NHL, hockey, sports business, career, career growth, ticket sales, training, learning, sharks

What I learned in my first year in sport sales

by Jeremy barber - Account executive, business development at the san jose sharks
August 04, 2020

I remember lying awake in bed the night before I was set to move to San Jose on February 28th, 2019, to begin my career in the sports industry. It was already past 2:30am and I had to be up by 4:00am to catch my flight out of Burlington, VT, but I couldn’t fall asleep as I was overcome with all types of emotions.

Excitement was an understatement. I had grown up near Lake Placid, NY with many memories of playing hockey on the 1980 Olympic Rink and attended a prestigious hockey school, Clarkson University, for college. Working within the NHL was a dream come true about to actually happen and I definitely had those Christmas Eve butterflies in my stomach. My manager and I laugh about it now, but I was so excited to work in hockey that I actually accepted the job offer from the San Jose Sharks as I was getting off the airplane for my layover in Minnesota, on my way home from the group interview. I was about halfway home and hadn’t had a chance to tell my parents how it went or discuss the reality of moving across the country. So, you could imagine how both my managers and parents were taken aback when I gave my verbal commitment immediately.

As I was lying in bed, the reality of it had finally sunk in and thoughts were racing through my mind. I began to feel nervous, realizing that I was about to leave all of my friends and family behind while I took a 50-hour car ride to the other side of the country. I started to wonder how I would fit in with this new environment. Would I be able to make it financially? What if the position isn’t for me? All of the same questions that I’d imagine ran through the heads of those before me. I was in a unique position at home as well, poised to be the 3rd generation to run our family business. Leaving that behind weighed heavily on me. The biggest question that kept me awake that entire night, as I laid in bed in bed with my dog Copper, whom I was also leaving behind, was… “Had I made the right decision?”

"There is so much learning and growth that is achieved in Inside Sales, but it will only go as far as you take it."

Fast forward exactly one year, February 28th, 2020, and there I am in our BMW Lounge, finishing up a speech to our Ticket Sales & Service Team, ending it with “….taking the Inside Sales position with the San Jose Sharks had turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. Thank you!”

Leading up to that Friday, I was creeping up on my one-year mark in Inside Sales and had started to read into the Sharks not having any openings on our New Business Development Team (which we had identified as the best next step for me). I had fallen short on a promotion opportunity a few months before and felt that my future with the organization was very much up in the air due to the lack of open jobs in front of me. I was fortunate to have made a strong connection within the sports industry before my time with the Sharks, and one of my contacts had reached out to me with an Account Executive opportunity with another organization in early February.

After going through the interview process, I received a formal job offer from that organization and made sure to tell my manager right away. He kindly asked me not to accept it yet. The next morning, February 25th, I walked into our Club 525 for my 1on1 with my Inside Sales and New Business Development managers, Connor Stefanski and Eric Manuta respectively, and after pulling my leg for the first few minutes, I will never forget what came next. They had informed me that on that Friday, February 28th, I will be joining the New Business Development Team as an Account Executive!! It turns out that they had the same desire for me to remain part of “Team Teal” as I did, and they were able to add a position to the team!

On February 28th of 2020, as I was awarded my promotion jersey from the “Shark Cage” and while giving a brief acceptance speech, I could not help but smile deeply, realizing that after all the worries I had exactly a year ago, this move did indeed turn out to be the best decision that I had ever made. In that brief moment, I was able to reflect on the growth and relationships that I developed, both personally and professionally over my first year. Those helped me take the next step in my career and in my life.

Be fearless:

As many of you already know, the sports industry is extremely competitive. It’s hard to get your foot in the door, and it’s even harder to grow after you are in. The products that we sell and the atmosphere that we work in are second to none, so it makes sense that there are more job seekers than there are available positions.

I remember when I was looking to get my foot in the door, I took my first group interview in Houston, Texas with the Astros. I was amazed by Minute Maid Park as I stepped in and I was taken aback by how many others there were in the interview. Being that it was my first time, and I was unsure exactly how to carry myself, I found that I often let others speak or volunteer while I would carry up the end in a respectful way. Unfortunately, when it came time to find out if I would be moving to Houston, I learned that I did not show that I was fearless enough for the role. Sales is a role where you constantly learn and immerse yourself in uncomfortable situations. You drive conversations and decisions with C-level executives and build relationships with as many people as you can. You have to be fearless.

"That said, a poor teammate or team culture can be catastrophic to the overall success of the organization, leaving no place for it in this industry."

I was able to take the feedback given to me on that phone call into my next group interview with another MLB team. In the very beginning of that next interview, the Inside Sales Manager asked each of us to volunteer and stand in front on stage and share 3 minutes about ourselves. I am sure at this point you can probably guess who jumped up on the stage and went first. I remember as I stood up to kick it off, the Inside Sales manager had gotten excited and uttered the words, “Lets go!! My guy Jeremy going first!” My fearlessness out of the gate during this day made me confident, which allowed me to excel throughout the rest of the day. I felt like I had made the strongest first impression that I could, and fortunately they thought so as well. They offered me the position that night during the baseball game, following the group interview.

Everything happens for a reason in this industry and while that position wasn’t the best fit for me with the timing, it gave me the confidence needed to stand out at the Sharks interview in the same way. It also provided me with an amazing connection down the road that led to the other job I mentioned earlier in this blog. This all happened because I was the first person to put myself in an uncomfortable situation.

Again, there is so much learning and growth that is achieved in Inside Sales, but it will only go as far as you take it. Whether it be role-plays or volunteering within trainings; calling accounts that have problems (problems = opportunity); meeting with C-level executives; asking for help from other departments; working on your weaknesses more than your strengths; and so many others… being fearless and putting yourself in those situations will ultimately be a huge factor in determining the amount of success that you have, and how far you will go.

Always be a good teammate:

Most of us in the sports industry grew up as athletes, leading to our passion for the industry, and working together comes naturally. I have come to learn quickly that sports sales is very much just as team oriented and competitive as the actual sport itself. While of course you have your own individual goals, they are all part of an equation that adds up to department and organizational success. That said, a poor teammate or team culture can be catastrophic to the overall success of the organization, leaving no place for it in this industry. So, what things can you do individually in order to impact organizational success?

First and foremost, show up punctually each day, ready to work hard and with a smile on your face. Your emotions and actions will always affect your teammates around you, and it is crucial to always do it in a positive manner. Not every part of any job is always fun, and you will get told “NO” A LOT(!), but you must continue to bring your excitement time and time again as it shows on your prospects, and equally important, rubs off on your teammates that are listening. As one member on the team begins to pout when things aren’t going well, their emotion in turn brings down that of those around them, and we feed on emotion in this business.

So how can you be a teammate when things aren’t going well? For all you baseball fans out there, I am sure you know that even MVP caliber sluggers will slump from time to time. That is no different in sales, even the best sellers will have “sales slumps” at one point in their career, where they simply aren’t producing revenue the way they normally do. Whether it is a result of not getting enough appointments booked or just not running into the right prospects, it should never change an “always ready to sell” mentality.

"I started seeing my teammates have more success and I didn’t respond well. I took my foot off the gas and I got frustrated. It caused my biggest sales slump."

We commonly host pre-game prospecting events where we invite our prospects to the games to showcase our products and seats in attempt to find the best fit for them in our Sharks family. Unfortunately for me, last fall during arguably one of the most crucial times of my career, I had hit the worst slump I had faced since I began selling. Although selling my own accounts was pretty scarce during this time, what might have saved my career with the Sharks were the pre-game events and open houses. During those opportunities where I did not have any of my own prospects out, I realized that I can still contribute no matter what. So, I would find clients of my teammates who were busy and run their extra appointments for them. I started to see success in selling for them by gaining trust with their accounts. I was still having an impact on the team regardless of being in my own slump. This has become something that’s a staple for me still to this day. I began to take such pride in helping teammates that when our Inside Sales manager moved on for another position, it created an opportunity for me to help take our newer Inside Sales Reps on their first appointments and show them the ropes. Still to this day, my favorite sale that I have ever been part of was one that wasn’t even my own.

Marlo Lile had joined the team shortly before our manager left, and I was fortunate to be able to take her on her first appointment with Herold and Esperanza, her prospects. We ran through our typical process as we walked around the arena, learning as much as we could about them as fans. Marlo did an excellent job driving the conversation and we learned that although they lived 3 hours away, they were looking to do a half season so that they could be flexible with their schedule and catch the games he wanted at a better price. Plus, they liked the simplicity of coming to games with a package rather than buying last minute. We also learned that Herold’s biggest issue was he was off Tuesday-Thursday and would only be able to catch games on those days. When it was all said and done, we were able to pitch full-seasons for maximum flexibility with his work schedule so that he could catch all the weekday games and not just pick half of them, as well as see some return on his investment re-selling the more popular weekend games that he could not make. He was unsure until we pulled out the half season schedules and put them in front of him, in which he responded by pulling out his credit card and selecting the full-season membership as his best fit. I will never forget this sale due to the complexity of it, but even more so, due to the celebration and pure excitement that I got to share with Marlo in the elevator after making her first sale. Being a teammate is very much necessary, as well as it is rewarding.

Your response is key:

In the sports industry, as in any kind of sales, it is extremely easy to get too high on your “highs”, as well as too low on your “lows”. Regardless of whether you experience a positive or negative situation, it is important to train yourself to think, “What’s next?” This is something that sadly took a little bit longer for me to learn.

Joining the team right before our lengthy playoff run to the Western Conference Finals in 2019, I had seen some success selling our full-season memberships early on and was starting to gain a reputation as someone who could sell New Business. I then experienced my first off-season directly after and as we moved deeper into the summer, the sales became much harder to come by. I started seeing my teammates have more success with partial plans and I didn’t respond well. I took my foot off the gas as I was frustrated, and it caused my biggest sales slump. Unfortunately, my response changed what felt like a secure future with the organization to uncertainty about what my next several months held for me. It put me in a position where I had not created enough distance with the reps starting behind me, and I missed opportunities that rarely came by. I was nervous.

"I found that I was getting caught in a cycle that left little opportunity for me to accomplish my personal goals, which in turn affected my passion towards everything else I was doing."

Around November right after I had fallen short of the promotion, I reached out to my previous manager, the one that hired me, Nick Szpur, currently with the New York Mets. I had explained my nerves and the situation, and I will never forget what he told me next. He said, “Jeremy, with this opportunity, you can now take 1 of 2 paths. You can let it eat you up and not move past it, a path that will walk you out of the industry. Or you can choose to work harder, be a better teammate, and show that you belong. The latter will build you a career in this industry, your response is key.” From that moment, I recognized that I allowed myself to get way too low on my lows, and it pushed me away from the process that I was confident in.

Nick’s call stuck with me as I worked hard to prepare for our Sharks365 onsale in early December. I was determined to show everyone that I belonged with the Sharks organization and the New Business Development team. I focused on reconnecting with my previous book of business in hopes for upgrades, keeping my pipeline full and set multiple appointments for each sales event, never wasting an opportunity. I was able to upgrade a handful of my SharkPacks (11 game plans) to full seasons, as well as a single game group account. I was also seeing success giving myself multiple opportunities to sell at every event. I had sold at least one account during the first 5 games of onsale. When it was all said and done, I was able to double my total from the previous campaign of full-season revenue in the first two and a half months, and was just under $3,000 away from hitting my yearly Sharks365 revenue goal in Inside Sales by the end of February. At that time, I did choose the correct path, which made me 10x the seller and made me even more confident in myself.

It is so easy to get complacent at times but another quote that stuck with me from our Director of Client Development, Frank Batres-Landaeta, has helped to make sure I continue to choose the correct response. “Some will, some won’t, so what? What is next?”

Find your passion:

Have I mentioned how passionate I am about hockey yet? LOL. Passion for sports came extremely easy for me as I had also played baseball my entire life, including pitching at Clarkson University. When I started working for the Sharks, we were two weeks away from what went down in history as one of the craziest playoff series in NHL history, with the Vegas Golden Knights. That was the first time I had ever had an opportunity to see the NHL Playoffs live and be part of that atmosphere, which may have spoiled it for me with the way it had ended.

Quickly for those that did not see what happened, the Vegas Golden Knights had a 3-1 series lead. Then after taking Game 6 in Vegas behind Hertl’s double overtime, shorthanded goal, we came back to the Shark Tank for Game 7. Down 3-0 at home with just under 10 minutes to play, we had drawn a major penalty and scored 4 (!!) times on the powerplay to take a 4-3 lead, which was lost with 43 seconds remaining in regulation. For the second straight game we saw bonus hockey, until finally Barclay Goodrow scored the overtime winner to complete the comeback for the Sharks in front of our home crowd.

"I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. In every challenge that I faced in my first year in sports, looking back I see them as unbelievable opportunities of growth."

How could you not be passionate after all of that right?! Believe it or not, passion was something that didn’t come as easily for me in Inside Sales as I thought it would. I loved working at the Sharks, and the competitiveness of sales. I loved my teammates and organization. I loved the products that I was selling, but I had a hard time putting it all together. It sounds crazy right?

What I came to find is that you must truly be passionate about where you are as a complete person, both personally and professionally. After moving across the country, I was determined to make it work. For the longest time, I neglected my life outside of work and didn’t create any routines within my day. I found that I was getting caught in a cycle that left little opportunity for me to accomplish my personal goals, which in turn affected my passion towards everything else I was doing. The only people that I knew were my coworkers, and while I love them dearly, it left me falling short of the personal growth that I had hoped to achieve. During this time, I was also living in the dining room of my coworkers’ apartment with two and a half walls and found myself questioning my own success.

After many 1on1’s with both my Inside Sales and New Business Development managers, we were able to pinpoint what was affecting my work and adjusting my extra time. Living in California has been a blessing, as it is rare to not be able to get on the golf course year-round, and that is something that I have taken advantage of. Through golf and mutual friends, I have been able to join other groups and see new faces; I am now using my weekends for travel and hanging out at the beach, which has since made all the difference in my daily mentality and effectiveness during work.

All in all, while it is so easy for us to be passionate about sports as a whole, it is important to remain passionate about where you are in the present and what you are working towards as well. A career in sales is not easy and can get frustrating and demanding. It is important to be passionate about what you are selling and the opportunities you are creating for your clients. It’s also important to be passionate about the competitiveness and the atmosphere you’re in; but most of all to it’s important to allow yourself the opportunity to always enjoy being in the moment.

Although it’s been a challenge, I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. In every challenge that I faced in my first year in sports, looking back I see them as unbelievable opportunities of growth. My first year taught me trust and camaraderie, passion and confidence, organization and how to not hold back, and give everything your all. It gave me opportunities to see the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and the NFC Championship game at Levi Stadium, along with all of the NHL hockey I could ask for. It gave me family out West and relationships that’ll last a lifetime.

From my experiences… with hard work and determination, success and growth in Inside Sales can be achieved by putting yourself in uncomfortable situations and always bringing a “teammate first” attitude. Also, you must remain present and passionate in what you do, as well as choosing the correct path to take no matter what is thrown in front of you. Trust the process and hold up your end of the bargain. If you do that, then success can be attained by anybody in this industry.


Jeremy Barber grew up in Plattsburgh, NY, playing both hockey and baseball and was an avid sports fan. From 2013-2018, he attended Clarkson University, where he studied Entrepreneurship & Innovation with a minor in Project Management, He also pitched on the baseball team. In 2016, he interned with Headfirst Professional Sports Camps as a coach for the Washington Nationals camp in Washington, DC. Upon graduation, he worked at the family business in Plattsburgh, NY before starting with the San Jose Sharks in March of 2019 in Inside Sales. Currently, he is with the Sharks as an Account Executive on the New Business Development team. You can connect with Jeremy on LinkedIn by going here.