Tag Archive for: Sports Leadership

Game Face Execs podcast episode 20


You can only imagine what sports rabbit hole you could get into when you’ve got the Sage of Sports Marketing on the other side of the Zoom tube. But for this episode, Rob Cornilles brings in his former boss and mentor, Jon Spoelstra for a specific purpose – and that is to take the lessons from sports marketing and sales that cross over to any business in any industry. As a world leader in sports marketing, Jon is a disruptor, an innovator and an inspiration to many sports leaders, including his son, Coach Eric Spoelstra. He is known for his legendary knack for coming up with outrageous solutions to problems. Listen in as he demonstrates some of that on the show.

Watch the episode here:

Jon Spoelstra | The Sage Of Sports Marketing

Has there been someone in your career who either provided you a foot in the door or just dependably ran alongside you as your feet learn to pedal? For me, things changed when I read a book written by Jon Spoelstra. To sports executives, Jon is known as a disruptor, then an innovator as well as an inspiration to leaders including his son, Erik Spoelstra, coach of the NBA’s Miami Heat. I was Jon and his partner’s first hire for their small sports marketing firm back in the early ‘90s. In this episode, I reflect back with my mentor who would later motivate me to launch Game Face. Here is Jon Spoelstra, my former boss and the sage of sports marketing.

Jon, it’s good to see you again. Even though I think you’re trying to fool us here, you’re not really in a Maui right now, are you?

How do you know? The bad thing about Maui is they’ve closed down two of my favorite golf courses. All the golf courses in Oregon are open.

Our viewers are probably familiar with your background. It’s kind of you to join me here in the show. As the people who watched my first episode know, I owe so much of my career to Jon Spoelstra, to you my friend. You and I have not worked together in many years, but your influence has continued with me for decades now. I’m thrilled to be able to talk about what you do and the influence you’ve had on me and so many others, not only in the sports business, but in business, in general, and your writings, etc.

Jon, let’s start in sports because that’s where you cut your teeth. That’s where I did as well. As you look at the landscape of sports, with all that’s going on, and as we are having this interview, there are no fans to speak of in the stands. You made a name for yourself by putting fans in the stands. As you look at the sports landscape, are you bullish or is this more of a bear market for sports as far as you’re concerned?

I’m glad I’m not in it right now because there’s a lot of scared executives and what sports need right now is dynamic leadership more than ever before. I don’t agree necessarily without the no-fans in attendance. I’m more concerned in Major League Baseball about the players because of the locker room and dugout because there is no social distancing there. The St. Louis Cardinals had 11 or 12 people fall to COVID and they came back two weeks later. I look at COVID by naturally, younger players are being like the flu. You don’t shut down the season or you don’t stop the fans because of the flu. In baseball, most of the stadiums are 50,000 seats and you are telling me that you couldn’t put 15,000 fans in there with social distancing. I think that there are a lot of scared executives and I look at that there should be greater leadership. The leagues have to take the action so the teams can perform.

Jon, as the stories are told, you made your career being creative, innovative and a word that you’ve liked to use over the years is outrageous. Could a young Jon Spoelstra make a name for himself in this current climate?

Probably more. I found when I was running Marketing Outrageously, I did a little bit of research on myself and I found that my greatest successes came when the economy was the worst and it’s not good. I didn’t do well when the economy was going well, but everybody did well when the economy was doing good. When the economy was going bad or like during this pandemic, there are a lot of people that are ducking. There are a lot of people that hiding under the covers and waiting for this to pass by and then they’ll emerge and trying to be great. My feeling is now is the time to think outrageous thoughts and be innovative. I’ve talked to quite a few teams that they’re just ducking and waiting for somebody to say, “The season is open. Go ahead and sell tickets.” I don’t think that this is the time to sit and wait.

GFEP 20 | Sage Of Sports Marketing

Marketing Outrageously Redux: How to Increase Your Revenue by Staggering Amounts

Aren’t they somewhat handcuffed by elected officials?

Yes, so instead of just accepting that, they then go to politics. If I could take a bunch of young people and put them in a three-month training program to sell tickets. You’re a trainer. Can you imagine if you could take these young people and mold them for 90 days and the costs would be very nominal because remember we hardly paid these people anything? The costs would be nominal. When selling season opens, if you’re fast, learn how to shoot. I said, “That’s what I would do.” I train these people. There was a book about the medical supply business. The guy’s name is Williams. If you were into medical supplies, they would send you away to train for nine months. I found that amazing if you’d go away to train for nine months before your first sales call. In ticket sales, they train you for what’s a typical team train. If they don’t hire you if they didn’t hire me or Steve.

I was going to say, when I started in ticket sales, I got about nine minutes of training.

If you’re a team or you know you’re going to have a season or you got to assume that there’s going to be a season, this is such a marvelous opportunity to really get good. The opportunity costs are not that great. You’d have the pick of the litter in hiring. You don’t have to worry about Louisiana on the best candidates to another team. That’s the approach that I would take. I would think that when the dust settled in and you’re selling so many tickets if I was doing that, it would be outrageously successful.

I want to talk about that book. The best-selling book that you’ve had and you’re a prolific author. You’ve written several books. The one that seemed to get highest on the charge was Marketing Outrageously. Before that book though, selling Ice to the Eskimos. Those two books, one’s about marketing, the first and the other one is about selling. I want to ask you, let’s hear it from Jon Spoelstra. What is the difference? Because you also used to teach in a university. Jon, you were an adjunct professor at the University of Portland. Give us the textbook to answer. What is the difference between sales and marketing?

Marketing is the positioning of your brand or your product. The selling is going out and selling it, whether it’s face-to-face, with a TV commercial or whatever. The marketing is shaping that brand up and then handing it off to the sales staff to go on sale. That’s the simple version of what I think it is.

If you were to have one of those titles on your tombstone, which one would it be? Are you a marketer, Jon, or are you a salesperson?

[bctt tweet=”What sports needs now more than ever is dynamic leadership.” username=””]

I think it’s which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Which comes first, marketing or selling. My feeling is if you study marketing and come up with a better product, it’s easier to sell. If you’re selling and you have a bad product without marketing, it’s really difficult. When I went to become the president of New Jersey Nets, it was a bad product because the team was losing and the guys were ending up in jail. It wasn’t a great environment. You couldn’t sell anything. The marketing helped us sell because we positioned ourselves, “How can we get sell ops?”

We took the strategy of taking the best opponents, Michael Jordan, Boston Celtics, and tried to sell those games out. We started to get some traction off that. The marketing helped us, otherwise, our salespeople are just going to get killed. Marketers don’t necessarily have to be good salespeople. You have to be good tacticians. They have to know the strategy. Salespeople sometimes or oftentimes are bad marketers, but they can sell.

Your latest book that came out in July of 2020, Get Your Ideas Approved is already being bought up all over the place for those who have not read it yet, is there one or two skills or ideas that we can expect to walk away from having devoured that book?

The best way of putting it is if you have an idea, just go up to your boss to half-ass this idea. Generally, this routinely is thrust aside. I say if you’ve got this idea that you want to run with and you want to present it to your boss, present it as if your boss was the Supreme Court and if you failed, you’re going to be locked up in jail for the rest of your life. If you’re going to the Supreme Court, how much would you prepare that idea? It’s a lot different than going up to your boss to half-ass this idea than almost routinely fails, “I’ve got this idea.” If you prepare as if you’re going to the Supreme Court, which is not as daunting as you think, but you have that mentality first. I’m going to say, “This boss is going to approve what I want to do easily.”

Let me tell you, I’ve had some bosses, like in the New Jersey Nets, there were seven of them. I presented things to them, which they approve. Now, all seven might have approved it for a different reason but they approved it. They were my Supreme Court at the time. It only cost $2 99, which is what I want to do. I think it was only 80 or 90 pages, Robert. To Print-On-Demand with Amazon, you need 100 pages. I didn’t want to add fluff to it, so I added several chapters from Marketing Outrageously thinking, “This is an idea of how to get things approved, here are some ideas.”

I don’t think a lot of people, at least those in the sports industry, you’re also a real fan of writing thrillers. You have at least two thrillers that are also on Amazon. Where did that come from?

It comes from all the traveling I did because as much as I would like to read business books, I’d read thrillers. At one point, I thought, “Maybe I’ll try one.” They’re still selling decently. They’re getting good reviews. I’ve got another one that I’m going to work on this winter.

Jon, the book though I believe was your best was I think your first. That’s not to say your other books aren’t fantastic, but I’m speaking selfishly and personally here. I have volume 2 of How to Sell the Last Seat in the House. You wrote this book based on your experience being the president of the Portland Trail Blazers. You didn’t start as the president, but you moved into that position. You created a sellout streak during the ‘80s and ‘90s, which was unheard of at the time when the team was good and not so good.

GFEP 20 | Sage Of Sports Marketing

Get Your Ideas Approved: Job Skill #1: How to Get Your Boss to Approve Anything You Want to Do

This book, How to Sell the Last Seat in the House, for those of you who are reading who are not from the sports industry, I will tell you, I have to attest that this was the Bible of sports marketing back in those days. Not that it shouldn’t be now, but unfortunately, I don’t think as many young people are aware of it and it may not be taught in a university. Like it should be. I grabbed this book when I worked for the LA Clippers. I began reading it and I devoured it. There are two other volumes, 1 and 3 as well. Jon, you got to tell everybody, how much did it cost someone to buy, How to Sell the Last Seat in the House? It’s $795. I remember.

It wasn’t meant for everybody. There were three times and up to that point, Rob, there had never been anything written about ticket marketing or sales, not even an article because there wasn’t any trade journal at that time, but there was nothing about ticket sales. There wasn’t Google so you couldn’t look online for ticket sales and we’d been pretty successful at selling tickets. There were some teams in the NBA, but I thought had no clue of selling tickets. A lot of teams at that time didn’t have a clue. They’d become a lot more sophisticated. I thought I’d just write this down. A primer from A to Z of this is how you sell tickets. I think, there are 400 teams that have bought it at $795.

It wasn’t a book written for consumers. It was written for business executives within that industry.

Fast forward when I retired, it was about 8 or 9 years ago. I’ve been getting people saying they lost Volume 2 or 3. I spent thinking, I should update this thing, except that updating it wasn’t that easy because everything it seems electronically has changed with all these innovations. I hired at the New Jersey Nets at Mandalay. I said I’d like to update this. I said, “You know as well as I do the books. If you want to go 50-50 and work on this, I’m willing.” That’s where we came up with The Ultimate Toolkit, which is essentially taking that many years forward and using a lot of the innovations that we did at New Jersey and Mandalay and other things that weren’t available back at the Trail Blazers days in the ‘80s.

There was a second run at producing a three-volume book because the industry was crying for more information. You then put out this book, Your Profits Are Brought To You By, a book about how to sell sponsorship and big-ticket items. This also came in three volumes. How much did this cost Jon? It was $1,595. One reason I know about this is, as I was devouring these books, I got a call from your business partner, Doug Piper in 1993. I was working at the LA Clippers. I was Ticket Sales Manager there. Doug invited me to come interview with both of you up in Portland to join your two-person team.

The funny thing about it is long story short, you and Doug hired me. You hired me to sell these books to teams throughout the country, even internationally. The funny thing about that, Jon, is that I arrived in Portland, Oregon, where you were based. I think I started on July 1st, 1993, and I get to the door of SRO Partners. There’s a note on the door and it’s from Doug who says that he’s on the road and you’re off to New Jersey. He told me to go across the hall to another suite and I’d get a key from them. I walked into this new office with my computer and my little desk with a list of teams to call, and you basically both told me, just knock them, dead tiger. Start selling them.

That was the heavy training that we provided. Without doing that, that wouldn’t have led you into developing training for teams.

[bctt tweet=”Spend most of your time and effort on your good products. Don’t worry if your poor products don’t sell.” username=””]

That’s right. I’m forever grateful for your negligence.

I was off then to be president of the New Jersey Nets.

The timing was impeccable because you hired me and as soon as I said, you left. I want to ask you about some key principles from these books. I’m going to use the ticket book, The How to Sell the Last Seat in the House. It changed the way I looked at the industry and what I should be doing as it did for hundreds of organizations. I had the privilege of being probably your first disciple out in the industry because I was telling people about the goodness found in these books and how it would revolutionize their sales.

You allowed me to go out and Doug as well to go out and provide seminars in your name, teaching these teams how to implement the contents of the book. I want to share with you three principles or ideas that stuck out to me. I want to ask you for our listeners and viewers who are not in sports, how would these ideas be applied to any industry? Here’s the first you talk about the importance of sellouts versus the importance of raising your average attendance. How does that principle apply to a tech company or a retail store?

Let’s take a tech company. What I find with different companies is sometimes they try to sell a full product line, but with every company, they’ve got some dog products and they’re blessed if they have some cool products. My feeling is that they spend an inordinate amount of time selling dog products, products that nobody wants and trying to manipulate those products. My feeling is you should spend most of your time and most of your effort on your good products, marketing them. If the poor products don’t sell, don’t even worry about it because generally, the 80/20 rule applies to products too. Eighty percent of your profits with sales are coming from 20% of your products and vice versa.

I would concentrate on that. What we looked at was sellouts and like New Jersey, that was the perfect test tube for that. When I got to New Jersey, they had seven straight years of being the worst team in the NBA. It’s seven straight years of being the worst team in attendance with certain figures. They led the league in drug rehab cases. They were not a favorite team in the New York area. That was the New York Knicks, but New Jersey Nets played New York Knicks and the Knicks were sold out. If you want to see the Knicks, you had to come to us. If you wanted to see the Boston Celtics with Larry Bird on that team, you had to come to us. That’s what we did is the product that we had is we played somebody. My feeling is that with almost any product, any company spends the time on your best products and doesn’t get worried about not spending time with your products.

I remember one of the examples you’ve given in the book is so many teams will have, let’s say an owner who’s very concerned about that low attendance game that’s coming up on Tuesday night. They insist that their executive team and their sales team and the marketers put a bunch of energy and money into selling that game. All of those resources could be spent and, in the end, you may be bumped up your attendance by a thousand people. You also, point out and this is a principle that I have tried to convey with attribution to my clients, which is, people will remember being a part of a sellout. They will not remember being a part of an average house.

Rob with the New Jersey Nets, I gave their seven owners a list of games that they couldn’t go to. A guy said to me, “Wait a minute. I’m the owner. I go to any damn game. I want to go to.” I said, “You can’t go to these games because we’re going to ignore them.” There’s going to be lousy attendance. You’re going to feel bad because there’s nobody there. If nobody goes to the game, nobody knows that nobody went to the game. I said, but for the big games where we going to sell out, go to those games, have fun. Just enjoy the energy in the building. For these lousy games, we’re not there yet where we can start selling out off of our team alone.

GFEP 20 | Sage Of Sports Marketing

Sage Of Sports Marketing: If nobody went to the game, nobody knows that nobody went to the game.


When they go to those games, they want to have that experience again and again. One sell-out feeds the next sell-out and so forth. Principle number two and I could pick two dozen principles from your books, but I’m going to choose these three. Number two is you talk about in How to Sell the Last Seat in the House the importance of packaging games. In other words, instead of forcing someone to buy a complete season, which is too expensive, too many games inconvenient, you said, no. At the Trail Blazers and with the Nets you said, “Let’s package games. If they want a five-game pack, let’s sell them a five-game pack,” instead of trying to cram something down their throat they don’t want to.

In New Jersey, we put together our five best games. The NBA teams at that time, if they did any packaging would take three good games and two crummy games and they would sell 44 packages. We wanted to sell thousands because wanted to sell out the building. In New Jersey, when I got there, in a 20,000 seat arena and 500 season tickets. We had 19,500 every game that we’ve go to sell. As you know, it’s not an easy task. We put together our five best games. One of the owners, when I presented it to the owners, he said, “That’s too good of a deal for our fans.” I said, “You’ve been providing crappy deals for your fans all these years and they haven’t bought. Let’s fool. Let’s think that we made a mistake. We put together this great package and they better buy before we come to our senses. We did that. We sold 25,000 of them. We had to roll it over into other games and those games were pure electricity. That’s one of my great experiences in my life was going to those games. I knew it was a lot of fun.

Let me ask you one from Your Profits Are Brought To You By the sponsorship book. You made a mark in the NBA by if I’m not mistaken, Jon, you were the first executive that insisted that the Portland Trail Blazers bring their media in-house. Some people reading this don’t know what that means. Could you explain that? How does that same principle apply to business now?

Businesses call it outsourcing. Back in 1980, when I started with the Trail Blazers, every team in the NBA outsource their radio and they’d sometimes get paid by the radio station or the station would pay some money for the right to broadcast the games. To show you how the economics have changed that first year in Portland, the year before I got there, the Trail Blazers received a rights fee of $25,000. That was third-best in the NBA. I felt if we didn’t outsource it, we did it ourselves and got the radio station. The radio station at nighttime, where they make their money is morning drive and afternoon drive. Nighttime, it is relatively easy to get airtime from a radio station. We brought it in-house, which meant that we’d have to pay for the announcer.

We’d have to pay for everything pay for me, pay for my assistant. In the first year, what we did was gamble the $25,000 and that first year, we made net-net $900,000. That was more than the rest of the NBA combined. That was a shot heard round the world in the NBA, which led to me getting traded the following year to the Indiana Pacers because they wanted to capitalize on the radio just like the Portland, Trail Blazers had. Larry Weinberg, the owner of the Trail Blazers, wouldn’t let me consult. When we lost the point guard, Darnell Valentine to it, I think he broke his arm or hand, the Indiana Pacers called-up Stu Inman, who was then the general manager and said, “I will give you our starting point guard, Don Buse for two weeks of Spoelstra of time. We did the deal.

The first time in NBA history or maybe sports history that an executive was part of the trade.

I think Indiana got the better part of the deal.

[bctt tweet=”The best way to motivate people is to hire motivated people and not mess them up.” username=””]

If my memory serves me, you didn’t even go for the full two weeks.

It wasn’t that difficult philosophically about bringing radio in-house. Interestingly, Indiana Pacers were owned at that time by a business partner, Jerry Buss, the owners of The Lakers. I can’t recall the guy’s name right now, but he wanted to sell because he was losing money. Most of the teams in the NBA in those days were losing money. One of the things they wanted me to do was meet with these prospective owners and tell them that they didn’t have to lose money if they own the team. There were several of these owners that flew in. On the last day, two guys walked in and it was the Simon Brothers, and they were local from Indianapolis, Mel and Herb Simon.

Then the idea of bringing something in-house as opposed to outsourcing, do you think that’s still a good idea in this world?

It depends. Cable has changed the dynamics of everything. Cable companies were spending big on rights fees, but the Yankees in essence, brought cable in-house for the YES Network. They are making a fortune off that. The Dodgers did outsource that. I think it’s a circumstance. You have to look at each circumstance, but at the time when we did it, it was not an easy deal. My boss fought me like crazy saying, “We’re risking the $25,000 and this is crazy. Nobody would want that.” My feeling was and I wrote about that in Get Your Ideas Approved that I thought we could probably make a profit about, let’s say a couple of hundred thousand 300,000, because we had the advantage of selling sponsorship more than a radio station, because we are the team. We could do a promotion. We could do a player appearance. We could do a lot of different things and it went better than I thought.

To your point, taking it in-house meant that you were selling more than just a radio spot. You were selling all the other promotions, signage and print advertising that comes with a sponsorship, not to mention player engagement and things like that. You’ve demonstrated the value of a sponsorship for a sports team in those days was much greater than teams were getting for it. You set that trend. All of these ideas, Jon, it’s interesting to know about the early days of Jon Spoelstra.

Let’s take a little bit of a walk down memory lane. I wasn’t with you, but I know enough about your background because we’ve been friends for so long and you’ve been my mentor. You come from a sports family and that your father, Watson Spoelstra, was a writer for the Detroit News. He was a sportswriter. He covered the Tigers, Lions, and the University of Michigan. You are always around the sports industry growing up. I think you were more of a baseball, weren’t you when you were growing up. You’d go to the Tigers games.

I think I must’ve gone to every Tigers game. I might’ve been 13 or 14 years old. The Tigers in those days, baseball played a lot of day games. It wasn’t the Wrigley Field where they did have lights. It was standard for baseball in those days to play a lot of day games. My dad would take me down to the ballpark and I had the run. He’d go down at about two hours before the game. They would open up the gates about an hour before the game. I had the run of the entire ballpark for about an hour and I saw the Tigers batting practice. One of the thrills that I saw was Gordie Howe, the legendary player of the Red Wings. He would come out frequently to batting practice and the player opposing players would come out at watch Gordie Howe in batting practice.

He’s a big strong guy. He had a tremendous wrist. He would come out, he hit one of the second deck in left and he went in the second deck center field, which is 4-40 away and then second deck right field. He’s an opposing player were in awe, the Tigers were. I saw Ted Williams in batting practice. The only people that saw batting practice were the players and me. That was a great trill. That was the bond between my dad and myself. Until he died, we were always able to talk. We had a link that we had something we could talk about, a comfortable ground and that happened to be the Detroit Tigers. Even when they had lousy years, we could at least talk about that. I thought the same thing with my son Erik. There was a year when he was probably in junior high school where he came and we went to every Blazer home game.

GFEP 20 | Sage Of Sports Marketing

Sage Of Sports Marketing: If you don’t have a safe ground to talk with your kids, they may not hear you when it comes to the difficult conversations.


Those days traffic wasn’t as great in Portland as it is now. I could drive home from work, have dinner at home. Erik and I would jump in the car and drive to see the game and drive home. In those days, a game would end in two hours. It never went over two hours. We’d be home in sufficient time where he didn’t have to stay up late. That was the link that we had. People have asked me about it. I have any intentions that he would go on. I said, “There’s no way that you could plan that your son could become an NBA coach and be as successful as he’s been and won two championships.” I looked at it as a link between him and me, as I did with the link between my father and me, and that was baseball.

Just to be clear for those who may not be aware who are reading, Erik Spoelstra, whom Jon is speaking of, as Jon said has gone on to become an NBA coach. He was never a player in the league. He was always in the coaching ranks and he won two NBA championships. It’s impressive to see his rise. Jon, I want to ask you, you talk about sports being that link. You had a successful relationship with your father, you and your son, and your daughter, Monica, who is a very successful businesswoman have great relationships. What are some lessons from someone who has been in sports his entire career practically and who’s raised his kids in the industry that you can teach those of us who are in the sports industry, raising children and trying to make it all work?

I’m not sure if it’s the sport. I think if I was a plumber or a carpenter, there’s got to be that link. What common ground can you talk to kids with where both sides want to talk where it’s not awkward? It’s something that’s a safe conversation because growing up, bringing kids up, you’ve got to be able to have those conversations because there’s going to be some difficult conversations. If you don’t have the safe ground to talk when it comes to difficult conversations, I’m not sure that they hear you. I learned from my dad that we could always revert back to talking about the Tigers. When there was a typical conversation, we could just ease into that. I think the same thing with my kids.

Speaking of kids, you’ve also mentored many people in the sports industry. There are a lot of cases of people that you’ve mentored who’ve gone on to leadership positions. I’ve been wanting to ask you when it comes to those people, did you just happen to come across good talent or did you make good people talented?

The best way to motivate people is to hire motivated people and then don’t mess them up. I felt I was pretty good at hiring young people. There are certain things I look for in hiring young people, but I was looking at imagination and work ethic. How do you bring them along? I wanted them to be able to work hard and I didn’t want to mess them up. Some of the people that I’ve worked with are tremendously successful. At one time, the Sports Business Journal had the 40 Under 40. I had three of the 40 Under 40 in one year and they’ve gone on to tremendous careers. I’m happy for them and I’ve enjoyed working with them. One of them, Howard Nuchow was now Co-Head of CAA Sports which is the largest representation agency. We hired him as a young ticket salesperson. This was at the New Jersey Nets. It would have been circa 1991 or so. He was dead last. We had twenty salespeople, which at that time was unheard of that you’d have twenty salespeople. I think it was 1992. Of the twenty salespeople, he was dead last in sales.

We fired a guy who was fifth best. When the guy that was fifth-best got fired, the sales manager fired him but he came storming into my office and he said, “How come I got fired? I’m the fifth-best?” Nuchow is around and he’s the worst. I said, “We fired you because you lie.” With every particular holder that did not renew it, the New Jersey Nets, I called them up personally. Not to try to save them, but I want to find out why. If you call up people and you’re not trying to sell them, you’re just trying to find out why. I found out that this guy offered things that we could never deliver like player appearance or different things like that. He was able to make sales, but people didn’t renew because we didn’t deliver what he said we were going to deliver.

I fired him. With Nuchow, I felt he always had the smarts. I felt that he had an innate ability to be able to talk to people that were the age of his father. He would talk to them freely. He wasn’t intimidated but he was respectful at the same time. I felt that he just was a little bit stubborn in learning our way of doing things. In the second year, he became the second leading salesperson. At that time, we had a staff filled with gunslingers. These guys were getting good and in the third year, he became the top salesperson. Howard has gone on to a terrific career of which co-incidentally is my son’s agent.

[bctt tweet=”If you have good people, you’ve got to pay them right.” username=””]

When we talk about the executives in sports, what are some of the greatest opportunities they have? You talked about when times are down, that is when you have an opportunity to shine and be outrageous and creative. Are there any other opportunities that you see right now? Also, what are the risks associated with pursuing a sports career right now? Is this the time maybe to look at some other field of study or as an occupation?

Right now, it’s difficult to in any industry, except there are some that are flourishing because of COVID. Golf courses are flourishing right now, who knew before March, golf was considered a dying sport. Now at first, you’re like crazy that golf sales are way up, green fees are way up, everything’s way up in golf. In a sports world, the easiest way, the best if you’re a young person getting into sports is through ticket sales. Hopefully, by getting into ticket sales, you get trained by somebody who could, like you, me or Steve, somebody that knows what we’re doing. Hopefully, you have a boss that believes in the training. If you’re a young person and you have a good work ethic, I think that’s the best place to start because if you spend two years in ticket sales, generally teams will hire from within for other spots on their staff, but it’d be in marketing or promotion or whatever.

I think that’s the best way still. Nobody gets hired in promotions from the outside. I don’t know if I’ve ever run to anybody. If you get it with the right team, it doesn’t have to be the best team. It doesn’t have to be the most glamorous team. The New Jersey Nets, we are nothing close to being glamorous and yet take a look at the people that came out in the industry. One thing I did back then and I did this at Mandalay. I started to perfect a little bit better, but in New Jersey, we had a weeklong bootcamp where the first 2.5 days were just on how to get an appointment over the phone, an eyeball-to-eyeball appointment.

At Mandalay, when we had seven baseball teams, we’d have 50 salespeople of those seven teams. We’d fly them all down to Texas. We had a small town in Texas where we put them up at a motel and we had a seven-day boot camp there. They had to pass a certain benchmark. If every one of them didn’t pass, we all had to stay and keep on going. There’s a lot of peer pressure to get better. From that group, from the Mandalay group, there’s a lot of leaders in our industry. If you’re a young person, if you get that type of training, you get the right team. I don’t think it makes any difference with the sport. You’re going to get your foot in the door and I think that you’ll have a career in sports.

I think the other thing that I want to echo, you said, “It doesn’t matter which team or which sport.” It’s true, because it’s amazing to me how many young people think that their first job is where they’re going to retire. I try to remind them, “You’re entering this industry. You could have a 40, 45-year career in this industry.” I preach professional patience all the time. Don’t think that your first job is going to be your last job or your first role is going to be your last role. There’s an actor by the name of Charles Grodin. He is a funny comedic actor. He was on Johnny Carson a lot and he used to say, “I never want my opportunity to come before I’m ready for it,” because he didn’t want to blow it. He wanted to get ready for that.

Getting your ideas to approve, you have to prepare as if you’re going in front of the Supreme Court. It’s the same thing here. If the opportunity comes, you got to jump on it.

You got to be prepared for it. Jon, let’s play a game here as we get near the end of our discussion. We’re going to call it the 24-second clock. I’m going to give you three questions and not within 24 seconds. You get as much time as you need for each of them. I want to get your immediate reaction to this. We’re going to try to expand it now beyond the sports industry, but if you want to stay in sports, that’s fine. Here’s my first question for you. What team or company or organization, if you could right now for fun, work with them, which one would it be? Name the brand.

I would say Major League Baseball.

What would you do with Major League Baseball if you could work with them right now?

GFEP 20 | Sage Of Sports Marketing

Sage Of Sports Marketing: Ticket sales is best place to start if you’re a young person who has a good work ethic.


I think I would have fans at the games, and I’d say, there are no restrictions. No social distancing, but anybody over the age of 55, you can’t come to the games, but we’re going to buy you the equivalent of NBA League pass or whatever they call a Major League Baseball one. We’re going to gift you a Major League pass. We want you to see the games. We want you to see all the games. We don’t want you to come to the games, but everybody else that comes to games, you got to wear a mask and there’ll be some social distancing. I would shake things up.

Let me ask you a second question. Speaking of sports now, who is the best owner of a sports team now?

I would say Micky Arison of the Miami Heat because they’ve had longevity and he’s been there for several years. My son’s been there for years. He doesn’t have the knee-jerk reactions that a lot of owners have. When I see some of these owners, like Sacramento, they’ve gone through a coach about every eighteen months or so, whichever managers. It’s either you’re really bad at hiring or you’re bad at managing if you have to fire people that frequently. I look at stability and it’s one thing to had stability if you’re winning. Stability, if you’re losing, but you keep on the same people, then that’s not good either. If you have good people, you got to pay them right. You got to do the right thing. If you take a look at the NBA, Micky Arison has been about most as you can get. For the other sports, I don’t know the owners well enough.

Thank you. I appreciated those insights on the Heat. I appreciate a little walk down memory lane with you, but also, more importantly, I appreciate the insights and the wisdom that you’ve to let me and let the readers of show. It has been a great conversation. I’m glad to know that you’re still got your foot in the industry. You’re still having an influence. We wish you and your family the best. Thanks so much, Jon.

Thank you, Rob. This is fun.

It’s been great to visit with you and I’m sure we’ll do it again.

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