Top 5 Things We Learned About Compensation, Salespeople and Their Managers

by Kirk Wakefield – May 2014

The State of the Sports Sales Industry Survey

With your help responding to the S3 Sales Report survey in December (N = 328) and the help of the NBA & Murray Cohn in surveying inside sales and account reps in the NBA and WNBA (N = 391), we gained a better understanding of the relationship between salespeople, their managers, and their performance. Here are the top 5 things we learned, along with average salaries at various ticket sales positions.

#1 Show us a team with a bad ethical culture and we’ll show you some unhappy salespeople.

In the sales culture, and maybe just culture in general, so much is about “show me the money.” But, guess what? The numbers don’t lie when it comes to job satisfaction. The ethical climate has at least twice as much influence on a salesperson’s job satisfaction compared to how much the sales rep earns on an annual basis. There is a correlation between compensation and job satisfaction; it’s just that money doesn’t tell us as much as knowing the culture of the sales organization.

#2 Sales professionals in sports are pretty smart.

If obtaining a bachelors or masters degree is any indicator of intellectual capabilities, then it looks like we’re a pretty smart bunch. In the U.S., only 36.6% have college degrees and another 11.6% have masters. What about salespeople in sports?

Over 81% of the S3 Report respondents, and more than 86% of NBA/WNBA salespeople, have college degrees. Among S3 Report respondents, another 15% have graduate degrees, along with 8% of NBA salespeople with advanced degrees. Together, we can say that about 95% of the sales force in sports are staying in school to graduate before making the jump to the pros.

#3  Winning isn’t everything. In fact, maybe not anything.

When it comes to what really determines who makes the most money, it’s not whether or not you’re selling the hot team. It’s not even market size. In fact, looking at the NBA data across all teams, the team’s won/loss record and the size of the team’s market together determine less than 20% (i.e., 19.6%) of salespeople’s total compensation. That means 80% of a rep’s compensation is determined by the organization and the individual.

  • The amount of commission one can make is influenced a bit more by market size & won/loss record (26.3%). But, that still means about 3/4ths of commissions earned is up to the team and reps.
  • Interesting fact: Because W/L record is correlated with market size, the team’s record has very little effect on compensation once we account for market size.

#4 The only selling time that correlates with greater commissions is face-to-face.

We measured what proportion of selling time NBA  reps spent on the phone (65%), email (21.5%), chat/text (3%), social media (1.4%), and face-to-face (8.6%). The only activity that significantly increases commissions is face-to-face. Of course, we can argue that the other activities lead to appointments; but, the point is that personal contact is king.

#5 Once established, compensation in sports sales is competitive.

The current practice of hiring into inside sales to smile & dial as a proving ground may be shifting as more teams move toward more effective and efficient selling with sales analytics and CRM-based messaging and marketing strategies.  But, in the mean time, we can see teams are able to attract able bodied candidates with compensation levels markedly below starting salaries of sales & marketing graduates working in other industries ($51,900). That said, once promoted to an AE position, prospects begin looking up.

The data below is based on data from salespeople and managers primarily representing MLB, NHL & NFL teams, supplemented by the data from entry-level sales reps of 25 NBA teams. We did not receive enough information from collegiate sports sales reps to represent that growing market of potential sales jobs.


Average Compensation for Sales Positions in Professional Sports
Average Compensation for Sales Positions in Professional Sports (December 2013)


Wait ’til next year!

Thanks again to Murray Cohn and the NBA in collaborating on this study. We also thank our friends across the leagues who independently responded to our first annual state of the sales industry survey. In our next round (December 2014), we would like to gain more involvement at the league level and collegiate level so that we could reliably represent average salaries across each league and level, as well as dig deeper into what motivates and accelerates salespeople’s performance.


Cover photo courtesy of  Barry Yanowitz.


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