Working With Non-Profits

I know you were expecting something about Marketing this week. I will get to it, but I wanted to address something else first.

Over the past few weeks, I have been examining our firms relationship with the non-profits that we have worked with. We have spent quite a bit of time working with JDRF, Autism Awareness, The American Cancer Society, American Society for Suicide Prevention, The Ronald McDonald House, Boys and Girls Club, Make a Wish Foundation, Susan G. Komen, United Way, and Big Brothers / Big Sisters – just to name a few.

We have put together programs with our team sports clients that should help drive ticket sales on nights they are partnered with the charity, and that should generate a large donation for the charity at the end of the night. In all, it should be a win / win partnership between the two groups.

When we first meet with a team – no matter what the league – we ask them about their charity events. If it is a short season like arena football or indoor soccer, we usually map out for them ten or so charities in their market that they can partner with, and we schedule those appointments.

Before we meet with each charity however, we sit with the members of the sales team and map out both a plan and expectations.

You see, most of the time when teams approach a charitable organization, the charity and the club are on two different pages, and the end result is usually disappointment for both, and a very short term relationship.

THE TEAM wants to sell more tickets, and fill the building. They understand that the charity usually has a large base of members in which they can market tickets to, and they make the assumption that if they give $2.00 back on every ticket the charity helps them sell, that all of those members will scramble to buy tickets for the team and it will be an instant sell out. The team also usually believes that the charity has all kinds of free time to market tickets for them.

THE CHARITY must be in fundraising mode 365 days a year, and is completely focused on their cause. They view the team as an opportunity to raise some incremental dollars and have a fun night out, while sharing their message with the other fans in the arena that may not already support their cause. The people who are volunteers for their charity are some of the hardest working, most caring people imaginable, and the have been compelled for whatever reason to take up this cause. They are willing to assist in selling tickets for their event night, if they know exactly what they need to do, but they don’t have added hours in the day to do it, and their focus must continue to be what they do every day – raise money for their cause.

The team needs to present their charitable plan the way they present corporate partnerships. It must be a well thought out, fully developed program that clearly outlines the expectations for both parties. The team however, needs to take on a fully operational approach, and execute the night perfectly. After all, they could be raising money someplace else.

Here are the elements that we share with our teams that are the most important to a successful non-profit relationship:

1) Plan at least six months in advance. If you plan this six months before your season begins, you can drive the message through all of your internal and external mediums. Pocket schedules are great advertising, and a great way to get the charities messages out.

2) Give $1.00 back for every ticket sold that night – not $2.00 for every ticket the charity brings to the table. If you want an added incentive, you can give them the extra buck for each ticket they bring to the table – but if you are having “Autism Awareness Night” and have 9,000 people in the arena, budget for it (see where the planning comes into play) and give it to the charity. That check at halftime looks so much better than the $500.00 you would get from them bringing an additional 250 guests.

On a side note- if you do the right thing and give them the dollar per seat sold, make sure your announced attendance is reflective of the donation. If you announce 8,700 guests, the check should be fore $8,700.00.

3) Theme the night. Using autism as the example, if you are going to do a bobble head giveaway that night, and the team is going to be wearing autism awareness jerseys for the post game auction, then the bobble head should be in the autism awareness jersey. Your external media should be reflective of the event, and ALWAYS name the charity in your television and radio campaigns.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4) Silent Auction: While you don’t want to do 10 themed jersey nights every year (although we have worked with a team that did, and between the sponsorship and the auction revenue, they were able to give huge donations to their charitable partners), when you choose the two or three you want to do – make sure you plan it from start to finish to avoid conflicts at the table.

  • Publish the silent auction rules on your website three weeks leading up to the event. Offer fans the opportunity to email and ask questions related to the event, and always answer those questions with 24 hours.
  •  Publish the rules on a large poster sized sign next to the silent auction table. If you publish that your auction will end at the start of the third period, but you pull the bid sheets at halftime, you are going to have a problem (this actually happened to one of our teams). Make sure that every member of the staff knows the auction rules.
  • Have a clear check out procedure and a way for the fan to pay for the jersey. If possible, do not mix the credit card charges from the auction with the credit card charges from your retail business. We owe it to the charity to provide them with a final financial accounting of the auction before they go home, and nobody wants to be in an arena until 2am.
  • Offer to make the calls: Charities are way to busy to send email blasts or to make calls to their database. Ask them if it would be okay (on a one time basis) if they would be willing to share their database with you, and the team can make the calls. This makes the ticket sale much easier for both parties, the team can then deliver the tickets in their usual manner, and provide an accounting to the charity before the event of how many seats they have sold on their behalf. This will cut down on a lot of frustration.
  •  Understand your game presentation: If you are having an autism awareness night, indoor fireworks for your pregame introductions are probably not the best idea. Understand how your game presentation impacts the charity that you are working with, and adapt.
Wave Autism Jersey

We worked with the MISL’s Milwaukee Wave to develop their charitable jersey campaign.

Finally, when a problem arises (and no matter how perfect you are, or how well executed your event, there are issues), make sure that you have empowered every member of your staff to solve the issue, on the spot. When issues are solved appropriately and immediately, that customer will return and do business again with that company 80% of the time. If it is passed off, or tabled until the next day, that statistic is cut in half.

Know that when you are dealing with charitable organizations, you have emotionally invested people that have been personally impacted by something that has caused them to donate time, money, and energy to that cause. Find a way to solve the problem that meets their needs, not the needs of the team. You are trying to build a fan base and do something amazing for your community – keep that in mind when you engage an upset guest.

Now, go sell something.

If You Own A New Franchise, or Are A Minor League, LISTEN UP…

Our entire business is working with minor league sports franchises in establishing a plan for long term sustainability.

Whether you are an established long term minor league sports brand in need of sponsorship or ticket sales assistance, or a new brand looking to launch in a new city, there is one thing that we consistently hear from our team sports clients.

“I wish we had more time”.

You see the season – every season – always comes upon you lightning fast, especially for a minor league club.

Each minor league team strives to provide the best sports and entertainment possible, just like our major league counterparts. The difference is, minor league clubs have to accomplish the same type of entertainment with only 10% of the staff. Most major league clubs have over 125 full time employees, while the best minor league teams have around 10. As long as you utilize those ten people in the right way, and find experienced sports marketers, you can have a long and successful life as a minor league franchise.

We recently worked with a potential ownership group that wanted to bring the Major Arena Soccer League (when we started the process it was the Major Indoor Soccer League, then it became the Professional Arena Soccer League, now it’s the Major Arena Soccer League).

We spent a little over a year assembling an ownership group, speaking with arenas in the region, negotiating three exclusive “founding partnerships” (field naming rights, jersey front and season long presenting partnership). We had begun the process of reviewing resumes for our full time staff, and looking at office space.

The plan was to roll out the brand identity package for the team and launch season ticket sales on June 1, 2014, and spend the next year and a half re-establishing the brand in the region (we were going to bring back a brand that was very popular in the 80’s and 90’s), selling season tickets and building on the $900,000 in sponsorships that were already committed (alright, it was $300,000 per year for three years).

After writing a dynamic business plan and putting the pieces together, we were told by the league that there was already a franchise rights holder in the market place (when the two leagues merged creating a coast to coast, 24 team league, it created a situation in our market where someone else owned a bankrupt franchise). We were asked to meet with the ownership group and see if we could put together a plan that would allow both groups to participate.

This is where timing comes into play.

We met with the group that informed us they would be playing this season. In November. In 7 months.

There was no way that we would jeopardize our plan by launching this season. It was simply not enough time, so we took our 1.9 million in capital and moved on.

This is our example, but I wanted to share with you a few things that new start up franchises (especially in fringe sports like indoor soccer) struggle with or fail to do all together, creating a “one and done” scenario like we are facing here in Tacoma.

STAFFING

Teams need to put a staffing plan together that is sales centric. Operations people can come later. The coach comes later. The players come later. Nothing happens until you have an experienced ticket sales director hire four or five account executives and you hit the market immediately after the press conference (after you have gone through the PSO360 sales training course that is).

If you don’t have people selling season tickets, groups and mini plans, you will die a long slow painful death. If you don’t have a strategic way to sell those seats, the death will be a little quicker.

Bottom line: Have a well trained staff, and a plan. Without these, the rest doesn’t matter.

ANNOUNCEMENT:

If you are a new brand, plan on a huge announcement at the arena or stadium. Engage the market by allowing them to “name the team” and have a public unveiling of that brand.

Do not announce that you are coming to town on Facebook or twitter, and do not send a press release without any details at all. Be prepared to answer questions at the press conference about season tickets (the best time to sell tickets is within 24 hours of the announcement – the phone should ring – so have a phone number, an email address tied to the team – not gmail or yahoo – and be prepared to take orders and visa cards).

If you announce of FB or twitter and then attempt to announce at a press conference, the suspense is gone and your audience no longer cares (as much).

Have your ticket prices set at the press conference, and if you have a “name the team” contest, be sure to have the contest outlined in detail before you announce it – nothing makes fans more mad than thinking they won, and then they haven’t. Be sure you don’t rig the contest by the way – in case that crossed your mind.

PRICE YOUR SPONSORSHIPS APPROPRIATELY

It's easier to sell sponsorships when you have crowds like this.

It’s easier to sell sponsorships when you have crowds like this.

Most owners and rookie team management screw this up big time. They either over price their sponsorships because they believe they can demand six figures for a dasher board sign, or they way undervalue their sponsorships just to get some quick cash and say they “sold out”.

We worked with a hockey team that was selling their dasher board signs for $500.00 (for one) for a season. You could buy the sign either alone or as a part of a package. If you do the math, the team was generating $24,000 from their most coveted property – in arena signage (it was the only in arena signage the team had available, because like most minor league teams, they were only tenants of the arena).

We took over the sponsorship program two years ago, and completely re-vamped the inventory. We split the board inventory up into 10 foot, 15 foot and 20 foot signs (the 20 footer was behind each goal). Instead of $500.00 a board, you would get a pair, and the least expensive pair was $10,000 per season. In addition to this, you could not simply purchase a pair of dasher boards for a season. We packaged it with radio, tickets, and promotions and you had to commit to three years. Our least expensive package went from $250.00 (program ad) to $20,000 (it included a program ad too)

The end result was astonishing. While we did lose a few clients who could not afford more than their $250.00 program ad (all but one still supported the team with a ticket purchase), our sponsorship revenue for this club went from $190,000 per season to 1.19 million, in just a year.

The team had undervalued their sponsorships so badly. You need to understand what your values are – because this type of turn around doesn’t happen every day.

Most importantly you are not a sponsorship sales professional anymore – be creative, you need to know how to use team sports to sell more beer, drive auto sales, activate cell phones, and sell more produce at the local Fred Meyer.  If you can’t effectively drive traffic to retail locations, get someone who knows how to do this – because the only thing the sponsor cares about is selling more stuff.  If done correctly, sports works so much better than radio, television, online or print.  Seriously.

YOUR TICKET HOLDERS ARE YOUR LIFE

Have a plan in place to reward your season ticket holders. The Seattle Sounders have a tremendous program with the “Match Pass”, and many other teams do great things to allow access to players.

With one team we worked with, we allowed our front row season ticket holders (the most expensive ticket in the arena) access to the locker room up to 30 minutes before game time. Yes, you could go into the locker room up to a half hour before the game. Once we made the announcement, we sold out those season tickets in an hour and a half.

The industry average for renewals is in the 70% range, we are tracking at 84%. Our season seat holders are the most important people in the universe, and yours should be to. Frequent in arena contact and follow up after games is critical, and always solve their concerns immediately.

The Penn Roar opened their offices in June of last year, and played to crowds like this all season long.  The team folded two weeks ago.  You too can be a one and done franchise.

The Penn Roar opened their offices in June of last year, and played to crowds like this all season long. The team folded two weeks ago. You too can be a one and done franchise.

 

PLAN YOUR PROMOTIONS

Seriously, if you do not plan your promotional calendar, and release it with a media partner and a sponsor, don’t bother.  Fans want the most bang for their buck, and if you are just going to open the doors and roll out the ball or puck, you might have a good opening night crowd, but they won’t come back.

The ECHL's Stockton Thunder received National Attention for their "We Paint The Ice Night".  The team actually played on this ice surface.

The ECHL’s Stockton Thunder received National Attention for their “We Paint The Ice Night”. The team actually played on this ice surface.

 

As a part of this series – we will be reviewing clubs throughout the country.  It will be titled “don’t let this happen to you”.

There are a number of others, but if you have the time to build a brand over a year period – do it. In our case with the Major Arena Soccer League, we were told that the league has so many great announcements, that they needed to announce this team and play this year. Those announcements were supposed to happen last week.

 

Tick…Tock… Time is running out.

Nothing happens until someone makes a sale.

NEXT WEEK:  MARKETING

PSO360 Statement on Professional Indoor Soccer in Tacoma

PASL Tacoma
Last week our group formally withdrew our bid to bring the highest level of professional indoor soccer back to the south sound.

Approximately 16 months ago, PSO was approached by a potential investor who had the desire to return the Major Indoor Soccer League to the Tacoma Dome. After months of due diligence and an open dialog with the MISL, the group was ready to submit the paperwork necessary to return the best indoor soccer to the region for the first time since 1992.

Before we could submit our application, several teams from the MISL abandoned the United Soccer Leagues to join the Professional Arena Soccer League. This created a league with a larger geographic footprint that would immediately have brought our club historic rivals in Dallas and San Diego. This is an exciting time for professional indoor soccer, and this merger is historical.

We immediately engaged the commissioner and other team owners to let them know that we had a group ready to join them. Because our business plan called for an 18 month window in which to launch the franchise and ensure it’s financial stability long term, we were asked by PASL “commissioner” Kevin Milliken to wait until the end of April to open discussions with the league. At no time in our discussions with Ed Hale of the Baltimore Blast, Phil Salvagio of the San Diego Sockers or Kevin Milliken were we told that there was an ownership interest in the region already. Because of this, we continued building our ownership group, meeting with sponsors, potential ticketing partners and arenas.

Two weeks ago, during a follow up call with Mr. Milliken, he asked that we meet with Marian Bowers, the owner of the Pacific Sports Center. He told us that it would be important that she be involved in the process. I reached out to Marian immediately and we met the following day.

During this meeting, we were told in no uncertain terms that Ms. Bowers and the Pacific Sports Center owned a dormant franchise in the region, the name and logo TACOMA STARS and that they would be launching this team this fall at the ShoWare Center in Kent. Ms. Bowers was to be the sole owner of the franchise.

We had agreed that we would discuss the opportunity to partner with Ms. Bowers and bring our group and their significant capital to the table to launch the franchise.

Following the meeting with Ms. Bowers, I reached out to every member of the ownership group, and one by one they all agreed on one thing – they were not willing to partner with Ms. Bowers. The major sticking point was a simple one – there is simply too much risk in launching a team in June and playing in November.

The business plan we authored called for a long sales cycle to create long term stability for the franchise. It was also clear that our intention to operate the team as a sports business with a large sales centric staff did not appeal to either the league or the other ownership group. Both Ms. Bowers and the PASL were insistent on playing this season. We were not willing to bend on proven methods for success, and for this reason, we are out.

The world of professional sports is simple, but it’s not easy. The Sounders launched “MLS SEATTLE” in 2007 and spent 20 months selling tickets, sponsorships, broadcast rights, etc. It has become the most successful sports launch in history.

On the flip side, last year the Pennsylvania Roar in the MISL opened their office in July and yesterday closed their offices for good.

We were told that “The league has so many great announcements that it is important to play this year.”

Our position is simple, if the league is doing so many great things, then why wouldn’t you allow an operator to wait a season and build a fan base. If the league is so great, then a year from now when the Stars return, it would be greater.

We have disbanded the ownership group, returned the deposits on the founding partnerships and ceased discussions with the ShoWare Center in Kent for soccer. While we are saddened that our group failed in this attempt to have the most successful indoor soccer sports launch ever seen, we stand by our business plan and the model, and are working with another professional indoor sports league to bring the highest level of sports and entertainment to the fans of the South Sound. We hope to make an announcement in the coming months. And no, we won’t play this season!

On behalf of our group, we would like to wish Marian Bowers and her family the best of luck as they bring the Tacoma Stars to Kent this Fall.

Simple, Not Easy

I can’t tell you how many times I tell people what I do for a living, and they come back with one of the following two responses:

1) What do you do in the off season, golf? or;

2) Selling sports tickets must be easy.

Please note, if you know someone that works for a professional sports team, don’t say either of those things.  It’s like asking a police officer if he takes a nap between pulling people over.

I am going to address the second comment during this entry.  As sports marketing professionals, what we do is simple – but it certainly isn’t easy.  While it might seem more glamorous than selling life insurance or blue widgets, I have some news for you.

– We have desks just like you do at your job;

– We have telephones, email, and computers, just like you;

– We have the same life issues that you might encounter at work, like that annoying co-worker who doesn’t always smell right.

– We have to work long hours and holidays when others have the day off (the NBA plays on Christmas, the NHL on New Years, and don’t forget about College Bowl Season!)

The only difference is, often times our office is located at a sports arena or stadium, oh – and we sell something that nobody really needs.

Our process, like yours is a simple one however, and even with emerging technology (facebook, twitter, this blog, linkedin) the process remains the same, and it works for every team, in every city, in every market across the country.

  • We pick up the telephone and call the prospect and work hard at getting an appointment (our ticket sales training goes into specifics, you understand why we won’t do that here);
  • We go to the appointment and speak with the person that can buy the tickets – and we ask a lot of questions about their business;
  • Because we are the experts in sports marketing (like you might be a great engineer, or amazing police officer) we are able to make recommendations to the decision maker on how our tickets can benefit their business;
  • Then we ask them to buy.

Yea, there are more steps involved – but the process is simple, not easy.

While it might be good to reach out via linkedin or other social media platforms (I have about 550 linkedin connections, 200 of which have come over the last 40 days, and most have come because of a personal connection first), you honestly don’t know if they know who you are or if they are just collecting linkedin contacts (which some people do).  Then when you follow up with an email, and even if you personalize it I have some news for you (key decision makers know it’s generic), it gets deleted.  Then when you finally get to calling them, they might recognize your name and didn’t read an email from you.

You think it’s a warm call, and they have no clue who you are or what your product does.

In addition to all of this – it takes somewhere between 8 and 12 calls to close a sports related sale.  Most sales people give up on call six.  Understanding the metrics and how it works in our business is necessary for success, and I want to share the averages for you right now:

  • It takes 100 calls a day to get 2 appointments;
  • It takes 2 appointments a day (ten per week);
  • It takes 10 appointments (see where the two per day comes into play?) to get 2 sales;
  • It takes 8-12 contacts with the prospect to get them to buy.

There it is.  The magic formula to your ticket sales success.

I know what you’re thinking though, so let me answer the objection before you start in on the excuse.  In every single sales training we do, when we tell the staff that they need to make 100 outbound calls a day, I am told (100% of the time) by one sales executive in each group the following:

  • “It is impossible to make 100 outbound calls per day”

Let’s do some math, shall we?

If you are an average sales person, you have eight hours of work in your day  – so we are going to start with that number – 8 hours.

If you are like most of us (and one of the reasons it takes several calls to get an appointment), on average, you leave 75% voice mails.  As long as you are leaving proper voice mails, they should last anywhere from :30 to one minute.  For easy math, I am going to give you the one minutes.

8 hours in a work day.

75 minutes of voice mails.

Two appointments out of the office (3 hours)

That is a total of four hours and 15 minutes used in a day, so I have another question…

What do you do with the other 4(ish) hours that you’re working, or if you are a successful ticket sales rep – 6 or 7 hours?

The first thing we cover in sales training is how to balance your work day – if you do it properly, you can and will hit these metrics.

Now go sell something.

Sales Might Be The Most Important Thing (and by might, I mean is)…

Since we opened PSO360 a few years ago, we have had the opportunity to experience the best of minor league sports business operations and the not so good.  We have helped a number of teams turn around their operations by either setting up their front offices for them, or creating an atmosphere of continued learning and growth.

The last few weeks, however, have been somewhat of a challenge.

Three times in the last month, we have had great opening conversations with prospective teams looking to join the PSO family.  Two soccer clubs (both indoor) and one Indoor Football team.  For those that have followed our company over the years, you know that we specialize in niche’ indoor sports like soccer and arena football, so we have been down this path before.

In each instance, these teams have a full time staff of one.  You didn’t read that wrong – one. They have filled out the rest of their staff roster with part time people (all of whom have other jobs in the community) and interns (who don’t have a personal stake in the results).

A commission only staff with no training is a recipe for complete disaster.  Part time staff have no risk and only reward, and the team is not seeing the full benefits that a full time staff can offer.

When your staff have full time jobs that provide a full time income, health insurance and more importantly security for their family, they will work very hard for that employer, while doing “what they can” for your team.

When you take into account that they might have children who have dance or scouts, church or other activities, not to mention having to invest in their marriage, what time will that leave for your club?  It’s hard enough to sell tickets or sponsorships on a full time basis if your a minor league club, imagine if you have someone simply sending emails, or making a call here and there – and imagine how much worse it will be when that person doesn’t connect with the right contact, says the right thing, or even worse – makes promises that the team can’t keep.

If you can’t afford to have a full time sales team, then you shouldn’t be the owner of a professional sports team.  If you can afford it, then you should have them trained appropriately, either by our firm or another.

Knowing what to say when you reach the right person, and how to develop a long term relationship with your club is key to the long term stability of your franchise.  If you currently do not have a full time sales staff,  know that the other teams in your market do, and when they are talking to the Boy Scouts, or a large automobile manufacturer they will win the business.  It takes between 8 and 12 calls (contacts) to sell a client – how often is your “part time” sales guy reaching out to your key prospects when they are not really held responsible for their activity?

In my 20 years in sports, I have never seen the “no staff” approach work.  As buyers become more sophisticated in how they interact with the local team, I don’t believe it’s going to begin to work now.

 

 

 

Six Words That Will Change Your (Sales) Life

Have you ever been in what seemed to be the longest sales cycle of your life?

Call after call, and you keep telling your sales manager that the prospect has come up with another reason not to buy this week – even though you have had several fruitful conversations.

Here is an inside tip – a number of times you are stringing the prospect along, not the other way around.

That’s right.  You.  And it can be just as frustrating for the prospect as it is for you and your sales manager.

So let’s solve this issue today.

Ask for the business 100% of the time, or get out of the sports business.

The title of this article is “Six Words That Will Change Your Sales Life,” and I have to tell you – they changed mine.  But you have to be ready to use them, because when you do, it’s going to cause sales and more work for your service team.

Will. You. Buy. My. Product. Now?

There you go.

I had the opportunity last year to work with a young woman who is an account executive with a minor league hockey team.  After our sales training seminar, I spent the next two days in the field with their account reps.  The manager asked me to pay particular attention to this young lady.  He told me that she was dynamic at getting appointments, great with existing customers and her renewals approached almost 85% – the highest in the league!

Where she was struggling however, was new business, and it was getting to the point where she might be let go if she couldn’t hit her numbers.

We visited a prospect that she had seen before, and she again went through her sales pitch, shared with him how they could increase their business by utilizing her teams seating inventory.  It was a great meeting, but it was the third time he had heard “the pitch”.

As we wrapped up, this nice young lady scheduled a follow up call with the prospect for one week later.  He excused us and walked us to the door.

I stopped him.

“Sir,” I said. “You seemed to like everything that my colleague, and have agreed to talk with her about this again next week, which would be the fourth time you have spoken about our tickets.”

 

I paused as he shook his in the affirmative.

“Let me ask you a quick question, Can we reserve your seats today?”

(Notice the question was six words – and in translation simply say “Will you buy my product now?”)

He stopped.  Looked at the both of us and said “I would love to pick out my seats, and my administrative assistant will cut you a check when you leave.”

The problem with our young account executive was not that she wasn’t good at her job, she just wasn’t asking the right question.

He would not have invited her back if he wasn’t considering buying seats, and wouldn’t have agreed to see her again the following week if he had no intention of purchasing.

Asking for the business 100% of the time is the most critical part of your job.

It’s the transmission of your sales car.  If you are not going to ask for the business, it’s time to try a new business.

Incidentally, while this story would be much better if our account executive finished the season in first place in sales and was promoted – that didn’t happen.

She finished second out of 12, and because of the types of sales she closed (premium seats, suites), she made more money than both the first place finisher and her manager.  Not bad for a girl who couldn’t close.

Show me the money