Smith grew up in Davenport, Iowa and attended the University of Iowa, landing his first job in the live entertainment industry marketing and booking shows at the Columbus (Georgia) Civic Center Arena. Smith joined Ticketmaster in 2003 covering the Alabama region and was promoted to chief operating officer in 2010, the same year the company finalized its merger with Live Nation. In 2013, Smith was promoted president.
“I always believed I had a unique perspective on what we needed to do because I had spent my early years so close to our customers. By the time I was in a position to have more influence over the strategy, I had great confidence that I knew what our clients wanted,” Smith tells Billboard.
Smith took the reins of the company three years after the Department of Justice instituted a consent decree after the merger with Live Nation, barring Ticketmaster from retaliating against venues and promoters who opted to go with a competitor for ticketing. Late last year, the DOJ cited about a half-dozen violations over a ten-year period and extended the consent decree through 2025, while also acknowledging that the vast majority of transactions at Ticketmaster were compliant with the decree.
Smith also weathered a number of controversies, like when an undercover Canadian journalist secretly taped a Ticketmaster employee bragging about the ability to upload tickets onto the secondary market (which broke Ticketmaster’s own rules) and has drawn the ire of politicians in both political parties. But despite the criticism and ongoing monitoring by the DOJ, the company has thrived while many of its competitors have stumbled to gain market share or take advantage of the favorable conditions set in place by the government.
Smith said he had three primary goals when he took the reins of the company. First, “to further cement a customer-centric focus – both our clients as well as consumers.”
Looking back on that goal now, he tells Billboard “ultimately time will tell but I’m certainly very proud of the culture we cultivated. We have some of the most dedicated, mission-driven people in the industry and that shows in their approach and interactions with their clients and fans.”
His second initiative was to “build a world-class leadership team with expertise from outside the industry to complement the amazing institutional knowledge the company already possessed,” while his third goal was to “get back to the company’s rich legacy of driving innovation and change in the industry through technology.”
Grading himself, he tells Billboard, “I’m biased but I think we have assembled an incredible group of proven leaders from leading companies in a variety of industries who care deeply about our industry and our mission.” As for his third goal, Smith says “we’ve had some success in getting a good number of impactful new products to market. If you look at what we’ve delivered, from industry leading marketing, pricing and analytics tools to next generation digital ticketing technologies, we’ve built a foundation of what a safer and more personalized live event experience can – and now needs to be – when we return to venues after the pandemic.”
Smith said he’s been in discussions with Rapino about “putting a succession plan in place for some time now. It’s been an amazing run, and I have this company to thank for my entire career, but after that much time, I had begun thinking through what the next challenge for me might look like.”
Last month, as part of the transition, Smith was promoted to global chairman, Mark Yovich became president of Ticketmaster’s global business (he had previously served as Ticketmaster’s international president) and chief operating officer and Amy Howe, president, North America, will become global chief operating officer, Billboard has learned.
“After navigating through the initial chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the business, we started talking through some of the changes we would need to make during and ater the pandemic and it really made the most sense to start that transition now and give Michael, Mark and the rest of the team the space to do that,” Smith tells Billboard.
“(Rapino) really is an amazing leader and I count myself very lucky for having had a chance to work for him all this time,” Smith tells Billboard. “I have learned countless lessons from seeing him do his thing up close. His ability to set a vision, develop the strategy and get people to execute around that strategy is second to none and you see it in what Live Nation has become. I’m fortunate he gave me a chance and invested in helping me develop as a leader.
Smith says he’s hopeful for the future of live entertainment, noting that while the pandemic “has been absolutely devastating,” history shows that “out of some of the most disruptive moments comes opportunity, and I don’t think this will be any different. Just as a foundation, it will dramatically accelerate the transition to digital, identity-based ticketing and event attendance. What would have taken years will now happen virtually all at once and as we have been talking about for some time, that will change everything. It will give teams and artists more control over their ticket rights, make it easier for them to get tickets directly into the hands of their fans, increase distribution without loss of visibility, reduce fraud and protect consumers, all while providing the tools to make event day more seamless, safe, and personalized. It really is a step-function change from which many other good things will come.”
The hardest part of the pandemic, he says, “is to see so many of our colleagues, partners, clients, and competitors alike go through this type of experience,” and lead to the toughest moments of his career. “And the fact that the entire industry is dealing with it equally means so many impacted folks are having an even harder time finding the next opportunity. That being said, this is a resilient industry with amazing people. The sense of collaboration and innovation that we’ve seen from industry leaders across music and sports has been tremendous. And the one thing I am certain of now, more than ever, is that live experiences are a human necessity. It’s in our DNA, we yearn for it and we can’t wait to have it back. So when things do re-open, which is just a matter of time, I believe you’re going to see an explosion of pent-up demand that will fuel the next wave of growth for our industry. I am 100 percent certain of that.”