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Growing Sport’s Talent Tree: the 49ers Sales Academy

Front Office Sports



The robust training program includes a combination of ‘skill and will’ exercises, personal development sessions, leadership and personal brand coaching, industry best practice think tanks, and an internal and external speaker series.

The San Francisco 49ers are redefining the game in sports sales and talent development via 49ers

In August 2014, the San Francisco 49ers ushered in the next chapter of a franchise that already owns a storied past. After more than 40 years in Candlestick Park, the Bay Area team upgraded its home to the state-of-the-art Levi’s® Stadium in Santa Clara.

Leading up to the stadium’s grand opening, team performance was at a peak level, front office personnel had nearly tripled in size, and revenue performance across all major categories was fast approaching the league’s top ranks.

With such a strong performance throughout the organization, all seats and suites in Levi’s Stadium were swiftly sold through. A shift in market conditions, along with the conclusion of the “honeymoon” period of the new facility led to a pivotal change on the revenue side of the 49ers business.

The organization faced a monumental task: create a strategy to sell all remaining seat licenses while developing an optimal and sustainable sales structure going forward. Out of this necessity and opportunity, the 49ers Executive Team and Sales Leadership team emerged with an all-encompassing game plan to take sales to the next level.

The sales side of the business underwent a substantial re-org, including hiring new personnel, re-aligning management, and launching a Sales Academy intended to serve as a long-term talent incubator for the organization’s revenue departments.

An open work space ripe with inspiration from 49er greats keeps academy members motivated day in and day out via 49ers.

“Our re-organization required full buy-in and commitment from the organization to achieve measurable success in our new sales goals,” shared the Director of the Sales Academy, Paul Epstein. “Without the support of ownership and our President Al Guido, none of this would have been possible.”

The launch of the 49ers Sales Academy could not have come at a better time. The energy around the revamped business side was met in full with the excitement of a new regime on the football side.

“The hiring of General Manager John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan has infused an energy into the business-side of the organization that has already surpassed anything I’ve seen since being here,” said Epstein.

In order to secure top-tier talent, the 49ers collaborated with Sports Business Solutions during the recruitment process to fill out their new sales team. Epstein promised all new recruits the ability to not only develop and grow their careers in sports, but to become better leaders and people overall.

To complement these efforts, the robust training program includes a combination of ‘skill and will’ exercises, personal development sessions, leadership and personal brand coaching, industry best practice think tanks, and an internal and external speaker series leveraging their cross-departmental executive team as well as the local market of Silicon Valley business leaders.

In addition, thanks to the organization’s partnership with Simon Sinek, each member of the academy undergoes a personalized “Why Discovery” led by Epstein to truly understand their individual purpose and how it aligns with the overarching “Why” of the 49ers.

To accent this portfolio of resources, Epstein has thoughtfully incorporated the final product throughout the academy. A dedicated 49ers-branded office space was built in a newly renovated wing of the 49ers headquarters, just steps away from the team’s training facilities.

Neighboring the Sales Academy is a private gym sponsored by ownership that provides multiple boot camp sessions a day for the staff to step away momentarily from the daily sales grind.

“Bringing football and athletics into the work environment on a daily basis helps remind you why you got in the business,” explained Epstein. “In sales, even if you’re great, you’re likely not making a sale every day. It’s a taxing job; it’s difficult to maintain a consistently high morale on a day-to-day basis. That’s why we made football an intentional integration into this program: to keep sight of why we joined the 49ers in the first place.”

To fully manifest this alignment with the business side, the Academy will often run the stadium stairs, engulfed by seats they’re tasked to sell while ensuring they always keep their eye on the prize.

49ers General Manager John Lynch stops by the Sales Academy to lend a hand in welcoming a new season ticket member via Greg Breiner.

All of these incredible resources are coupled with a culture that is grounded in a belief of a common purpose and a passion to challenge the status quo of sports sales operations throughout the country.

“All inaugural members of the Sales Academy came here to be a part of something special, new, and unique in the sports industry,” Epstein voiced. “Several members described it as a ‘game-changing and career-defining’ move.”

While all of the pieces are in place for success, Epstein realizes that the Sales Academy will only be as strong as the revenue performance of the team and the ability to grow and develop talent within the organization and sports industry overall.

The organization is fully committed to making this a mainstay in their sales operation, with a vision to establish this as the ideal destination for a sports sales executive to grow and accelerate their careers.

With the inaugural ticket sales class underway, Epstein has already grown the program to develop a group sales program and has plans to launch a hospitality sales arm and potential summer sales internships in the near future.

Epstein believes in a year-round recruiting model and welcomes any conversation with a rising star in the business that has a passion to do something special and earn their “gold jacket” in sales and leadership, a reference to the well-known attire of Hall of Famers in the NFL.

“We want the ‘who’s who’ of the sports industry to come from the 49ers Sales Academy,” Epstein said. “We want to be the foundation of the elite talent tree in sports and couldn’t be more excited for what’s to come.”

For more information on the 49ers Sales Academy or to apply for future considerations, please reach out to Paul Epstein at

Front Office Sports is a leading multi-platform publication and industry resource that covers the intersection of business and sports.

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How The UNC Tar Heels Organized Roy Williams’ Court Dedication

To celebrate the dedication of Roy Williams Court, UNC staff were tasked with putting together a special reunion dubbed Carolina Family Weekend.

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via UNC Basketball

(*Teamworks is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)

The history of the NCAA Tournament can’t be told properly without the inclusion of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Tar Heels and head men’s basketball coach Roy Williams. Now in his 16th season as Tar Heels head coach, Williams has guided UNC to five Final Fours and three national championships alongside a host of individual coaching awards.

To honor Coach Williams and his impact on UNC basketball, the university dedicated the court inside the Dean E. Smith Center to him with a ceremony in August of 2018. To celebrate the occasion, men’s basketball staffers were tasked with putting together a special reunion dubbed Carolina Family Weekend that included hundreds of UNC’s greatest players from Williams’ time as a student, assistant coach, and head coach in Chapel Hill as well as the current team and members of Williams’ family. This mainly fell on the shoulders of administrative assistant Cynthia Friend and business operations/special events manager Kaye Chase.

READ MORE: Mississippi State Volleyball Camps Run Efficiently While Building for the Program’s Future

To help notify all the invitees about the event and maintain their contact information, Friend and Chase needed an effective communication tool in Teamworks. UNC’s athletic department had already been utilizing the software for two years for a number of internal logistics like messaging, compliance related tasks, distributing travel itineraries, and document sharing, but found another use for it in Teamworks’ mass communication abilities.

“There were multiple parts to the reunion including the unveiling of the court, dinner, a golf outing, and pick-up games on Saturday. We needed to get all that information to the lettermen as well as get their RSVPs in the most time-efficient way that we could,” says Friend.

The two then were able to set up different profiles for each prospective guest within the program that included their respective contact info and their eventual response. To maximize likelihood of a response, Friend and Chase used Teamworks to send both emails and texts to all prospective attendees.

“Going into this, we really were not sure how we were going to handle RSVPs,” recalls Chase. “So we made a form, which auto-populated into an Excel spreadsheet. That saved us quite a bit of time.”

Friend and Chase then were able to efficiently let the hundreds of attendees know where they were expected to be for each event as well as other key logistical details. If and when small changes to the schedule occurred, all attendees could be notified easily through Teamworks. The end result was a very smooth weekend that had many of the former players raving on social media both during and after the weekend.

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READ MORE: Miami Hurricanes Leverage Technology To Prepare For Actual Hurricanes

Moving forward, the Tar Heels plan to hold more reunion events, particularly for their teams that won national championships or reached the Final Four. 2019 marked Roy Williams’ 29th season in the NCAA Tournament as a head coach. It is only a matter of time before one of his legendary teams is honored with a special return trip home to Chapel Hill. When that time comes, UNC administrators will have the procedures in place to make it happen after acquiring the contact information for nearly every letterman in program history through setting up Carolina Family Weekend. 

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“It’s great to have these processes and this information already in place for smaller events and reunions,” Chase says. “Having all of our lettermen organized into this database has been really great for us. We’re looking forward to finding more ways to use it and more reasons to bring our alumni back to campus.”

To learn more about how Teamworks helps empower the sports world’s best, visit today.

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USOC Continues Turn to Tech to Increase Medal Counts in Tokyo

The U.S. Olympic Committee is careful in the technologies its sports use, but overall technology is now an important tool in helping train athletes.





Photo via USOC

Phil Cheetham is careful to avoid analysis paralysis.

The term was used to describe providing athletes with too much information from the variety of ways data can be collected today. Cheetham, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s director of sport technology and innovation, said the TMI condition is possible, but easily maneuvered around by allowing coaches to be the gatekeeper.

“We’ll feed coaches as much as we can,” Cheetham said. “They’re the filter, they have to take the data and filter it into coach speak and into the drills and exercises.”

Cheetham’s role is largely to interact and advise with the various National Governing Bodies that make up the U.S. Olympic teams as they enter into the final training stretch of Tokyo 2020.

READ MORE: Inside Sports Tech Tokyo’s Aspirations to Be Gateway to Asia for Sports Tech Businesses

His main goal is to help the various teams, coaches and technical directors select technology that is simple to use and helps understand and improve athletes more rapidly and to avoid injuries.

“If tech can help an athlete be quicker and better, then we’re for it,” Cheetham said.

That said, Cheetham said the technology used within the U.S. teams across the sports spectrum have to not be too intrusive. The equipment — like wearables – must be simple and easily integrated into a piece of clothing or shoes, without impeding the athletic performance. They also need to be accurate, and accuracy is improving regularly, but still can be a problem.

Cheetham, a former Olympic gymnast for Australia, also has a passion for diving and has several pet projects working with those two sports at the USOC.

The technology within the U.S. Olympic community is greatly helped by a fund created by philanthropists from Silicon Valley. Cheetham said the fund is made up of entrepreneurs and billionaires from V.C. firms and tech companies, to provide an advisory board.

“It’s not just money, but expertise and networking,” Cheetham said. “These guys are the top of Silicon Valley, so they know everybody. If we want to know what’s best in motion capture, artificial intelligence or virtual reality, we can go to them first.”

The Olympic organizations often have a chance to be among the first users for a lot of technologies in sports — and while it can be great to be on the cutting edge of the innovation, Cheetham said it’s important not to let the athletes be guinea pigs.

“A lot of times, we get prototypes, and that’s good and bad,” he said. “A lot of times, a weekend warrior or high school and college athletes can do the basic testing and when the tech is close to ready, that’s when it comes to the Olympics.”

That’s because if the data doesn’t work, it can’t help the teams improve. Technology, like one of his pet projects in motion capture, has increasingly gotten better and faster, collecting so much more data and more efficiently without disrupting athletes. Now the statistical models created can be much more useful in following trends and designing training around how long to train and when to take breaks.

READ MORE: Why Alibaba’s Push Into Sports Is a Natural Fit for the Chinese E-Commerce Company

“We’re really interested in tech that helps us track training length and intensity, and if we can do that, we can periodize training sessions better and taper perfectly for a competition,” Cheetham said. “When you’re training at an elite level, you’re walking a tight-rope of performance and injury. You can’t win a competition if you’re not in it, and the tech is helping us avoid injuries.”

The data collected can also provide coaches with more accurate information for better coaching, like if a shot put throw is off six degrees. It’s no longer “I think you were.” Now, it’s “I know you were.”

When it comes down to the technology used, Cheetham said the USOC takes yearly solicitations and ranks projects and budgets based on which ones will have the best chance to improve medal count. Often, the projects are easily transferable from one sport to another.

One example he provided was a radar technology used to track shot put, javelin, discus and hammer throws. The USOC technology was originally developed to track golf balls.

“We’ll do some blue sky projects, but most are good sells and no-brainers.”

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Why Alibaba’s Push Into Sports Is a Natural Fit for the Chinese E-Commerce Company

A long-term Olympic partnership showcases the cloud computing power of Alibaba and makes it a global player in the sports tech industry.




Photo via Alibaba

Alibaba, China’s massive e-commerce company, is making its presence felt in sports.

The Chinese company first entered the sports realm in 2017, signing a long-term partnership with the IOC to become the official “Cloud Infrastructure and Services” and “E-Commerce Platform” partner of the Olympics.

Heading into the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games, Alibaba has partnered with Intel with intentions to develop the first AI-powered 3D tracking technology. The partnership will utilize Alibaba’s cloud computing with Intel’s hardware and deep-learning algorithms.

The partnership with Intel will hopefully bring Alibaba more name recognition and insight into the company’s operations, said Joey Tan, Alibaba Cloud head of global initiatives and general manager of sports business unit.

“It’s just getting the brand out there,” Tan said at CES this week in Las Vegas.

Alibaba Cloud is the world’s third largest cloud provider, behind Microsoft and AWS, and its foray into sports has all been cloud-driven. Tan said Alibaba’s exploration into sports is about four key points: digitizing fan engagement, innovative broadcasts, cost-effective operations, and high-performance athletic training.

READ MORE: Inside Sports Tech Tokyo’s Aspirations to Be Gateway to Asia for Sports Tech Businesses

At the first Olympics as a sponsor, the company put on the Alibaba Olympic Games Showcase at PyeongChang in 2018. The immersive and interactive exhibit gave more than 100,000 attendees a glimpse at how technology can change future games.

In September 2018, Alibaba partnered with the Olympic Broadcasting System to launch the OBS Cloud to digitize broadcasting of the 2020 Olympics. The OBS Cloud helps streamline broadcasting workflow.

The OBS Cloud also goes along with the announcement of the Intel partnership, which will create deeper conversation around performance tracking by giving fans insights into the world-class athletic performances.

“It’s creating better athletic content to tell better stories,” Tan said. “It’s for broadcasters to tell wonderful stories, but at the same time, use it for teams and federations to do more fine-tuning with the athletes.”

Alibaba holds lots of American sport broadcasting rights in China. The company won Pac-12 rights and the ability to broadcast 175 events annually. The company’s streaming arm, Youku, won rights to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Youku also has a partnership with the NFL.

Sports were a natural fit for the evolution of the Alibaba company, Tan said, as founder Jack Ma believes strongly in “health and happiness.”

Alibaba has so much technology in the retail realm, and Tan said they’re pulling that technology and applying it to sports — helping showcase the company to a wider audience.

READ MORE: Toyota Grows Olympic Involvement With Six New Partnerships

“We are using the Olympics as a primary showcase of our abilities,” he said. “Sports brings health and happiness, so in 2017 we said ‘let’s make the health and happiness vision true.’”

In December, Alibaba launched the Olympic Store on Tmall, the Chinese retail website operated by Alibaba. Chinese fans can purchase Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 products all year. There are additional plans to launch a global e-commerce platform.

There are no major immediate plans to enter the U.S. market with its sports products, but Tan said the U.S. is certainly on the radar screen.

“The U.S. is one of the biggest markets in the world when it comes to sports consumers,” he said. “Our first strategy is with Intel and working closely with the USOC.”

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