Taking on a new job can be daunting for anyone. But when David Eads was selected as the new CEO of the Tournament of Roses (TOR) in 2016, he was charged with expanding the Rose Parade’s already-massive audience to include more millennials and ensure the popularity of the event for decades to come. 

His first bold step in that direction came in partnering with the humor website Funny Or Die to create “The 2018 Rose Parade Hosted by Cord and Tish,” starring former “Saturday Night Live” stars Will Ferrell, Molly Shannon and Tim Meadows as humorously clueless commentators on the parade. The move proved hugely successful, sparking its return in the 2019 edition, and now Eads is taking things further with a few new additions to the parade.  (Please see a related story on Cord and Tish on page 49)

“We’re very excited to have key entertainment in the opening show of the parade, with our Grand Marshal Chaka Khan making history by being the first one ever to perform in the opening show,” says Eads, who also points out that Leeza Gibbons and Mark Steines will return for their second go-round as the primary parade commentators for KTLA Channel 5. “The opening will also feature Jordan Fisher, who is co-host of ‘Dancing with the Stars: Juniors’ and acted in Broadway’s ‘Hamilton,’ while the closing show will feature new talent Anne Marie from ‘The Voice.’

“We’ve also added a new addition at the end of the parade, with the theme of ‘Where Flowers and Football Meet,’ and will have surprise celebrity guests as we close out that segment,” Eads continues. “We have renowned floral designer Preston Bailey, who has designed our Royal Court float, which is particularly exciting because this year is the 101st anniversary of having a Rose Queen. And with the theme of the parade involving ‘The Melody of Life,’ it’s important for us to weave in a variety of musical acts throughout the parade to show the importance of music in all our lives.”

Eads also advises parade attendees and home viewers to keep an eye out for this year’s float by key sponsor Honda, which is marking its 60th anniversary with the parade by creating “a really spectacular float with an amazing musical performance that will go the entire length of the parade route.”

Eads is also leading the TofR’s efforts to provide entertainment for visiting fans throughout the week prior to the parade and Rose Bowl Game. A study commissioned by the city of Pasadena found that people who come for the Rose Parade stay an average of 5.3 nights, while football fans stay 3.5 nights.

While mainstay events like Bandfest and Equestfest will continue their longstanding traditions, the Tournament is adding a new food and wine tasting event called Sip & Savor in addition to a downtown Los Angeles party called the Rose Bowl Bash.

“In an effort to expand our footprint for the week of the parade and expand our audience in Southern California, Sip & Savor will be new this year,” explains Eads. “It takes place in conjunction with the pre-parade float decorations, inside the Rosemont Pavilion in the Arroyo Seco.

“Guests can watch the float decorating and enjoy themselves with food, wine, craft beers and family entertainment,” says Eads. “People now spend an average of 45 minutes watching the floats get made, but we’re hoping this will double that time, which not only generates more revenue but also gives our sponsors extra chances for people to linger and notice their floats.”

Meanwhile, the Rose Bowl Bash will take place at The Bloc, a public square located on 7th Street between Flower and Grand in Los Angeles. The two-day event will allow Washington fans enjoying entertainment including their school band on Sunday, while Ohio State fans can do the same when their special day hits on Monday.

Eads’ efforts have also included spearheading improved social media promotion of the parade and game, with a free app that launched last year to track all TofR-related events and a live parade program, in both Spanish and English.

“I knew coming into this position that the TofR has a global brand with the parade and game,” says Eads. “They’re terrific entities and my goal was to take something great and make it even greater. The Tournament is composed of 935 volunteers and we estimate they volunteer for 80,000 total hours to make the game and parade a reality, which is astonishing.”