Nevadan at Work: Arena worker climbs ladder to be executive director

In 1991, Mike Newcomb received a phone call that changed his life. A buddy called and asked whether he wanted to work security at a Buster Douglas boxing match at The Mirage.

It was Newcomb’s first job working sports at a venue.

He took the gig and was hooked. Newcomb began working security for Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Staff Pro. Five years later, he drew his second big break.

In 1996, Newcomb took on a new job — overseeing traffic control and parking at Thomas & Mack Center on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus.

From those humble roots, the 6-foot-3-inch affable arena worker from Connecticut ascended the career ladder to its highest perch — executive director of Thomas & Mack Center, Cox Pavillion and Sam Boyd Stadium.

The three UNLV venues are active about 200 days a year, staging an assortment of events at the arena, ranging from the National Finals Rodeo to the current NBA Summer League, which began Friday and runs through July 22. The NBA Summer League has 22 teams playing 61 games and is expected to draw 50,000 people, including players, coaches, agents, owners, general managers, scouts and fans.

Newcomb oversees a $27 million annual budget, which he said generates a net of about $5 million to $7 million a year.

The arena’s bread and butter are UNLV Rebels sports events such as men’s basketball games; national rodeos, and family events such as Disney on Ice and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Besides hosting Rebels football games, Sam Boyd Stadium is home to rugby, motor sports and soccer matches.

The days of attracting a lot of big-time concerts are over for 30-year-old Thomas & Mack because acts like Celine Dion have migrated to the Strip.

“We made a big decision that we weren’t going to spend 90 percent of our time for 10 percent of our bottom line,” Newcomb said.

The married father of two daughters moved up the management ranks by getting involved in event management at Thomas & Mack after working on arena parking and traffic. He learned the art of promoting and booking events under Daren Libonati, the arena’s former director.

Newcomb began talking to agents and bands, and started cutting deals on contracts and settlements.

That type of nuts-and-bolts event work gave him the chops to rise to interim executive director in May 2011 and then permanent executive director in October 2011.

Question: What is the challenge of keeping and drawing new acts and content to an arena in an ultra-competitive event market such as Las Vegas?

Answer: Developing new content is always a tough task. We are lucky enough here to operate three different and unique venues all of different sizes so we can accommodate many different and diverse events. In this incredibly competitive market of Las Vegas you always have to be out in front and always trying to create new streams of revenue and keep your turnstiles turning.

Question: What will be the impact of MGM Resorts International’s planned 20,000-seat arena on the Thomas & Mack Center?

Answer: The new MGM property will be a great addition to our city and will be very busy. This November will mark our 30th anniversary and over those years we have had to compete with many new venues being built around town. I think our philosophy and plan has always been and will continue to be to develop our core events and maximize their profitability and continue to pursue events that fit our business model.

Question: What are the best things about watching an event at Thomas & Mack?

Answer: The Thomas & Mack Center has some of the best sight lines for all events. Being an older building, the seating was built at a nice steep angle that puts you right in the action. Another great thing about attending an event here is the cleanliness of the building and the great service from our staff. We operate our own ticketing company, in-house food and beverage and all in-house staffing so we are able to provide a good level of customer service.

Question: If you had a magic wand, what fan experience improvement would you do first at Thomas & Mack?

Answer: Being an older building, there are several things that would be great to have. Increased size of the concourse would be great for our guests; additional restrooms; new, improved seating. All in all Thomas & Mack is a great place to view an event and being able to add small, modernized touches to improve the fan experience would be great.

Question: What type of new events is UNLV trying to attract to the arena and stadium?

Answer: We are always looking for new content in our venues. We love events that we can be a part of at the beginning and partner to grow them. Over the years we have been lucky enough to work with partners like Feld Entertainment in growing their motorsports events to where they are sold out each year. USA Sevens Rugby has been with us for four years and has continued to grow. Those are all types of annual events that are key to our success.

Question: Why is it so crucial for business for UNLV to control the ticketing and food/beverage at your venues?

Answer: Operating our own food and beverage and ticketing gives us great control of those revenues as well as the operation itself. Operating our own food and beverage gives us control over menu items, quality of staff, prices and control of the overall presentation and plan. Operating our own ticketing not only provides increased revenues and control over operations, we are also able to provide free local advertising in print, TV, outdoor and radio to all our promoters through all the marketing we do for UNLVtickets. This is a great benefit and a cost savings for all our promoters.

Contact reporter Alan Snel at asnel@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273.