love for him not to have another ring,” he continues, “because I won’t hear the end of it at the next conference if he has ten rings.”

Nine rings. 25 years of conferences. One-liners as good as Don Rickles’. And relationships with everyone under the ALSD sun. Introducing our association’s new President, Greg Hanrahan.

Would you like to network with Greg?

ALSD members can find his contact information in the 2015 Summer Issue of SEAT Magazine.

 

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