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State worker swapped use of Sox skybox for Lollapalooza passes

Fans listen move sounds Daedelus Perry's Stage Sunday August 7 2011 during day three LollapaloozGrant Park. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Fans listen and move to the sounds of Daedelus at Perry's Stage Sunday August 7, 2011 during day three of Lollapalooza in Grant Park. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 8, 2012 12:10PM

It was another lopsided trade involving the New York Yankees — but rather than just leaving White Sox fans grumbling, this one has landed a state worker in hot water.

Eric Stefancic — marketing director for the state agency that owns U.S. Cellular Field — gave the promoters of the Lollapalooza music festival free use of a state-owned skybox, seating 60, with half-price food and drinks, when the Yankees played the White Sox on Aug. 1, four days before the festival’s opening.

After the promoters, C3 Presents, took him up on his offer, Stefancic emailed back a request for “10-12” free, three-day passes to the sold-out music festival in Grant Park.

“Can I trade you the game tickets for some 3-day passes?” Stefancic asked in a July 19 email to Jaclyn Mayer, an assistant to C3 partner Charlie Jones, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.

He got them, the records show.

Lollapalooza sold “regular,” non-VIP three-day passes to the festival this year for $215 apiece.

“You have to wonder why [Stefancic] did that,” says former Gov. James R. Thompson, who was chairman of the state agency’s board until July 18, when Gov. Pat Quinn replaced him with former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr. “It sounds like an effort on his part to get the stadium on good terms with the concert promoter. But asking for tickets in return for that would raise questions in my mind.”

Now, Stefancic’s employer, the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, is investigating Stefancic and the ticket swap.

Stefancic, 36, whose state job pays him $61,398 a year, didn’t return calls seeking comment.

In an email Nov. 10 to the authority’s chief financial officer, Dana Phillips Goodum, Stefancic says he was hoping to get C3 interested in bringing concerts to Sox park.

“The purpose of this invite was to market the venue directly to one of the premier concert promoters in the world,” Stefancic wrote. “I invited the group to a game so that they could see the park in full operation with a near-capacity crowd. Likewise, I requested tickets (at no cost to the authority) to Lollapalooza so that I could observe C3’s concert setup/operations and generate ideas/concepts for additional ways to market U.S. Cellular and generate additional revenue opportunities.”

Illinois law bars state employees from soliciting gifts from companies their agency is trying to do business with.

Stefancic didn’t talk with his bosses or authority board members before asking for the Lollapalooza passes, according to knowledgeable sources.

The scrutiny now being given to Stefancic’s ticket swap puts a spotlight on how the Sports Facilities Authority decides who gets to use its two skyboxes at U.S. Cellular — one a 30-seat suite near home plate, the other a 60-seat suite near the right-field foul pole.

Usually, the authority’s six paid employees and seven unpaid board members get dibs on Sox games featuring the most popular opponents. Charities are given the suites for slightly more than half of all Sox games.

Authority board members and employees pay for their food and drinks, but they get a 50 percent discount from the stadium’s caterer, Levy Restaurants.

The authority’s smaller suite, behind home plate, was used for all but three Sox games this past season. The bigger suite — the one Stefancic provided to Lollapalooza’s promoters — was used for just 14 games this year.

C3 has staged Lollapalooza in Grant Park for the past seven years. The promoters declined a request for an interview but, in a written statement, said: “We . . . are always seeking active partners for current projects, as well as partners and locations for future events. We extend professional courtesies around the globe, and, in turn, we are extended the same courtesies.”

When it landed its current, 10-year deal with the Chicago Park District to hold Lollapalooza in Grant Park, C3 was represented by Mark Vanecko, a nephew of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley. Another Daley nephew, Peter Q. Thompson, was a member of the Illinois Sports Facility Authority board until last month. Neither Daley nephew was involved in Stefancic’s deal with C3, according to sources.

The authority has had a hard time attracting concerts to U.S. Cellular Field. Promoters looking for a big venue usually opt for the United Center, Soldier Field or Wrigley Field. U.S. Cellular hasn’t hosted a concert since Bruce Springsteen played there in 2003.

“We’re on the bottom rung of concert venues,” former Gov. Thompson says. “If we were able to get more concerts, it would mean more revenue for the authority, which means more money for the ballpark.”

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