In the last five years, colleges have started outbound ticket sales centers modeled after professional sports. After spending nearly three and a half years working with the San Francisco 49ers and Legends Premium Sales, I received the opportunity to go back to my alma mater and start an outbound ticket sales center at Baylor University.
I’ve been working the past eight months to develop Baylor’s program. The three important things I have learned so far are (1) create a positive relationship with the ticket office, athletics foundation and marketing department, (2) implement a CRM system to help manage fans more efficiently and (3) hire and lead the right employees.
Create Positive Relationships with Other Departments
The ticket office, athletics foundation and marketing department all work with tickets in a variety of supporting roles. I connected with each department to learn how they work and be able to implement productive changes.
Creating these positive relationships between departments is built on communication. As Matt Rousso, Director of Ticket Sales & Service at the University of Southern California, shares,
“At USC we work closely with our ticket office on all ticketed athletic events leaning on their expertise to help improve overall processes as well as the fan experience. There is no doubt that we will continue to improve our synergies in this respect as our tenure together increases.”
Each department has a variety of objectives, but the overlapping goal is to provide a great customer experience to each fan.
Implement an Effective CRM System
We recently implemented a CRM system that our ticket sales center, ticket office and athletics foundation all access. This helps internal communication so we know what is going on with our fans as we document calls, sync e-mail lists and make notes in the system. The ticket sales center uses CRM to prospect leads and turn them into specific sales opportunities.
Rich Wang, Associate Director of Analytics & Fan Engagement at the Minnesota Vikings, has over eight years of experience in the database world, believes
“having the right information is key in today’s world. CRM provides the level of detail and insights a sales center can act on in real time. Further, CRM can provide data that allows an sales organization to form tangible relationships between existing clients and prospective targets.”
For a CRM system to be a productive tool, every department needs to be involved, and for that to happen you need the right employees.
Build the Right Team
We have taken a methodical approach to building the Baylor ticket sales center. The culture we want to create is one that cultivates talent, but also challenges and pushes. Finding the right candidate can be difficult, so we look for candidates eager to learn, work well in teams and want to be challenged.
Jared Kozinn, Director of Business Development-Premium Seating at the Detroit Lions, has experience building sales teams in the NHL, MLB, & NFL. Jared says he likes to, “look to hire passionate candidates with positive attitudes that want to learn and are open to constructive criticism.”
While finding talent through a variety of sports networks, including the Baylor S3 program and referrals, our sales center is beginning to take shape.
It has and will continue to take some patience to get things where they need to be to make it an overall success. Through positive internal relationships, CRM collaborations with fan experiences, and training the right employees the Baylor Ticket Sales Center is well on its way.
Everywhere we turn these days we are constantly reminded about loyalty. Every business seems to have a rewards program or a loyalty program. Case in point, on a recent shopping trip to the mall I made transactions at four stores and bought lunch. Four out of the five stops asked me to sign up for their loyalty program including the pizza place! All of the locations were offering perks in exchange for my information. As sports teams evolve and start entering in to this very crowded “loyalty” area of the business, we must not lose sight of what makes our industry unique: We already have loyalty with our fans.
Loyalty and pride of our teams is what our customer base is built upon. The connection with our teams and the memories that come from it is the foundation of the wheel that drives us. Our great fans are with us through thick and thin. Realizing this and leveraging this is an important step as we develop our loyalty platforms.
With the LA Kings and LA Galaxy we have started to establish new loyalty programs, and we strive to drive these programs with two key principles.
#1 Be transparent and authentic with goals and message
There is no doubt that the goal of every loyalty program is to gather more information about customers. Learning their habits and info in order to allow us to reach our business goals is an important part of how we can have success. Our mission is to make sure we are open with our fans that our goal is to gather this information to help make their experience better. If we simply just tell them that they will be rewarded if they attend games or buy tickets, we may not see the results we are looking for in this busy “Loyalty” marketplace.
#2 Return the favor to the fans
Through thick and thin our fans are with us and they expect us to be loyal to them. So asking them for their “loyalty” is a slippery slope that can be insulting if framed in the wrong light.
We need to return the favor with great service and experiences. Our goal with our loyalty program is to build upon this fandom and become fans of our customers. We can’t forget where we come from and we need to celebrate and support our fans by giving them experiences that fit their needs. To some people this may just be free items or discounts, to others this may be experiences you can’t buy. Diversity in their choices is important while recognizing them for helping us and updating them on our progress of improving their experiences. As we establish and run our programs these are the key principles we are shooting for to break through the noise of the evolving and growing loyalty marketplace.
After spending more than 8 years in the “Minor Leagues” (4 with Daktronics Sports Marketing and 4 with the Texas Legends), I have learned you can never have a shortage of creative inventory and thinking. This is especially true in a competitive market space where you are up against all the big boys of the NBA, MLB, NHL, and NFL. You must be able to differentiate your property and the value of your brand with new, creative ways to drive value to a brand or sponsor.
Where do you find new premium inventory?
When team owners annually increase revenue goals and you are already sold out of your premium inventory, what do you do? Where do you find new premium inventory that drives enough value to justify a major spend and attract the big sponsors?
Justin Cooper, Director of Group Sales for the Texas Legends suggests, “With major league teams the sponsorship opportunities provided are more black and white, while within the D-League (and other minor league markets), being creative is half the battle. Without creative and outside the box thinking, it’s hard to affect the transactions that big league teams are asking for.”
In my time at the Texas Legends, we have been nothing short or creative with our outside the box thinking. Most times, there is no box.
Creating visibility out of thin air
Case in point, last summer when we were brainstorming with one of our existing sponsors, KIA Motors America and Central KIA dealerships, we were challenged with coming up with a way to get them “Bigger and Better” inventory and provide a more commanding brand visible platform.
So, what’s the problem you ask? An existing sponsor is telling you that they want to spend more money with you and asking how they can spend it.
The problem was that we were sold out of premium court inventory: We had already sold the four court quadrants the NBA allows D-League Teams to sell. We had an already committed jersey sponsor. Our center court logo was the brand of a state in Mexico (Veracruz, MX), not the Texas Legends logo. So, I guess that was thinking outside the circle. But, surely we weren’t maxed out on premium inventory, right? How could we possibly find additional inventory to meet the sponsor’s need of “Bigger and Better” inventory and stand out along with our other top-tier sponsors?
Let’s hang a car!
The conversation was flowing at a nice Brazilian steakhouse with representatives from the Legends, Central KIA and regional KIA Motors. We were throwing out ideas, taking turns putting on the thinking cap and then as we scratched our heads, we looked at each other when….POOF…there it was. Just like out of thin air came the idea, “Let’s hang a car.”
Our KIA representatives looked at each other inquisitively as if they had misheard what was proposed. “Hang a car? As in a KIA?” It certainly would capture the attention of fans. What else could we do to build value?
We could create a season long activation and give the car away during the final home games.
We could capture leads for the sales team and enhance other marketing initiatives through media, digital and print.
The ideas started pouring in…from where? Out of thin air.
Fast forward…in a Kia
Eight months later, there was a beautiful KIA Soul hanging above center court inside Dr Pepper Arena. We received a challenge from a sponsor with specific goals (Bigger and Better). We created inventory that didn’t exist. We created one of the best activation ideas to be the first to suspend a car above the playing surface of a professional sports team.
“The advantage of selling a smaller sports property is the ability to help marketers target a specific group of people and engage them in an intimate and memorable way” adds Jon Bishop, Senior Director, Team Marketing and Business Operations for the NBA.
One thing I enjoy best about working in the minor leagues is that you are not limited on creatively thinking of new sponsorship inventory. The Legends have mastered this art after changing the way that many league executives think and what even a sponsor would imagine possible.
When it comes to your team or property’s inventory, are you maximizing all the potential areas of valuable inventory? Are you looking for those ideas that just may appear…out of thin air?
As NCAA programs continue to adopt more revenue-generating practices, activating an outbound ticket sales program appears simple. Hire entry level sports management grads, provide a desk, phone, and email address, pull past buyer lists and watch the ticket sales role in. While most understand ticket sales is more complex, how many take ALL key aspects of successful sales into consideration? [dropshadowbox align=”right” effect=”lifted-both” width=”250px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]“Game day name capture initiatives are one of the best ways for us to connect with fans that have formed a habit of waiting to make a ‘game time decision’ and show them the benefits of reserving their seats in advance as opposed to walking up and buying a ticket at the game. We also find that database collection efforts at community events and local sports bars are a key component in creating new relationships with local businesses and organizations.” – Jamie Levitt, Manager of Ticket Sales at Western Kentucky University[/dropshadowbox]
The first step to a successful program is commitment
To maximize revenue, the organization must commit to outbound sales over a full calendar year, not month to month or short term (3 to 5 months). After committing to a 12 months sales staffing plan, with a year round sales focus, you are ready to make your ticket sales plan, your playbook for success.
Create a sales plan or “Playbook” that includes:
The past: Review past season ticket sales reports to look for strengths to build on and opportunities to improve.
The future: Goals setting; annual, monthly, sales rep goals and quotas. Set realistic yet aggressive minimum expectations for your sales professionals, including minimum sales activity expectations and sales targets. Continually track progress towards the goals.
Develop a 12 month ticket sales timeline: The timeline should include “early bird new and renewal campaigns” while existing playing seasons are happening to capitalize on fan excitement and interest while they are still engaged. Waiting until after the playing seasons are over to begin new sales & renewals for that sport is not as effective at maximizing ticket sales revenue as renewing and selling new tickets during the season.
Recruit top talent: Don’t cut corners during the recruiting process. Activate a multiple step process, including a sales role-play interview step to help recruit the strongest candidates.
Hire enough talent: Hire the appropriate number of sales staff based on revenue goals; creating realistic revenue expectations will help you draw conclusions on appropriate # of ticket sales executives to hire.
Create motivating compensation plans with commission and bonus opportunities: Compensation models should provide incentives to sell, which aid in recruiting and retaining top talent.[dropshadowbox align=”right” effect=”lifted-both” width=”250px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Failure to prepare is preparing to fail ~John Wooden “It is vital to have a game plan for your sales approach just like a coach has a game plan to execute on the field. The key is to have an attack plan for sales prepared once a schedule is made available. Often certain groups dictate the time of year they can attend an outing. For example school base programs, scouts, and ROTC’s need a two month leeway into a school year to plan an activity. An outline will help a sales person know exactly where they stand and what needs to be accomplished at any point of the year. Also, it is a quick and easy way to keep superiors up to date on what a sales representative is currently working on and how they are planning to make the next event a success. — Tom Phelps, Naval Academy[/dropshadowbox]
Commit to data base building: Invest in CRM to cultivate leads and grow your data base. Newer web based models provide 24 hour remote access.
Analyze your pricing strategy: Based on analytics that consider situational factors, increase the average ticket price with price integrity for single game pricing. Add incentives to encourage season ticket and advance purchase. Analyze your ticket sales customers buying habits and patterns to guide pricing.
Create season ticket benefits: Find creative low cost ways to provide season ticket benefits (e.g., with corporate partners) to provide added value beyond discounts (i.e., experiences).
Create flexible ticketing packages: Explore options such as vouchers or “pick me plans.”
Develop a group sales pricing strategy: Reward groups with appropriate benefits that include group leader incentives to motivate purchase.
Commit to consistent ticket sales training: Just like in well-run corporations, sales training must be consistent and on-going.
Promote the promotion: Encourage cross-departmental integration that support ticket sales initiatives with “buy in” from other departments; gain support from marketing/PR/social media and operations.
Create a positive sales culture: Create visible team-wide goals where everyone is committed to revenue generation. Include motivating reps through sales incentives and contests.
Develop a renewal and retention strategy: Explore ways to activate proactive retention efforts and develop strong customer service, with multiple “touch points” throughout the season.
Ticket Operations: Don’t forget to recruit professional and dedicated ticket operations talent. Sound ticket operations is needed to support any proactive sales effort.
It’s important to take as comprehensive as an approach as possible to selling tickets. Find ways to activate all of the key elements, you will be in a great position to maximize ticket sales revenue! [dropshadowbox align=”left” effect=”lifted-both” width=”550px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]
“It’s always interesting to me, that all of us who work in professional or collegiate sports are exposed to elite athletes who we see practice & train every day, in order to stay at the top of their game. Therefore, it’s surprising that most ticket sales teams don’t commit to consistent sales and role play training. The most successful sales teams in sports (pro or college), have a dedicated commitment to consistent sales training, which includes sales role play, bringing in outside sales trainers and taking advantage of free sales content on social media such as this Baylor sportsbiz article.” ~ Brett Zalaski[/dropshadowbox]
Anyone in the sports business very long knows one may have to relocate to advance one’s career. While certainly not a requirement, top executives have made a few stops in different cities in different sports and with different organizations throughout their career. It can be an exciting but daunting task to ingratiate yourself with an entirely new team.
Such transitions are challenging for a sales leader, but also provide an awesome opportunity to build (or re-build) a sales team and place your stamp on that organization.
Looking back on my experiences as the new Sales Manager (OKC Thunder) and now Vice President at the Dallas Stars, I’ve noticed some commonalities that might help other sales leader joining a new team.
Take your time, but don’t take too much time
Your first few weeks of the new job are exciting! If you’re like me, you want to start making an impact immediately. It’s easy, however, to try to take on too much too quickly without having a good enough understanding of how your team operates or the nuances involved with every personality and process.
Key #1: Focus on your people. Let them know you are there to help them succeed. You are not there to flip the business on its head right off the bat. You plan to lead them, but only until you have an understanding of how the business is operating from all angles.
That said, you were hired you for a reason. You’ll need to provide feedback on solutions to the team’s issues soon after you start in your new role. This brings me to my next point . . .
Focus on metrics
After meeting the sales staff the next stop is with your business analytics team, which may be in ticket operations with some teams. Here, it is imperative to start gaining an understanding of the team’s sales performance over time.
Key #2: Get a grip on historical sales performance. How many season tickets are sold for the year? How many group tickets and suite rentals? What are the trends over the last three seasons for each? Is the season ticket and group sales business growing or shrinking annually?
Key #3: Get a grip on staff performance.Who are the top performing sales representatives in each category? Who makes the most phone calls and sets the most appointments? Which reps are best at selling season tickets versus groups versus premium inventory?
Meet with the staff again. Ask what they feel are their strengths and weaknesses. Ask what obstacles they face in doing their job at maximum level.
Key #4: Network internally.Visit with department heads of non-sales divisions to introduce yourself. Stop by the marketing office and sponsorship team to ask them about their major priorities and challenges. The challenges of these two revenue-generating divisions will be similar to the ones you will face now and in the future.
Of course, on-ice, on-court, on-field performance is an obvious strength or weakness. But other issues may emerge, such as poor customer service or lack of clarity in external communications.
Focus on your own staff’s business processes, from basic to complex: What does the sales process look like? What happens when a sale is made? Who processes the order? Are there any areas of inconsistency or inefficiency?
Through this detective work the team culture – how everyone views their jobs, the organization and leadership–will materialize. As a new leader you can help shape culture.
Clearly present your solutions at the right time
After a couple of weeks in a new position, start to take action.
Key #5: Clarity. The best way to gain respect and support is to present your findings clearly. First, present the hard data on sales trends and team performance. Second, present the reasons you’ve found behind the trends: inefficiencies, inconsistencies, or lack of processes. Finally, be prepared to share your own experiences that demonstrate best thoughts on solutions.
Around the horn
Those are my steps and keys to success as the new boss of an NHL team. Here are a few thoughts from two other new Vice Presidents of Ticket Sales & Service in MLB and the NBA:
The natural instinct may be to come in with what you think are the best practice systems, training, and framework. The reality is your success will only go as far as your people and their mindsets in wanting to understand and execute implementation plans. Hiring in from the outside and implementing new sales structures can be tough, but that’s not what I’m referencing. More importantly, we must APPRECIATE the mindset of the inherited staff.
When starting in Houston, one of the first things we committed to as a leadership team is a familiar quote several mentors have shared:
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Some truths to grasp and manage:
Any change – especially leadership – is a difficult thing.
Understand and appreciate why things were being done the way they were when we arrived.
Find out how every staff member feels about their part in the organization. This was the very first thing we needed our focus on.
Once we learned peoples’ mindsets we could meet them where they were. Let them know we appreciated how hard they had worked to get to that point. THEN we knew our transparency on how we could best move forward as a team would be met with more acceptance. Why? Because they felt they were heard first.
Slowing down a little at the beginning allowed us to run much faster as we all got on the same page. Ultimately that approach allows best practices to be uploaded and executed more quickly and effectively.[/dropshadowbox]
One of the first things I did when I learned that I was fortunate enough to land the VP position with the Timberwolves and Lynx was to reach out to my new direct reports.
Prior to physically arriving in Minneapolis, I spent two hours in conversations with each direct report, along with sending them two books explaining my leadership philosophy and process. This helped us become acclimated with each other much quicker, allowing for a more seamless transition.
As Matt and Jason pointed out, your people are your most valuable resource. They must be treated as such.
When I officially arrived in Minneapolis, one of the first things I focused on was sitting down with each of the staffs to tell them my personal story. I didn’t speak about my work experience. Instead I spoke about my personal upbringing and the core values I stand for. I shared my personal hedgehog concept with them, allowing them to understand my motives, desires, and drivers.
My hope was to break down barriers. For them to see me as more than just a new guy in a suit. To see me as a human being with similar interests and aspirations.
Once I shared, I asked each member of the departments to (1) submit their personal definitions of the core values I provided, and (2) their personal answers to the hedgehog concept questions I asked. With a unique perspective from each one, I had personal talking points about each individual in a short amount of time. Overall, I believe this process helped me earn their trust and credibility, along with helping us gain valuable information about how to motivate and drive each individual to be successful. [/dropshadowbox]
What are your thoughts? How have you adjusted in your new leadership positions?
Let us know what you think. Click on the Tweet button below and let us know: @CMB711,@Matt_Bowman14, and @BaylorS3 (#newleader)