6 Inside Ticket Sales Managers walk into an Arena…
Ok, it sounds like the great start to a joke, but in essence this piece is more about how those managers got into their coveted sports jobs.
I often get asked how I got my foot in the door in professional sports and the answer is usually a bit longer than expected. Like many of those whom I’ve crossed paths with, the opportunity that helped launch my sports career was being a part of an Inside Sales Department with the Chicago White Sox. If you are looking for a book on the topic, check out Mark Washo’s Break Into Sports (or find him on Twitter @BreakintoSports). I’ve recommended this book to college grads looking to get into sports for a while.
As so many sports executives get their start in ticket sales, I figured I’d round up a few Inside Sales Managers around professional sports jobs and knock out a few simple questions to learn more about this revenue generating niche. The group has over thirty plus years of combined experience in professional sports and includes; Cody Haynes (Houston Rockets, NBA), Eric McKenzie (Cleveland Indians, MLB), Jude LaRose (Chicago Fire, MLS), Derek Iversen (Colorado Avalanche, NHL & Denver Nuggets, NBA), Travis Apple (Pittsburgh Pirates, MLB) and Jake Reynolds (Washington Capitals, NHL & Washington Wizards, NBA).
Insiders on Sports Jobs
1. Did you begin your sports career in an Inside Sales Environment and/or how did you ascend to your management role?
Jake R.- Yes, I began my career in Inside Sales with the Indiana Pacers. I spent 4 months in Inside Sales before moving into a senior sales role. After a year with the Pacers, I spent two years in New York with the Giants where my first year was focused on selling PSL’s in preparation of opening their new stadium and in my second year, I transitioned over and focused on selling suites. I have now been with Monumental Sports and Entertainment for just over a year overseeing the Inside Sales group for the Wizards, Mystics and our partnership with Georgetown Basketball.
Cody H.- I started off in Inside Sales with the Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL right out of college. I was then promoted to Group Sales with Phoenix. I then accepted a position as a Season Ticket Sales Executive with the Houston Rockets. After 1.5 seasons as a sales rep I was then promoted to Inside Sales Supervisor.
Travis A. - I started in Inside Sales in June 2007 with the Atlanta Hawks, Thrashers, and Phillips Arena. From November 2007 to July 2008, I was in New Season Ticket Sales, and from August 2008 to September 2009, I was in Premium Seating with the Hawks/Thrashers. Throughout my time in New Season Ticket Sales and Premium, I also held a manager in training position where I helped with training sessions, appointments, interviews, and other duties that the IS Manager needed help with. In October 2009, I took over the Inside Sales position with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Derek I.-I began working for Kroenke Sports & Entertainment’s as a Summer Sales Associate intern for the Denver Nuggets after graduating from college. I was brought on as an Inside Sales Representative for the Nuggets and Avalanche, and from there moved on to an Account Executive role with the Denver Nuggets. After two years as an AE, I was promoted to Manager of Inside Sales for the Nuggets and Avalanche. In addition to managing the Inside Sales Department, this year I was also given the opportunity to manage the sales and service department for KSE’s NLL team, the Colorado Mammoth.
Eric M. -Yes, I started with the Phoenix Suns Inside Sales department immediately after finishing college. I then spent 3 years working in group sales with the Arizona Diamondbacks before accepting my first management opportunity in San Antonio with the Spurs. Most recently, I have relocated to Cleveland, OH to accept a new position with the Cleveland Indians.
Jude L. - Yes, I did begin my sports career in an Inside Sales environment. After a seasonal position with the National Pro Fastpitch’s Chicago Bandits – from which I hold fond memories – I was hired as an Inside Sales Representative for the defending Arena Football League Champion Chicago Rush. I cut my teeth with that club and worked alongside and for some really talented people. I feel rather fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from some great sports business minds during a time that we were having such success on and off of the field. After three months on the job as an ISR, I was promoted to an Account Executive role, selling the full suite of ticket products. From there, I was promoted to Senior Account Executive/Youth Football Coordinator. My duties remained largely the same, with the additional responsibility of becoming a student of the Chicagoland Youth Football landscape. We booked local area teams for pregame and halftime scrimmages with a ticket requirement tie-in and recognized the importance of youth development and participation as evidenced by our commitment to appearing at youth football year end banquet and award ceremonies. After three years with the Rush, I moved on to the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves as a Senior Account Executive. My responsibilities remained largely in line those of an Account Executive who is responsible for selling season and group tickets. Since I can remember, I have always enjoyed leading and imparting any piece of information I had to share. The role of an Inside Sales Manager is one that has greatly appealed to me since the days I first recognized how much I enjoyed sales and acknowledged that I was developing my own sales philosophy through picking and choosing from the better sales minds of the world.
2. When did you realize you wanted a career in the sports industry?
Jake R.- When I was in high school. I was fortunate enough to have a family member in the industry, so I was around it enough to know this was the business for me.
Cody H. – I knew I wanted to work in sports upon graduation of high school.
Derek I. - I went to my first ever NBA game in 2004, which happened to be Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Lakers and Pistons. Feeling the electricity in the arena that night when the Pistons won the NBA Championship was the moment I knew my dream was to work in pro sports. When I was a junior at the University of Wyoming, KSE’s former VP Paul Andrews spoke to the College of Business about internship opportunities. Following my junior year I applied for a sales internship and was not hired, but I was fortunate enough to earn an opportunity after graduation.
Eric M. - As many sport-minded college students, I knew that I wanted to work in sports, but had always thought that it would be on the more attractive side (player or public relations, game ops, etc.). However, I visited Phoenix in February of my Junior year of college and met with one of their Group Sales Account Executives and fell in love with the business side of sports. Since then, it has always been my passion to work on the business side of sports.
Jude L. – If you played sports as a child and grew up with the sports teams of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, it was difficult, at least for me, to watch the movie Jerry Maguire and not want a career in this industry.
Travis A. - I always knew I wanted to do something in sports and through an internship experience at Mansfield Motorsports Speedway, I began to sell trackside banners and fell in love with the sales end of the business. Throughout my senior year of college, I was applying for Ticket Sales jobs because that is where I wanted to be.
3. What is the most difficult part in managing an Inside Sales Staff?
Cody H. – I would say keeping them motivated and not making their job seem boring. Also, keeping the office fun and relaxed while still maintaining a serious, professional atmosphere knowing that we have aggressive goals to reach. There are down times especially in the offseason where there is no excitement of the season. They have to rely on self-motivation and a lot on myself to make their job fun.
Travis A. - I think the most difficult part in managing an Inside Sales Staff is not having enough time in the day to make phone calls/go on appointments/ect. with 18 reps on a consistent basis. I realized I have to give the reps the tools to succeed and they will have to implement them on a consistent basis.
Derek I. - The most challenging part is motivating 10 different individuals with 10 different personalities that may be different from my own. The things that drive me may be different from my staff, so getting to know what buttons to push takes some time.
Eric M. - I think the most difficult part is also one of the most rewarding. When managing a successful Inside Sales Department you will consistently be promoting reps into Sr. level sales roles within your own organization, or perhaps, other organizations. It’s so exciting to see a rep that has given their absolute best over a 10-12 month program and finally get that “call up” to the Sr. staff. However, those constant promotions keep the Inside Sales Manager very busy with year-round recruiting, training and coaching of new reps in order to keep the pipeline full of future stars.
Jude L. - I wish I could provide a better answer to this question, but with just a little bit less than a month under my belt, I feel I don’t have enough of a sample size to give a fair response.
Jake R. - I have a large staff of 18 reps, so making sure I am able to spend quality time with each of them and help them get better every day.
4. What do you find the most rewarding about your role with your team?
Eric M. – The most rewarding part of my role is in getting to work with hungry, energetic and positive professionals. Surrounding yourself with those types of people will always challenge you to bring your best, to keep a positive attitude, and to always look for ways to improve yourself.
Travis A. - The most rewarding part of my job is seeing an Inside Sales Representative go through IS and then land a full-time job and become a #1 rep in another department or with another team. It’s always great to get calls from other managers saying I am so glad I hired “person”, do you have anyone else just like them that I could hire?
Cody H. - I really enjoy when someone I went through the interview process with and hired is very successful within the sports industry. It makes me proud to see them get promoted within the industry and grow as an individual and professional.
Derek I. - Being able to offer someone their first opportunity to begin a career in sports, and watching them grow as a salesperson and a business professional is very rewarding. There is a major sense of satisfaction in watching that light bulb turn on, and watching the progression of talented employees.
Jake R. - Being able to mentor and coach young, talented people and watch them to take that next step in their career.
Jude L. - I would take great pride in knowing I had a hand in helping young sports professionals realize and actualize their dreams.
5. What is the most unique sales contest you’ve set up or been a part of?
Derek I. - My favorite contest to run is our Fantasy Sales Contest in the fall. Each representative owns a fantasy team, and every week they select a colleague to be their starter. Teams earn points based on their own performance as well as their starter for the week. Weekly prizes are up for grabs, as well as grand prizes for the top three teams at the end of the contest. It is fun to see individual competition combine with an element of teamwork in the department.
Jake R. - Deal or No Deal. I had 30 envelopes posted on the wall of my office that contained prizes ranging from a $5 Dunkin Donuts gift card to a bonus day off to an iPod touch. The sales rep that had the most revenue for that day picked envelope and was then given an offer from the bank(myself). The rep then decided whether to risk what was in the envelope or take an offer they were sure of. It was a great contest that engaged the reps on a daily basis became very competitive and helped drive a tremendous amount of revenue.
Cody H. – 2 really stand out to me. The first is an individual contest where each rep starts of with an $1,000 bonus. Each day that the rep doesn’t sell $100 is taken away. Money is a huge motivator on our floor as you would imagine. The second is a team contest based on the game of poker. Each team gets a card when they make a sale that qualifies. They can either pull from the stack or steal a card from another team. We printed oversized cards and placed them on the wall. Poker rules apply to determine the winner. This game really got our floor’s competitive juices flowing. The winning team wins a cash price. We have also given away trips and cruises as well.
Travis A. - Trip to Barnsley – Each individual had a goal to hit for FSE’s and Revenue and when they hit the goal, they were able to get on a bus to Barnsley Gardens which is a resort where you could golf, enjoy outdoor activities, etc.
Eric M. – From my experiences, any contest that includes a beach or Vegas has always been well received. However, there have been 2 others that have stood out from my experiences:
1. My favorite as a rep was one in Phoenix where we were asked to submit the 10 things we would most want to have in this world if we had $1 million. Management then took one item from each person’s list and rolled out a contest where the winner got to pick one thing on the list, and they didn’t have to pick the item they originally chose if they saw something better. The winner ended up taking a 4 night cruise for 2 out of San Diego.
2. My favorite in management was a contest where reps earned ping pong balls for different hustle and revenue components. At the end of each week we would pull winners from the “lottery” of ping pong balls for gift cards. At the end of the contest we chose winners for the large grand prizes. Included were courtside seats for a game, a resort/spa/golf package for a 3-day weekend, and a cruise.
Jude L. - At the Rush, we had a sales contest which was centered around the World Series. The season ticket pricing levels and number of units sold helped determine our point system which was modeled off of the elements of baseball play i.e. home run, triple, bunt, double play. Our Ticket Manager sent out a press release before the contest commenced. It set the stage and gave everyone a laugh. As each sale came in, the ticket staff would receive an e-mail in the form of a play-by play describing what the rep just sold: “And Dooley sits on a curveball and goes yard with three full seasons in the yellow.” We had our fun with it.
Qualities Sports Jobs Candidates Should Have
6. What are six adjectives that describe candidates you look for?
Jake R. – Passionate, competitive, intellectual curiosity, coachable, driven and Confident
Cody H. – Self-motivated, Creative, Passionate, Well-spoken, Positive, and Caring/Team player (Everyone within the organization helps each other. At the Rockets, we have a “One Team” mentality.)
Derek I. – Confident, Enthusiastic, Articulate, Personable, Dedicated, Desire
Jude L. – Aggressive. Positive. Personable. Open. Energetic. Hungry.
Eric M. - Positive, honest, hard-working, ambitious, aggressive, persistent and humble (I know, that’s 7)
Travis A. – Work Ethic, Competitive, Coach ability, Confident, Commitment and Passion