Edward Rausch is the COO of Vet Tix. (Photo by Pablo Robles)

By Connor Dziawura

Veteran Tickets Foundation set its own records in the first quarter of 2019.

Also known as Vet Tix, the nonprofit that provides event tickets to all branches of current military and veterans, as well as families of those killed in action, had been gaining momentum up through the early part of 2020.

“We did better in those three months (Q1 2019) than we had in any previous year in those three months,” explains Edward Rausch, COO of Vet Tix. “In 2020, up through the middle of March, we were on pace to increase year over by another 60%.”

The Tempe organization, which was founded in 2008 and partners with sports teams, leagues, promoters, organizations, venues and ticket holders across the nation to acquire free tickets for veterans to request, was nearing its 10 millionth ticket in the early part of 2020.

Then COVID-19 hit. Of all the industries impacted, the events world was hit especially hard, making Vet Tix the next domino to fall.

At first, Rausch thought it would be temporary, maybe lasting a month or few.

It’s now fall, and many events are still halted. Rausch says the organization is down nearly 99% year over year, not to mention being forced to reduce its overhead costs by more than 75%, including furloughs and salary cuts.

“It’s been a deep impact,” Rausch says. “Vet Tix, as an organization, we learned early on that you really couldn’t count on grants and funding from other sources. We really needed to figure out a way to be self-sufficient—so we had been for quite a while, but it was all dependent on there actually being live events and tickets flowing through the system.

“It gave us the ability to charge a small delivery fee (to receive tickets) that helped us maintain and be able to stay relevant and operational and create salaries for people that were giving so much time and spending so much time actually cultivating these relationships with our partners and these donors. Without live events, that all dried up, and so now we’re trying to figure out other ways to maintain and stay relevant, stay operational.”

That’s where Support Vet Tix 2020 comes in. Scheduled to air from 2 to 6 p.m. EST Saturday, November 21, the free virtual online event will tell the nonprofit’s story and mission; feature donors, partners and past ticket recipients, called “VetTixers”; and include entertainment. Rausch could only confirm Trans-Siberian Orchestra as well as Tommy Shaw and Styx for entertainers; others are still in the works and, consequently, under wraps, he says.

Event sponsors include Live Nation, the Baltimore Ravens, the Goodyear Cotton Bowl and iHeartMedia. The event is co-produced by Heather Rausch and JoAnn Holland.

Donations are welcome at vettix.org/c/supportvettix. For more information on programming or sponsorships, contact events@vettix.org.

Vet Tix is about bringing families together and creating memories, Rausch says.

“We’ve always found that when we do things, if it’s the right course of action, that things just tend to fall into place; and that’s what’s happened here with this, is we’ve started moving down this path and we’ve started getting some support from some of our great donors and we’re starting to get some content and buy-in,” Rausch says.

“We find that not only is it the VetTixers that miss being able to get the tickets to these events and spend quality family time together but it’s the venues and the organizations and the donors themselves that miss being able to have them attend and give back and say ‘thank you.’”

As far as returning to normal operations, Rausch is hopeful.

“For us, it would mean a lot to get to 2021. We anticipate that the concert season will come back and maybe be twice as robust this year,” he says, acknowledging the pandemic’s impact on everything from concerts to sports. “We anticipate starting up again late March/early April this next year.”

In the meantime, Rausch says Vet Tix has dipped its toes into providing tickets to virtual events in recent months, but the focus has been behind the scenes. That includes partnerships with various major ticketing platforms as well as software improvements and automation to allow the organization to handle more tickets without error and in wider windows.

“It’s just been kind of a pivot,” he says. “We knew that there weren’t really going to be much in the way of live events. There started to be some online, virtual-type stuff—concerts and comedy shows and things like that—so we’ve gone that direction and we’ve been able to offer some of that to our folks.

“But again, without there really being fans in attendance, the focus was cleaning out the software on the back end, making sure that our systems were really dialed in, and that’s been a big focus, because we did want to come out of this and be ready to hit the ground running.”

Support Vet Tix 2020, 2 to 6 p.m. EST Saturday, November 21, vettix.org/c/supportvettix, free.