Jerry Seltzer — Roller Derby owner, ticket agency founder — dead at 87

Jerry Seltzer
Jerry Seltzer

BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer

Former longtime Atherton resident Jerry Seltzer, who hoisted Roller Derby into prominence in the 1960s and 70s, and later founded a company that was the precursor to Ticketmaster, has died at age 87.

Seltzer died on Monday (July 1) following complications from pulmonary fibrosis.

Friend Michael Coats said that during Seltzer’s illness, he said he didn’t want anyone to pity him.

“He’s lived more lives than any of us could hope for,” Coats said. “He was bigger than life, that’s for sure. And one of the nicest guys you could ever meet.”

Seltzer’s father, Leo Seltzer, began the sport of roller derby in 1935 in Chicago, when Jerry Seltzer was a toddler.

As Leo Seltzer began to wind down his roller derby operation in 1958, Jerry Seltzer took it over.

When ABC canceled weekly prime time roller derby races, Jerry Seltzer took the sport to KTVU Channel 2 in Oakland. That station aired the races live on Saturday nights and replayed the last hour of a race on Sunday morning, allowing the sport to reach new audiences.

And tapes of the races were sent to stations across the country, broadening the sport’s reach further.

Roller derby in the Bay Area began in an auto shop in Oakland and later moved to the Cow Palace in Daly City.

A major spectator sport

By 1970, roller derby was selling more tickets than the Raiders or 49ers, and nearly the same number as the A’s and Giants, the San Francisco Examiner reported at the time.

But by 1973, Seltzer was winding down the derby business, and shortly after, began BASS, Bay Area Seating Service, the first computerized ticketing company. This allowed for concertgoers and sports fans to buy their tickets over the phone.

“It revolutionized ticketing at the time. Before that you’d have to get tickets at the record store or stadium or box office,” said Coats, who met Seltzer around this time.

From 1983 to 1993, Seltzer was the executive vice president of Ticketmaster. There he created marketing and sales programs and helped the company overtake Ticketron as the dominant ticketing company, Seltzer wrote on his LinkedIn account.

After retiring from Ticketmaster, Seltzer relocated from Atherton to Sonoma, where Seltzer co-founded the Sonoma International Film Festival in 1997.

Philanthropy

In 2008, Seltzer once again re-entered the arena of roller derby, being offered the honorary position as “The Commissioner,” where he would travel to derbies across the country.

Seltzer was a philanthropist and co-founder of the Sonoma International Film Festival.

In 2006, when Seltzer was 74, 70s rocker Steve Miller played at the Sonoma Jazz Plus Festival. After Miller’s performance, Seltzer invited everyone back to his home, where the party lasted until 4 a.m., Coats said, recalling one of his favorite memories with Seltzer.

Seltzer attended Stanford and Northwestern University.

He is survived by his children Steven, Richard and Ellen.

A memorial for Seltzer is being planned, and a celebration of life will occur in the next couple of months.

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