As we discussed last time, the beginning of the off-season is all about setting the organization up for a strong off-season of ticket, sponsorship and suite sales. For a Minor League team to succeed on attendance thresholds and eclipse year-long budget totals, it is imperative that they insulate themselves with a large proportion of sold assets long before any of their players step on the field and any fan has gone through the turnstiles.
Work in early November sets the tone for the entire off-season, and could make the difference between financial success and failure in about a year from now. In baseball terms, it’s capitalizing on scoring chances in the first inning, to make life easy late in the game and ensure the score isn’t close when it doesn’t need to be.
Let’s go over what’s going on in the front office right now, and also touch upon a few of the challenges staff face.
Staying Ahead of The Sales Curve
In all walks of life, it’s important to never fall behind. Never fall behind in the count, never fall behind at the blackjack table, never fall behind in your studies. Falling behind in sales means the mood and tone changes in the office. Your internal meetings are more uptight, your voice and body language in external meetings sound a bit more desperate, your follow-up emails become a bit more frequent, and the losses that begin piling up look really daunting.
One of the reasons some teams send out ticket and suite renewals at the end of the previous season is to capitalize on fans literally being in the ballpark and thinking baseball. Teams give discounts for early-bird renewals, or use the sneaky ‘renew now at last year’s prices’ to make sure they start off-season sales on the right foot.
The best thing teams could do to create organic and genuine demand and urgency is to have a good product. Essentially, when a company buys a suite, they look around and see other suites are full, or co-workers and friends talk about their experiences at the game and how they have to go. When this occurs, companies know they don’t need a financial carrot to renew their package. They know if they don’t renew, someone else on a waiting list will swoop in and take their spot. It’s the equivalent of some restaurants that need a Groupon to lure in patrons, and some need their patrons to make a reservation three weeks in advance just to pay full price.
Currently, teams are predominantly looking to renew their existing partners. Perhaps they have created a deadline with which they need to renew in order to keep their seats (“Let us know before Dec. 1 to keep your same seats!”) They are also working on those very warm new business leads that they have spoken to during the summer, or have been working on for a few months. New business this early in the off-season not only ensures revenue, but it also educates the fanbase that they have to buy this early. This way, businesses put it into their budgets and know that if they want a suite or season tickets, it needs to be secured and paid for long in advance.
One of the toughest things to do is to convince fans and sponsors to pay fair value if they have not been doing so for years. It takes guts and a lot of patience because a lot of those sponsors don’t appreciate being told their previous money wasn’t good enough or up to par, let alone the fact they have to pay more for the same assets. Most often, the team may not have a replacement, so they opt to just take the money and move on. It’s only teams with a stable ownership and management team that could turn that ship around properly and then prevent that sliding scale.
The value of a team mascot deserves its own article, but this is a great time to mix in a few mascot appearances in the community to show fans that the team isn’t just a summer activity. It is a 12-month business working hard for the people of the city to not only generate interest in the team and make the city that supports them better, but to make their sponsors and ticket holders proud to support them. You would be surprised at how minor league teams absolutely run circles around bigger sports teams in this aspect.
Integrating New Staff
One of the reasons teams have a robust internship program is to be able to use that staff to hire full time. That way, they already know the playbook and can hit the ground running. These new hires have developed relationships with many key internal stakeholders, met a few of the fans, and understand the ‘pace’ of the business during key times. At this time, they are being introduced to the Dog Days of Winter, as I refer to them, as they eagerly learn the underbelly of the business and all that goes on behind the curtain.
I used to like to start new staff out making internal sales calls – calls to people that have already been to games, whose contact info we have procured from online or telephone ticket orders. As mentioned above, if we have something to tell these fans about (e.g. holiday special) it makes the call relevant and friendly, even if it most often ends up in a no-sale.
The key with these new hires is to not put too much on their plate, so they don’t get overwhelmed, pressured, and think they have to over-deliver. They’re probably already putting pressure on themselves to rationalize to their bosses they are the right hires and want to make a big splash. Integrating them in slowly ensures they don’t lose confidence and they can accomplish their goals in bite-size pieces.
Staying Focused During the Adrenaline Drop-Off
This took me a few years to really adapt to, as it is hard to find a happy medium between:
- Being refreshed from a few days off after the season
- Being energized despite daylight savings time and the season being so far away
- Having an internal countdown until travel and fun during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons
Admittedly, it is difficult for fans to think about baseball so many months out, especially when school has started.
As a leader, something to be leery of is the adrenaline drop-off the full time staff may experience from being in-season —surrounded by sunshine, thousands of fans every day, and a seemingly endless supply of enthusiasm — to the off-season, when the weather gets colder and darker, the business hours are more traditional, and there is more office work to complete.
The latter is important, because some staff are much better in front of fans, delivering excellent customer service and memorable experiences. The office work, combined with the long off-season ahead may not be their primary strength, so it is up to management to extract some productivity (revenue) and keep them engaged and focused.
I know the old cliché goes ‘if you have to motivate your staff, you have the wrong staff’, but there is something to be said about putting together tasks and unique ways to generate revenue for people to use their brains, especially in a service-based industry.
Lead Photo: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports