From his Keystone home, Ed Jones organizes events starring some of the biggest names in show business.
By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2002
KEYSTONE -- Before the Indianapolis 500, organizers needed help in putting together the pre-race show, an important venue that whips up excitement for one of the world's supreme automotive tests.
They called in a nationally respected production company named Select Artists Associates, whose list of top executives includes Ed Jones. A Tampa Bay product living in Keystone, Jones is the company's expert visionary. Like a good reconnaissance officer he quickly assessed the strengths, weaknesses and possibilities for the 2000 event.
"I just sat there by myself and you just start to see things," he said. "You try to visualize things that will make the event more appealing. That's my job within the company."
After more than two decades in production, Jones knows how to ply the human spirit with dramatic staging, lights and props and a flawless sense of timing. Without his skills many events would never achieve their peak entertainment value, clients and colleagues say.
Over the years he has rubbed elbows with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood and rock 'n' roll.
Jones, 50, started locally at WUSF-Ch. 16 and the old Channel 44. There -- behind-the-scenes as always -- he ingrained himself into local lore by producing pre-season coverage for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while working with area celebrities, such as original Hooters girl Lynne Austin and rock radio star Ron Diaz. He and others came up with the idea for Hooters Night Owl Theater.
But Jones' reputation transcended Tampa Bay, largely taking hold through his work on the Super Bowl pre-game extravaganzas. After a chance meeting with its president and chief executive officer Charles Johnston, Jones joined the booking firm Select Artists. From there, his career and the fortunes of Select Artists have taken off.
In recent years the company has been hired to stage pre-motorrace events for Clear Channel, a major entertainment company, and Championship Auto Racing Teams, to name just two. The company also handles corporate meetings, such as the last two annual parties for the international investment banking firm Doughty-Hansen, bringing in the likes of Jay Leno, the Pointer Sisters and, two months ago, Willie Nelson.
Its highest profile work occurs every year at the Super Bowl, where Jones' friendship with former Bucs public relations director Bob Best has paid big-time dividends for the business. This year, he accepted a personal offer from a friend to help produce some Olympic events in Salt Lake City.
Jones, from his prominent backstage perch, also has witnessed the surge in pre- and post-game entertainment, a phenomenon that has radically changed sporting events. Simply put, fans are demanding more for their money to compensate for higher ticket prices, Jones said. He and his company give them reasons to enter the ballparks.
Bill Scalzo, director of the Maricopa County Stadium District, hired Arizona-based Select Artists to handle all non-baseball events for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Currently, that is the company's biggest contract. Scalzo said Jones gives him a "sense of security" with his eye for detail.
"When you've got a facility worth $375-million and 40,000 to 45,000 people coming to the stadium, you need somebody you can trust to get the job done," he said. "He's going to get it done."
Putting together major entertainment and pulling it off is "the ultimate challenge," said Jim Steeg, who oversees the Super Bowl as senior vice president of special events for the National Football League. He admires Jones' creativity and reliability.
"You know he's one of those guys who you ask to get something done, (and) he's going to get it done," he said
Says Jones, "We call ourselves a SWAT team. We walk in, shake hands . . . get to work. You won't hear from us unless you have a problem."
Much of his life is spent on the road, where he pitches new contracts and travels from venue to venue for days at a time. Birthdays with his wife, Nancy, a senior vice president at Market Street Mortgage in Clearwater, and two children are rare. He says he is grateful for her patience.
He spends the rest of his time at Lake Keystone in a 66-year-old fishing camp that he and his wife renovated. He keeps an office at one end that opens up to a covered deck and a well-shaded view of the water. For all practical purposes it's the eastern U.S. office for Select Artists.
A mobile phone and an e-mail program are his steady companions as he juggles a stream of messages from clients, prospective clients and employees.
"We got a bunch going on today," Jones said recently while scrolling down a list of e-mails. "We just booked Promise Keepers. Now we're being told it's going to be larger than usual. Yesterday we signed a five-year deal with Durango Mountain Resort (in Colorado).
"After the initial stage of e-mail we get on the phone and visit the place."
Part of the company's success is based on its technical prowess. The company has a specially designed portable stage that can be assembled in 12 minutes, a feat he said no other production outfit can replicate.
Jones thrives on the challenge. Energy never has been a problem. He rarely sits still.
"I can't stay inside very long," he said. "I've got to be moving. And you know something? Everybody with the company's the same way. We're very lucky to have found each other."
Jones grew up in Town 'N Country and Treasure Island but moved back to Tampa when he was 16. Always fond of drawing and photography, he gravitated toward the visual arts at St. Petersburg Junior College. When WUSF hired him as a producer he snapped up the opportunity to attend school for free.
At Channel 44 he relished the artistic freedom that allowed him to explore ideas about lighting and camera angles.
Jones has lived in Keystone for more than 10 years but when the Lake Keystone house went on the market he jumped.
"I grew up on the water, always wanted to get back on the water," he said.
Jones and Johnston recently landed a big contract to arrange a series of concerts at the Sedona Cultural Park complex north of Phoenix, a facility financed by St. Louis Rams owner Georgia Frontiere. They met at the last Super Bowl when Jones and Johnston tracked down a golf cart for her. Calls and a new partnership soon followed.
It's typical of the business domino effect in the industry, he said.
Their resume is full of successes. Jones said that in the production business, Select Artists' word is "golden."
One thumbs up comes from the Buffalo Bills, which hired the company to handle last year's halftime jersey retirement of former team quarterback great Jim Kelly.
"Ed has a really good handle of identifying what the company's goals are," said Marc Honan, the Bills' executive director of marketing. "I think both Ed and Charlie have the ability to create a ceremony around the goals of the organization . . . and to do things a little out of the box."
The 911 terrorist attacks caused a temporary downturn, but business is back to normal again, Jones said. Jones and Johnston flew to Chicago last week, optimistic about winning a multievent contract with Clear Channel.
"We like to stay busy," Jones said. "The harder you work, the luckier you get."