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FROM THE TOP WITH LEE ZEIDMAN
The first person ever hired for
STAPLES Center,now the
President of the arena,as well as
MicrosoftTheater and L.A.LIVE,
shines light on his seven keys for
leadership,his public recognition
of staff,and his management of
operations for an entire campus
that now includes the arena,two
hotels,three music venues,19
restaurants,and much more.
For those who may not know you Lee, tell us a
little about your career path.
In the early days, I worked for three uni-
versities – Cal State Northridge, UCLA, and
UC Santa Barbara. I actually started out in
operations. Then I got into concert book-
ing and a little marketing. My first break
was running the 6,000-seat event center on
the University of California, Santa Barbara’s
campus. And from there, I was selected as
Director of Operations at The Forum, where
I spent ten years.
Did you go to college in California?
I graduated from Cal State Northridge
with a BA in Psychology and a BS in Com-
Did you know that you wanted to go into sports
and entertainment from the beginning?
Nope, I had no idea. I was originally go-
ing to be a marriage counselor.But my grades
were so bad that I couldn’t get into any grad-
I played football and baseball in high
school. I had a couple of scholarships, and I
originally wanted to be a professional base-
ball player, but that didn’t work out either. As
I was trying to figure out what I was doing,
I was working in a bowling alley. So after I
got a degree in psychology with nothing to
do with it, I walked over to the commercial
rec department, and they put me in charge of
this outdoor backpack rental business. Then
they gave me the opportunity to book enter-
tainment in the campus pubs, and I created
what was called ‘Wednesday Night Live’,
which was a highly successful rock and roll
night.That kind of got me into facilities and
entertainment, and from there, it just grew.
From an operations perspective, how would you
describe your leadership style?
I try to instill seven things as it relates
to my leadership style. First of all, I’m very
open, honest, and direct. There are certain
things I like to instill in my direct reports,
one of which is confidence because I believe
you need to have the confidence to not only
perform your job but to make your decisions.
You need to be adaptive because in this
business, adaptability is key. Each day is dif-
ferent, each incident is different, and each
event is different. You need to be decisive
and able to vet the situation, gather all the
research, and educate yourself to be able to
make decisions. I like people who are direct.
There’s no reason for us to sit, beat around
the bush, and talk about ‘what-ifs’. Give me
the facts, tell me what we want to do, tell me
what you want to do,and then we’ll make the
decision and go from there.
The fifth thing that I try to instill is col-
laboration. There are over 4,000 people that
work on this entire campus, and I need them
all to collaborate because I want this campus
“There are over 4,000 people
that work on this entire
campus, and I need them
all to collaborate because I
want this campus to be one-
to be one-stop shopping.
My next point is trust. I need people who
are trustworthy, who are honest, who are eth-
ical, and can impart that upon their employ-
ees. I believe first and foremost that if you lie,
you’re going to get caught. At one point or
another, you’re going to take a kickback or
you’re going to piss somebody off,and they’re
going to expose you. So I don’t believe in ly-
ing, and I don’t believe in beating around the
bush. I believe in getting to the point, figur-
ing it out, and making the decision.
And the last thing I preach is that every-
thing we do in this business is a coachable or
teachable moment, regardless of whether it’s
good or it’s bad. We should take advantage
of those moments regardless of whether it’s
our usher, our housekeeper, our line cook, or
our cashier.So I believe in those seven things.
They are the seven chapters of the book of
Lee, I guess you could say.
That’s a healthy mantra. Your last point, coach-
able and teachable, does it apply even at the top?
How do you personally abide by a philosophy of
Well, I believe that within any organiza-
tion, regardless of how far down the chain
or how far up the chain you are, you need to
become a sponge and educate yourself about
Market Staple: Industry veteran Lee Zeidman has been a part of the AEG team in L.A. LIVE since its inception and has been essential
to the growth of business at STAPLES Center and throughout the entire campus.
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everything possible within that organization.
For two reasons. One, if you’re down the
chain, you never know when the organiza-
tion is going to look to hire up the chain,and
we do look to promote from within. If you
know a little bit about marketing, a little bit
about operations, and you’re in sales, you’ve
got a shot at getting that marketing or that
The second thing is you need to educate
yourself, and by educate, I mean you need to
do the research on who’s in the organization,
who makes up the organization, what their
styles are, how you interact with them, and
understand why they make the decisions that
they do. And once you have all of that, you
need to not be afraid to make decisions or
suggestions to those up or down the chain.
I don’t know it all, and I never go into a
meeting with a clear-cut view of ‘This is ex-
actly what we’re going to do.’I’ve worked for
people who used to do that, and it was like
‘What difference does it make what I think?
You’ve already made your decision.’
I look for consensus. I’m not right all the
time.I’ll put out the direction that I think we
should go in, and then I’ll open it up to be
When you shared your seven truths, you talked
about instilling confidence. How do you instill
confidence in your employees and make them feel
empowered to excel?
First of all, you need to recognize them.
We’re big on recognition here. Not only for
upper management, but for the ticket takers,
the guest services providers, and the house-
keepers. We have programs where these
people are acknowledged in front of our four
tenants on the court or on the ice.
We’ve got a program called ‘Lee Bucks,’
which is this denomination of bills with my
photo on them that are given out on a night-
ly basis. Managers carry them around, and
when you do something above and beyond
the position, you’re rewarded with a certain
amount of Lee Bucks. You can use [Lee
Bucks] for food and beverage, merchandise,
or tickets within the venue.
Do you have a personal stash of Lee Bucks?
I do have a personal stash of Lee Bucks,
and I carry them around with me every night
as I walk the building.I watch the employees
and see what they do and how they interact.
FROM THE TOP WITH LEE ZEIDMAN
Where do you source your employee talent?
I’m pretty fortunate. I’ve got 16 direct re-
ports, and I’d say 12 of them have been with
me since we opened the building. Now you
could either say I’m a great guy to work for,
which I hope is true, or that it’s a great venue
and a great campus to work at.
I believe there are a couple of other reasons
as well. I am a big believer in work-lifestyle
balance. You need to figure out when you
need to be here and when you need to be with
your family.I tell people to not work as much
as I work and to not even try to work as much
as I work. I’m single. I don’t have a family, so
I don’t have to worry about that.I’ve got a cat,
and my cat understands.
I’ve also been very fortunate within AEG
to be able to promote those people along the
way, as I’ve been promoted. So these 12 of
16 people, they’re not in the same positions
that they were first hired in. They’ve been
promoted throughout.These people could be
GM’s all over the country in arenas, conven-
tion centers,and stadiums,but they’ve chosen
to stay here in Southern California and work
at an iconic venue and one of the first-ever
entertainment campuses that’s ever been de-
veloped in the world.
How long have you been with AEG?
I was the first person hired for STAPLES
Center. So I’ve seen everything here at L.A.
Live be built and grow.I was part of the team
that designed, developed, and built STA-
PLES Center. I did the same thing for what
was known at that time as the Home Depot
Center, now the StubHub Center, as well as
Microsoft Theater,which was the Nokia The-
atre.I’ve also assisted with opening up our in-
ternational venues – the O2 in London and
the O2 in Berlin.
In that breadth of experience,what is your proud-
When it’s all said and done and I hang up
my keys, I think the proudest thing that I’m
going to remember is that I was part of the
team that helped revitalize downtown Los
Angeles. Without the success of STAPLES
Center, L.A. Live would have never been
“I look for consensus. I’m not right all the time. I’ll put
out the direction that I think we should go in, and then
I’ll open it up to be picked apart.”
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FROM THE TOP WITH LEE ZEIDMAN
built.All these new hotels,all this new devel-
opment would have never happened.I believe
that my legacy will be that I was part of the
team that helped design,develop,and revital-
ize Los Angeles because no one ever came
to downtown LA before STAPLES Center.
L.A. Live has certainly become a successful case
study for others to follow who are also building
entertainment districts. What are its components
that make the district great?
L.A. Live is unique. We decided that we
weren’t going to put any retail in there be-
cause we didn’t feel that we needed it. We’ve
built it with 19 restaurants, two world-class
hotels, a 14-screen Regal Cinemas, a Lucky
Strike bowling center, and three music ven-
ues, all complementing STAPLES Center.
If you’re a person coming here for a week-
end to spend some time at a show at STA-
PLES Center, you don’t need wheels. We’ve
got everything here. You can walk to any
restaurant you want, you can see movies, you
can see world-class sports,you can see world-
class music, you can bowl, and you can go to
the GRAMMY Museum, which is one of
the best interactive museums that I’ve ever
seen built. So there’s a plethora of things to
do here without ever having to leave.
What’s it like managing all of those operations?
It’s exciting because each day is different.
You could have a show at Microsoft Theater,
and STAPLES Center will be dark but all the
restaurants will be full. You could do a show
at the club and still have the restaurants full.
There are so many things that take place
in our Microsoft Plaza. We do eight of the
biggest awards shows here at Microsoft The-
ater – the Emmy’s, the ESPY’s, the Ameri-
can Music Awards, the MTV Music Video
Awards,the People’s Choice Awards,and the
BET Awards. So there’s just a dynamic and
diverse schedule for such a diverse audience.
Based on all of your experience that you’ve just
described, do you have any wise words for the in-
dustry? What do you see today in the sports and
entertainment that you like or dislike?
As it relates to music, I would say we’re
probably in a crowded marketplace.There are
a tremendous number of venues springing up
all over the country, and I’m not sure there’s
enough content for all these venues. I think
that’s one of the biggest things that needs to
be addressed.The second thing is ticketing.Is
it exclusive, or is it not exclusive? That needs
to be determined. Is it the European model
versus the domestic model? Somewhere
along the line, that needs to be looked at as
As it relates to sports, there are too many
incidents off the ice,off the field,off the court
that are giving potential black eyes to the var-
ious leagues. And I think somewhere along
the line, there needs to be programs similar
to what the Kings have started this year as it
relates to domestic violence, substance abuse,
and partnering up with various outside orga-
nizations to teach these young kids coming
out of college, who are all of a sudden mak-
ing a tremendous amount of money,the right
way to do it.
And the last thing I’d like to see is more
sportsmanship in sports. I’d like to see what
hockey does after every playoff series where
they line up and shake hands.There needs to
be more of that in every sports league.
To learn more about the DraftKings Fantasy
Sports Bar & Entertainment Lounge at STA-
PLES Center, turn to page 114.
Left: Lee shares a drink with Eric Church during the country music star’s stop at STAPLES Center duringThe OutsidersWorldTour.
Right: Lee meets withTaylor Swift who performed five sold-out concerts at STAPLES Center in 2015. She now has a total of 16 STAPLES sellouts, the most all-time at the L.A. LIVE arena for any one artist.
“I am a big believer in
You need to figure out
when you need to be here
and when you need to be
with your family.”