A hot ticket in sport management
Given the increasing costs of operating professional sports franchises and university athletic departs, learning how to sell effectively has become a vital part of a sport management education. Recognizing his students’ need for ‘real world” sales experience, Tony Lachowetz, associate professor of sport management in the College of Health and Human Sciences at Georgia Southern University, found a way to help not only his students, but also the University’s basketball and baseball teams.
‘In 2001 I began teaching a class that sells, in collaboration with the Georgia Southern University Athletic Department, tickets for both the basketball and baseball seasons,” said Lachowetz. ‘In 2007 our sales campaign reached total sales of $22,901, and our grand total of sales since 2001 has been $126,739.”
The fall semester class sells full season tickets, 10-game and 20-game flex plans for baseball, memberships to the baseball boosters’ organization, Eagle Dugout Club, and Luxury Suite rentals for baseball. The most popular products by far are BallPark Bound and Courtside Bound, season ticket packages for purchase by individuals and businesses, then distributed through nonprofits to provide opportunities for underprivileged children to attend college basketball or baseball games.
‘Forty-five percent of our season tickets sales are the BallPark Bound and Courtside Bound products. They are purchased by consumers who might never attend a Georgia Southern basketball or baseball game,” said Lachowetz with a grin, ‘but they are consumers who certainly understand how much their gift of a ticket means to a child. I have to say that those two packages are very effective product offerings.”
Before they start their sales campaign, Lachowetz makes sure the class is steeped in sales tactics and marketing strategies. They begin by reading and discussing books that describe successful sales tactics. One assignment calls for students to collectively generate a list of the attributes and benefits of their products, and that becomes part of another assignment, developing a sales pitch. Once students establish their pitch, they participate in mock telemarketing activities under the critical eyes of other students and faculty. The class also gets a visit from Keith Bradshaw, manager of inside sales for the Atlanta Hawks, who shares some of the tactics used by his sales staff.
Two weeks before the sales campaign begins, the athletics department mails postcards to season ticket holders to let them know that sport management students will soon be calling. With a list of prospects that includes current season ticket holders, the students begin a five-week sales campaign that helps to reinforce the personal selling and telemarketing strategies they’ve learned. To motivate the students and maximize sales, the athletics department offers incentives including cash prizes, tickets to professional team games, and athletic gear. During class they share individual sales experiences and tactics, both successful and unsuccessful.
‘One tactic we encourage is for the students to ‘wrap up’ each sales call with names and numbers for three referrals,” said Lachowetz. ‘We’ve tripled our sales database in five years just by asking for referrals.”
Lachowetz presented the plan for his sales class at the 5th Annual Sport Marketing Association (SMA) Conference in November 2006 in Denver, Colo., and he continues to get positive feedback from sports management colleagues around the nation. In fact, many of the participants at this year’s SMA annual conference told him they are beginning a similar class.
‘I have found talented and motivated sales and service people through the sport management program at Georgia Southern,” reports Keith Bradshaw, sales manager of the Dallas Cowboys’ New Stadium. Bradshaw, formerly the senior manager of season ticket sales for the Atlanta Hawks/Thrashers, visits Georgia Southern each fall to provide real-world education for students in Lachowestz’s sales class.
‘The front office of any sports organization typically has an eye out for nothing but the best,” said Bradshaw. ‘The most recent hires out of the program have verified that Georgia Southern prepares their students extremely well. Word has spread and it is quickly becoming a first look’ throughout the industry.”