We’ve all experienced the nightmarish scenario of going down to the Sports Complex on a day where more than one venue has been billed for events at nearly the same time. In recent history, the Phillies playoffs and Eagles games on Sunday nights come to mind almost instantly. But, imagine a situation where a sporting event is going head-to-head against a concert. But not just any concert – a concert featuring Michael Jackson - in 1984.
This was one of many situations that had the city, the Wilson Goode administration, The Phillies, and the concert promoters – Bill Sullivan and Don King – at odds until that fateful weekend in 1984.
Phillies v. Michael Jackson
Initially, Philadelphia wasn’t slated as a tour stop for the Jackson’s Victory Tour. That soon all changed when former Eagles owner Leonard Tose called Bill Sullivan in June of 1984. Sullivan (also owner of the New England Patriots) was referred to Mayor Goode, where they brokered a deal on July 5th, that would bring Jackson to Philadelphia on October 5th – 7th. Sullivan wasn’t satisfied with the October dates, in an outdoor stadium, on the East Coast. He thought that it would be best for the tour if they arrived in Philadelphia to have three concerts on Labor Day weekend. What should have been an early sign of the concerts poor management, he wanted to make the change despite having dates already booked in Buffalo during Labor Day. The city agreed in principle to the change. But, there remained a problem – a huge problem.
Back in those days, the Phillies had exclusive rights for use of the Sports Complex. The Phillies would be in the midst of an eight game home stand from August 27th through September 4th with two night games on Labor Day weekend both Saturday and Monday. There wasn’t going to be a concert if the Phillies didn’t want one happening in contrast to their games during these dates. While the city was prepping itself for the Jackson-mania, the Phillies Executive Vice President David Montgomery showed no intention for letting the show go on as of August 17th.
“I don’t think having events at both places would be a desirable thing… …We’d hope the city would not schedule a conflict with our games.”
Montgomery had reason for concern. The Phillies were expecting at least 30,000 people over the weekend to attend each game. The Jackson’s concerts expected 60,000. Parking would be at a premium for the baseball games as the Phillies would begin a series with the National League East leading Cubs that Monday. Also, there was a WWF house show on September 1st.
Phillies owner Bill Giles saw the possibility of a public relations backlash if they prohibited the city’s plan of allowing the Jackson’s duality of the Sports Complex on Labor Day weekend.
“We are trying to work out something where we are not hurt and at the same time allow the city to do what they want. We don’t want Michael Jackson fans mad at us. We’re trying to make everyone happy.”
On August 21st the Phillies relented and the concert was set for Labor Day weekend. The Phillies would adjust their schedule by making their 7 pm game on Friday against the Giants a 6 pm start while moving the Cubs game that Monday from the night to afternoon. Saturday night’s game remained unchanged.
Why did the Phillies decide to play nice with Sullivan and Mayor Goode?
They received 22,000 tickets to sell in conjunction with their own tickets as part of a ticket package that weekend. The Phils cited accessibility and to ease crowd control measures as their motivation to couple the sale of the events together. According to ticket director Richard Deats, the club sold 8,000-9,000 Giants/Jackson tickets, dubbed ‘Phils and Thrills’, and planned to sell the remaining $29.75 tickets individually to the general public. In the Philadelphia Daily News dated August 31st, Larry Shenk said that the Phillies had less than 1,500 tickets remaining for the concert on Friday night.
If the Phillies thought they could rid themselves of MJ after Labor Day, they were wrong. The Monday show was washed out due to a torrential down pour. The Victory Tour came back to Philadelphia on September 28th and 29th to make up for the canceled show. The Phillies refused to alter any of their game times to accommodate the Jackson’s this time around.
From the Daily News:
[Sullivan Promotions Representative Jim] Murray said tour management does not anticipate a parking lot logjam, even though the Phillies will be playing at Veterans Stadium both nights, the Flyers will be at the Spectrum Sept. 28 and Alvin and Chipmunks will be at the Spectrum Sept. 29. Murray said there were no major problems when concurrent events were scheduled during the previous Jackson’s concerts.
The Phillies will not reschedule their game times, said Phillies spokesman Larry Shenk, nor will they offer concert tickets as they did before. The Phillies are scheduled to play the Pittsburgh Pirates at 8:05 on Sept. 28, and at 7:05 on Sept. 29. The team changed its starting times during the previous Jackson[']s concerts, fearing traffic and parking snarls in the stadium area.
For all the trouble the city and the Phillies went through to allow the Victory Tour to take place, the concerts economic impact on the city were lackluster. The tour promoters would fleece the host city for as much as it could and survived on handouts from municipalities and local businesses. Free hotel rooms, meals, transportation and venue usage. Sullivan touted the spectacle alone would not only make the cities money back but would propel them into a profitable stratosphere. Philadelphia was never in the business of hand outs. They offered the concert a reduced venue rental fee of $25,000 a night which they accepted. On the Phillies end, they sold as many tickets as they could and then returned what they didn’t sell – instant profit with no revenue loss.
From the Daily News on September 4th:
The Phillies didn’t strike out on their stake of Jackson tickets, originally purchased to appease fans who might be angered at game time changes necessitated by the concerts. The team was able to sell (at $29.75) about 13,000 of the original 26,000 tickets purchased from tour promoters. But when the oddball double-header of Phils and Thrills didn’t make it out of the infield, the team was able to return its extra tickets to concert officials, according to Richard Deats, Phillies director of sales.
The city fell short of its profit goals but still made a ‘profit picture’ – a claim most cities couldn’t make. They hoped to make money on primarily through concession sales and parking revenues but their target goals were unrealistic. The Victory Tour posted dismal concession sales, especially food, as concert goers who came with families brought food along with them. The parking costs were $5 for the concert, but at the Phillies request, only $3 when going head to head with a Phillies game. In total, the Jackson’s competed against the Phillies for parking 2 of 3 nights, and then twice again for their make up concerts. Most people had taken the subway.
The Victory Tour was marred by the mismanagement and incompetence of the concert promotion. The Phillies executives were quick to realize that and made the city and the Sullivan promotion jump through hoops in order to get the concert for Labor Day weekend. Wilson Goode and his administration were clouded by dollar signs and were unable to see the financial calamities that Jackson’s tour was leaving in it’s wake. For instance, the Philadelphia dates were announced 11 days prior to the concert! The tour constantly shuffled dates and cities to the point where 11 days notice seemed like 11 months. In the end, the Phillies came out as not only the nice guys for letting the concert go on but they made some scratch off of it too. Conversely, the financial mismanagement to the tour led to Sullivan selling the Patriots in 1988 and was one of the many bombs dropped by Wilson Goode on the city of Philadelphia.