Q&A with sports industry executives
by theClubhouse team | March 25, 2020
Dan Newhart – Director of Ticket Sales & Service at the Tampa Bay Rays
Allen Jabero – Director, New Business Development at the LA Dodgers
Will Weinstock - Manager of Inside Sales at the Denver Nuggets
- 1. What were your initial thoughts after hearing the season was suspended?
Dan Newhart: My initial thoughts were to make sure that both our staff and our fans were addressed appropriately and to make sure they had all of the information to date.
Allen Jabero: As the news of the virus continued to escalate, we started to expect a little bit of a change or adjustment with larger crowds, specifically the sports industry being impacted. We met more as a leadership team in preparing and putting a plan together for if something were to happen. A complete suspension of all leagues was definitely a shock but completely understandable. Our priorities shifted drastically, but our plan we put in place made it as smooth as we could possibly make it.
Will Weinstock: It was last Wednesday night, and I was preparing to come into the office the next day to the expected news that the NBA would start playing games without fans. Then, in a matter of seemingly 30 minutes that night, the Jazz vs. Thunder game was postponed, an NBA player had tested positive for COVID-19, and the NBA was suspended. It feels like that was so long ago, even though it’s only been a week. I think I was just in disbelief and shock. I kept thinking the next day would be one of those days in my career that I would always remember.
2. After getting through the shock, what were your immediate top priorities?
DN: Immediate top priorities were to ensure appropriate messaging to our entire staff so they had the most to up-to-date information for their personal well-being and then what our message is to our fans. The first MLB postponement only affected our first homestand. So, from the business side, it was focusing on what we could control with reaching out to any larger group events that were taking place during that homestand to move them to a future date, while at the same time communicating with all of our clients who have contacted us with questions.
At this point, with the extended postponement into May and the uncertainty of when our schedule will begin for the 2020 season, the most important part is for us to have a plan in place for when we are all systems go to start the season. There are a multitude of scenarios with regard to the schedule (will missed games be made up, will the 2020 season be shortened, etc) hence why specific polices have not been rolled out to the public quite yet. We are assuring our fans that we will work with them as the situation evolves and the 2020 season schedule becomes clear. In the meantime, we are letting them know that we are taking every measure to ensure that our players, staff and fans are safe.
AJ: The staff. My team and making sure they were in a good place mentally. It was a total shock to everyone, specifically younger reps who went into panic mode. While putting together a strong new business strategy has been a priority, taking care of my staff has been right there with it. If I can't get them in the right head space, it’s going to be nearly impossible to do anything effectively. We met as a New Business team, Friday 3/13, in the afternoon prior to leaving the office for the near future, and talked thoroughly about what our plan was and what to expect moving forward.
WW: My focus began giving my reps as much information as possible to perform their jobs well and to communicate with my reps as soon as I got information or updates. We are going through this together for the first time. Neither me nor my team has ever had to work through a league stoppage. So that, along with the uncertainty of when the season will resume and working remotely, all were occurring at the same time. So, in that moment, I just wanted to put my team in a position to succeed, whatever the changing circumstances were.
3. What has been the message to reps that are concerned about their jobs?
DN: Our organizational culture has always been “employees first.” Currently, we have transitioned our entire front office to work from home and are encouraging them to practice aggressive social distancing, per advice from public health experts. We encourage everyone in our community to do the same. Here is our plan.
In addition, every MLB team will be committing $1 million dollars to help cover lost wages to ballpark employees.
AJ: You’re not alone. This entire world is going through the same situation that you’re going through. The best thing you can do right now, is take this one day at time and continue showing the value that you can bring to this organization in keeping the business moving forward. There’s going to be another side to this. We’re going to come out on the other side and there will be baseball to be played. WHEN we come out on the other side, you’ll be 10x stronger and ready to pick up full steam. This will be a challenge that you’ll be able to tell as part of your story for the rest of your career.
WW: I have gotten this question from my reps because they are on our entry-level sales team. I think it is hard when they see people in the travel and entertainment industries getting laid off. I don’t know what the future holds; anyone could lose their job at any time. But what I have reiterated to my team is that laying off people right now is the last thought for our leadership team. They are focused on driving the company forward with the team we have in place. When things start turning around, we are going to need our top salespeople more than ever. There isn’t a team out there I would rather be going through this with.
4. What have you told the reps to communicate to existing clients/and or prospects they’ve been talking to?
DN: We need to continue to provide superior customer service to all of our clients, keep them informed of the latest, let them know that we’re working closely with MLB and we will be following up with them as soon as detailed information becomes available regarding the start of our season, including all ticketing information.
AJ: Thanking them for their loyalty and appreciate the patience as we move through this tough time. We are placing our Membership base, Group base, Individual game buyers, etc into different buckets and communicating updates as we hear them accordingly. As for our prospects, reps have stayed in communication with all prospects in their respective pipelines, really trying to get them to the goal line of a decision in the fact that there is still a season and we can pick right back up once we have finalized prorated packages, pricing, etc.
WW: I’d prefer not to answer this question. Our strategy is very similar to other teams in our league.
5. Anything you’ve told your reps to prioritize for the next two weeks while everything is still fresh and unknown?
DN: Working from home is new to a lot of us in this industry, and it’s important to stay sharp and be ready to go once the plan for the 2020 season is clear. Their first priority is to make sure any inbound voicemails and emails are handled. Their second priority is to take the extra time that they may not have had in weeks prior to focus on building up their self-directed leads, doing research on industries both where they have and haven’t had success and perfecting their craft with brushing up on sales training notes, participating in webinars and sales training sessions. Most importantly, we want to ensure their own well-being given the uncertain times and challenges we are all facing.
AJ: 1) Stay in constant communication with your prospects/clients as we continue to hear updates, 2) Prospecting new business and filling our pipelines with new leads that we can hit “Go” on once we’re in a better position, 3) Constant trainings and sharpening our process to stay on top of our game.
WW: I think the next couple of weeks is a huge opportunity for us with training and development. My bosses have challenged me with making sure my team is ready to come back from this break hitting the ground running. The last couple of days I have been working to put together a training regimen for my team. The last thing we want to do is to do nothing for a couple of weeks, and then take a couple weeks to get up and running once we are back in the office.
6. How can reps stay sharp during this time?
DN: See #5
AJ: This is the perfect time to look at ourselves in the mirror and take this opportunity to perfect our craft. Consistent group trainings as well as one-on-one settings with both your teammates and team leader. This is our chance to get better and know that we’re moving ourselves in the right direction with a solid process.
WW: We have talked to our reps about this subject a lot the last couple of days. The thing we have stressed most is to create a routine working from home: getting up in the morning, making breakfast and getting dressed for the day. To be clear, we aren’t asking our team to dress in formal attire but to get out of their pajamas and put on some real clothes. I think it is something small, but I believe it leads to higher productivity. Every day in the office, my team has a morning huddle before we kick off our days. We are doing the same thing now, just doing it over video conference. Last thing I am doing is asking my team to find one productive hour every single day, outside of scheduled conference calls and trainings, to dedicate to prospecting and cleaning up their pipelines.
7. Any advice for other team leaders?
DN: Open communication both business and personal related. Working from home, we have a number of calls scheduled daily to keep all lines of communication open with two managers being dedicated to the entire sales and service team. We are all in this together and with things changing daily if not hourly, we need to make sure our staff is doing the best they can personally and have all of the most up-to-date information from the business side. At the end of the day, we all need to stay positive and realize that we can and will be a positive outlet for sports fans once games resume.
AJ: 1) There is no such thing as too much communication. Taking a step back and realizing that your staff is the most important. Listen and understand where they are coming from, and using the group to help put together a plan.
2) If you are in a position where you feel like you’re at a standstill with selling inventory, this is where you double down on training and invest in your group showing them that we can still make progress during this tough time.
WW: I think I am about as far from an expert as possible in this area. My first day working from home in my entire career was on Monday. My focus so far is just to overcommunicate as much as possible. We find our sales reps thrive when they have direction on what they are supposed to be doing on an everyday basis, as well as knowing what is expected of them. Our reps are moving from a situation where they come into work every day knowing what they are going to be doing each day to a much different situation, with a ton of uncertainty. I think one of my biggest responsibilities is to provide as much clarity as possible and to overcommunicate whenever and wherever I can.