Elevate your career in sports: Jump through "the door" with both feet

by Chris Atack – Director of Ticket Sales & Service at the Ottawa Sport & Entertainment Group | November 07, 2019

Ticket sales is often referred to as the gateway to working in professional sports & entertainment. Check the careers page for the pro team in your market…they are probably hiring for ticket sales right now! Given the amount of voluntary and involuntary turnover in the ticketing world (it is harder than you think), we seem to be caught in an endless cycle of recruiting, hiring, and training. With all those open positions, sports business management grads are encouraged to “get their foot in the door” with an entry level sales job, while pursuing the greater goal of running the team’s social media account, becoming a GM, etc. While this may be sound advice in one respect, it may also torpedo your career before it begins.

Much like athletes on the field, ice, or court, salespeople are evaluated by their performance. To perform at a high level, you need to have a passion for your role and the commitment/drive to deliver on results. Your passion level for the sports industry and/or your future career goals in the industry are therefore irrelevant. It needs to start with a passion for business development and growth. You need to WANT to sell. You need to PRACTICE and develop your sales skills. You need the internal motivation to push to be the TOP rep on your team and find new/innovative ways to win the business. Your performance will help dictate the strength of your personal brand within the organization while unlocking doors that you may not have thought of before.

Conversely, poor performance can flatten your career in a hurry. Having one foot in and one foot out is a dangerous game. The shine of the sports industry wears off in a hurry as will your engagement in a job that you never actually wanted. Without the results, it becomes a challenge for you to find the internal support to move you into a role that you might perhaps be more interested in, like the social media role referred to above. Management sees you as a low performer, so why would they double down on a bad investment?

Have I scared you away from accepting that offer to become the next member of the ticket sales team? Good! Buckle up or get out of the way.

If you are going to work in ticket sales, make the commitment. Give it 18-24 months and push yourself beyond the boundaries that you may know today. Invest in personal development related to your sales career. Absorb the training that your organization provides and apply it (many don’t) to improve your game. Be creative in your approach to prospecting as well as new product opportunities. Differentiate yourself from the rest and contribute to the strategic and tactical initiatives in your department. Show your organization and this industry what you are capable of.

This is precisely what I did a LONG time ago. Growing up in Ottawa, my dream was to work in the sports industry for my favorite NHL team (the Ottawa Senators). When the Senators partnered with a local college to create the first Sports Business Management program in the region in 2002, I decided to take my shot. I networked my way into an internship in corporate sales, which turned into a paid part -time position in ticket sales. Determined to land a full-time job, I simply outworked those who were being paid to do just that and scored a full-time gig upon graduation. With a personal goal of 150 calls per day (typically over a 12-hour period each day), I was quickly able to become a top rep on the sales team.

Of course, my desired destination in professional sports was NOT to work long term as a salesperson slinging season seats or group tickets. I was just “getting my foot in the door” to pursue the dream of working on the sport side of the business and perhaps one day becoming a GM… But, by immersing myself in the ticket sales role and finding success, I realized that a career within the revenue generation side of professional sports was a perfect fit for me. As I gained experience inside the organization, I was able to demonstrate that I had the right brain to assist with the strategic and tactical development of our sales program AND the coaching skills necessary to teach others how to succeed as I had done in the first 2 years of my career. By 2005, I was the Manager of Inside Sales and on my way to pursuing the goals I had set for myself on the business side of sport.

Now 14 years later, I’ve interviewed thousands while hiring and coaching hundreds of sports business professionals as a Manager or Director inside of Ticketing or Corporate Partnerships. While there have been some misses, there is a much longer list of strong performers that have gone on to do great things inside or outside of sports with their career foundation built inside the ticket sales department.

As the owner of a restaurant (where I worked as a bus boy when I was 14) once told me, “there is no sense in doing a job, unless you are going to do it right”. Do yourself and the industry a favor and take these words into consideration as you contemplate your existing role or potential future role in Ticketing!

Chris

Chris Atack is a strategic leader with over 15 years of accomplishments in business development, client retention, data acquisition, analytics, CRM management, and sales leadership. He has a successful record of building high performance sales and service programs, fueled by data, which achieve revenue targets. You can learn more about Chris and connect with him on LInkedIN here.