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Professional Development

How To Effectively Network at Major Sports Events

There is no shortage of opportunities to network, learn, build relationships and gain access to new experiences at tentpoles such as the Super Bowl.

Jarrod Barnes

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What do the Super Bowl, NBA All-Star Weekend, and NCAA Final Four all have in common?

The best of the best are competing on the field or court. Fans will travel from all over the world to experience these upcoming major sports events, including some of the biggest celebrities and influencers in sports business. In fact, there are an estimated 200,000 passengers arriving per day for the Super Bowl between February 1 and 4 at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Clearly, there is no shortage of opportunities to network, learn, build relationships and gain access to new experiences at this tentpole. But how does one properly leverage the opportunity? Here are four tips on how to effectively maximize your next trip to a major sporting event, such as the Super Bowl.

Determine Your Goals and Desired Outcomes

Whether you are traveling across the country or staying local, outlining your goals and desired outcomes prior to attending an event will allow you to focus your time and energy.

Deciding what you want to get out of the experience, who you want to connect with, and how you want to connect with them all play a significant role in taking full advantage of the opportunity. Asking yourself questions such as, ‘why do I want to connect with this person?’ ‘What value can I bring to them?’ ‘What specifically can I learn from them?’

READ MORE: Informational Interviews Can Be Crucial to Your Career Development

Each one will give you greater clarity on your next steps.

“Preparation is vital. Learn about the people attending and the organizations they represent. Have a business card even if you’re unemployed, as well as an elevator speech that connects with the intended audience and has a purpose,” said Mike Boykin, CEO, Bespoke Sports and Entertainment, an experiential marketing agency specializing in sponsorship consulting and activation.

Reaching out to connections beforehand through social media or email can also create space for a invitation to events or meetups. Exclusive, invite-only events are organized and planned by people. Do you know those people? Finding a way to intentionally align yourself with decision-makers are what provide access.

Identify Key Stakeholders and Events

Sports agencies like VaynerSports and pro athletes like Kenyan Drake and Champ Bailey are hosting events that open the door to additional networking opportunities. In addition, local academic institutions generally host events or have sports-management programs involved in volunteer opportunities.

For example, Georgia Tech is hosting the NFL’s 1st and Future Startup pitch competition and the University of Georgia is taking a group of 25 students to volunteer the week leading up to the Super Bowl.

But with a variety of events, it can be easy to lose sight of the goals you took the time to outline. Ben Milsom, chief ticketing officer of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, gave this advice: “Manage your time. So often people try to network with too many people and end up wasting time.

“Ask effective open-ended questions like, ‘How did you get your start in the business?’ ‘What steps should I take to be successful in my first year?’ ‘What mistakes did you make when you were my age and how can I avoid them?’ When you don’t make it about yourself, it’s amazing what you will learn.”

Fundraisers and community events like the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation Luncheon are also an avenue for making connections. Networking can take place in nearly any environment; it’s up to you to bring the intentionality and focus.

Be Present

“Enter conversations with the goal of learning more about the person versus sharing information about you. Everyone likes to talk, but listeners who ask insightful questions tend to come out on top.” said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor of sports management at George Washington University. “It’s one thing to have your business card or portfolio ready; it’s another thing to be ready to listen and add value.”

Charles Davis, a football analyst for FOX Sports, said: “As much as you ask of — and take from — others, you should be prepared to do the same for others.”

READ MORE: How to Master the First Month of a New Job in Sports Business

A mindset of abundance may sound counterintuitive, but has the ability to cultivate a strong network.

Have Intentional Follow-Up

Connections and conversations are great, but true collaboration comes through follow-up. Within 24 to 48 hours, be sure to send an email or handwritten thank-you note.

One way to stand out is to mention not only what you discussed with that person, but also what it meant to you and how you may use it as a professional. Don’t hear a response? Stay consistent by providing monthly or quarterly updates; those are a great way to stay top of mind.

Overall, major sporting events not only provide incredible experiences, but also incredible access to networking opportunities. Taking the time to outline your goals and identify key stakeholders prior to events allows you to be present when your opportunity arises.

Who knows, you may also come out as a champion at this year’s Super Bowl.

Jarrod Barnes has served in athletics administration at Clemson University and is also a former Defensive Back's coach at Ohio State University, where he worked directly with coach Urban Meyer and Greg Schiano. Jarrod was a two-year letterman and first ever Ohio State football player to pursue a Ph.D. while on the active roster. Jarrod currently resides in Charlotte, NC and works with Rise Sports Advisors, a brand management firm for professional athletes and also runs Prime U, a talent & leadership training company for collegiate student-athletes and young professionals. Jarrod has been widely recognized by Who’s Who Magazine, ESPN, Fox Sports and The Big Ten Network as a top up-and-coming young professional. Jarrod can be reached at Jarrod@frntofficesport.com

Professional Development

Fuel Academy Propels Fans and Staff At Michigan International Speedway

In the past, MIS brought on seasonal staff to help its ticket sales and customer service efforts. However, this year it formalized that program and structured training, branding it Fuel Academy.

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Photo Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Breaking into the sports industry can be a daunting career path, so Michigan International Speedway has launched a training program that not only helps young professionals, but aims to improve the track’s customer service as well.

In the past, MIS brought on seasonal staff to help its ticket sales and customer service efforts. However, this year it formalized that program and structured training, branding it Fuel Academy – an effort MIS President Rick Brenner says aims to help both the employee and the organization.

“For the past few years, we’ve worked to create and implement outbound sales to provide customers with better service, and allow folks to talk to people here at the track,” Brenner said. “Now, we want to frame it up, give it its own face and brand — the goal is to create an opportunity for young people to come in and grow and sell tickets.”

READ MORE: A Look at the New Foundation of Richmond Raceway’s Ticket Sales

Brenner said the development of the Fuel Academy was a group effort internally at MIS, especially spurred by the hiring of Ryan Shelton and Michael Neis. They helped put together a “guide book” for success and lead the Fuel Academy class through role-playing conversations and product knowledge before letting them loose in sales efforts.

Shelton, the vice president of business operations, joined MIS earlier this year following six years with the Salem Red Sox, including three seasons as the team’s president and general manager. Neis joined the team as director of ticket sales and service following six years with the Oakland Athletics, most recently as director of membership and premium services.

“A lot of young professionals, college students, are looking for their first opportunities to get into the sports business,” Brenner said. “This is an opportunity for them to learn from some of the very best and development skill sets and provide them with a road map to top-notch service.”

Brenner said the goal for Fuel Academy is to prepare students to sell better during their time at MIS but also setting them up for greater success in their careers – even if that’s not with the organization.

From the outside Fuel Academy may look similar to any other inside sales program, Shelton said, but it is based on what he’s learned on throughout his career and adapted and evolved with the times. The first week is largely spent with leadership discussing the organization’s “why,” he said, and the new staff also spends the week going through role play situations and product knowledge so they’re fully comfortable by the time they jump on the phones.

Through the rest of the 24-week program, there are weekly individual meetings to look at their greatest victory and figure out if it’s repeatable and to set goals and to fix hitches throughout their sales process, whether the issue is getting appointments or closing sales.

“We don’t want to have them feeling lost or a manager feeling frustrating and bottling things up,” Shelton said. “A lot of it is helping them understand we control our destiny. We really want them to understand it controllable and developing relationships with clients and engaging them to lead them to return at a higher rate.”

Like MIS, more organizations are looking toward a more personalized approach to building young professionals’ careers, ranging from sales specific programs in colleges to sales leadership programs within pro sports organizations, like the Atlanta Hawks.

“Selfishly, we could probably hold on to them longer, but we don’t look at people as a number, we look at them as people and do whatever we can do to help them get to whatever they want to do at the next level,” Myers Dean, Hawks manager of new memberships said. “We don’t want to hold them back. Now we have so many, they call us when they need account executive, and most of the time we can send them a few right away.”

Shelton said through running programs similar to Fuel Academy throughout his career, he’s seen approximately 75% stay in the sports business, many advancing to leadership positions. He’s now the only remaining professional in sports from his 14-person inside sales class.

The past weekend was one of the biggest days of the year for MIS, with the FireKeepers Casino 400. Brenner said it was a crucial weekend to have these young professionals better prepared and on the ground telling the story of MIS’ fan-centric endeavors, as well as selling renewal plans for next year. Now they’ll prepare for the next major race in August.

Having more highly-trained salespeople will also be a boon for the track, which added several new fan-friendly initiatives this year such as an air-conditioned hospitality area and free pit passes for children under 12. Tickets are also now priced dynamically based on demand, Brenner said, to help make them more affordable. The 1,400-acre site also features free concerts and other entertainment options beyond just racing.

READ MORE: How NASCAR Stays Up to Speed in the Ever-Changing Digital Space

“We’ve added a slew of entertainment options and focused on our fan experience and want to show them we value their time with how we’re treating them,” Brenner said. “We’re really looking at the total experienced building out a package around the races.”

Brenner said he hopes the introduction of the more-structured Fuel Academy will not only help “fuel our crowd,” but also the young professional he hopes it attracts.

“Hopefully we look down the road 10 years and we’ve got a whole bunch of alumni that are either here or excelling and moving on to organizations across sports,” Brenner said. “We want to embrace the fact that folks are interested in sports and that it’s a great path to start a career and develop knowledge that will be useful in any sport or facility.”

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Professional Development

Inside The Huddle: Group Expectations with Michael Taylor

After ten years on the business side of pro basketball, Michael Taylor has learned how valuable persistence and personal branding are in ticket sales.

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In the buildup to Front Office Sports’ Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on May 10, we’re introducing you to the huddle leaders who will be lending their expertise to the conversation.

Today, meet Michael Taylor: Director of Team Marketing & Business Operations at the National Basketball Association (NBA). Taylor will be one of the leaders of the huddle “Squad Goals: The Evolution of Group Expectations.”

Taylor played basketball at West Virginia State University, where he graduated in 2004 with a degree in business administration and management. After playing basketball in Europe for a few years, pursuing a career on the business side of basketball simply made sense. It’s also proved to be a natural fit. For example, during his time in Detroit with Palace Sports and Entertainment, the group sales department jumped from 29th in revenue leaguewide to fifth in just over three years.

READ MORE: Inside The Huddle: Premium Sales with Naimah German

Now, with over a decade in the NBA, Taylor takes great pride in the people he has been able to develop.

“I look at some of the people that I’ve been able to work with and have hired and are thriving in the industry and moving on to different leadership positions, and that is probably the thing I’m most proud of,” he says. “The people and the development pieces are where I like to focus my time.”

The biggest mistake that Taylor sees young reps making in their early years is not having a short memory.

“In this business you have to be able to take the bad days…the days where you make a hundred calls and 50 people hang up on you and you leave 50 voicemails and no one returns,” he says. “You have to be able to maintain the same enthusiasm, the same confidence on that next call. And then, on the flip side, you have a day where maybe you made that big sale. Do you then slack off? Do you get complacent? Do you not focus on your fundamentals anymore because you’re starting to see some success? Don’t focus on what happened yesterday, whether it was good or bad, but approach each day as a chance to be great.”

READ MORE: Inside The Huddle: Group Expectations With Josh Feinberg

Taylor’s other piece of advice to young professionals just beginning their career in ticket sales is to constantly be maintaining their reputation online and in real life.

“It’s never too early to think of yourself as a brand,” he say. “The things that you do now, you’re building your reputation before you even realize it. The sports world is small. When you think about applying for internships or applying for jobs, your reputation is what speaks before you even get into the room. Everything that they do either adds to their brand, or it takes away from it.”

Meet Michael and hear more of his thoughts on the current ticketing space at the Front Office Sports Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, CA on May 10. For tickets and additional info, click here.

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Professional Development

Inside The Huddle: Premium Sales with Naimah German

German will lend her expertise on premium sales at the Front Office Sports Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland Coliseum on May 10.

Front Office Sports

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In the buildup to Front Office Sports’ Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on May 10, we’re introducing you to the huddle leaders who will be lending their expertise to the conversation.

Today, meet Naimah German: Premium Sales Consultant with Legends at the Las Vegas Stadium (the future home of the Raiders). German will be one of the leaders of the huddle “The Experience Economy: Navigating Shifting Premium Sales Demands.”

READ MORE: Inside The Huddle: Group Expectations With Josh Feinberg

German made the move to Nevada in January of 2018 ahead of the Raiders moving to and playing their first season in Las Vegas in 2020. In the months since, German and the rest of the organization have had their hands full in the best possible way.

“It has been a whirlwind to have that many people on the waitlist,” she says, “but we were all committed from the very beginning, and we are making adjustments as we go along. So it’s been a lot of learning as we go through that process of checks and balances and communicating with one another.”

Prior to arriving in Las Vegas, German graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2007 and worked in insurance and advertising sales for a number of years before completing her master’s degree through Northeastern University in 2014. German’s breakthrough, and what she describes as one of her proudest professional accomplishments, came in 2015 when she landed a Membership Development Associate role with the Miami Dolphins.

“That was the most rigorous process to get a job that I’ve ever been through,” German says, reflecting on the experience. “I did two separate phone interviews and then I had to fly myself out to Miami. But I knew that if I went down there, I was going to come back with the job. They had a hundred of us participate in a sales combine, and we competed for a job over the course of that whole weekend. They accepted nine people into that inside sales class and I was one of the nine.”

German then joined the Legends crew in 2016 as a Premium Sales Consultant with the Atlanta Falcons, where she stayed for about a year and a half before moving on to her current role in Las Vegas. With her experience on the premium side, German has learned that the ability to build strong relationships with clients go a long way.

“Ask questions and you will be able to build a relationship with someone and know why they want what they want,” she says. “Everyone wants the top-notch experience, so being able to identify potential problems early in the process is going to help alleviate any potential frustration.”

In her experience, German notices that many young sports professionals can define themselves by their work. While careers are important, she urges everyone to maintain a balance. 

READ MORE: Inside The Huddle: Selling A New Team With Ted Glick

“Don’t let the job take over your identity,” she says. “Sometimes people forget who they are with all their motivations and ambitions and what they want to do. Knowing you are more than what you do is a much healthier attitude to have in this business.”

Throughout her career, German has not lost sight of how sports can be a force for good. This is the primary reason she wanted to pursue a career in the industry, and why she continues down this path today.

“Sports is something that brings people together,” she says. “I always come back to that. When you’re at a game, we’re all one. We’re united.”

Meet Naimah and hear more of your thoughts on the current ticketing space at the Front Office Sports Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, CA on May 10. For tickets and additional info, click here.

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