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Five Ticket Sales Questions the Boss Should Ask

Steve DeLay's picture


I've had the good fortune over the last few months to work closely with the Portland Trail Blazers as a consultant, helping restructure their ticket sales and premium sales strategy and structure.

I say good fortune because Chris McGowan, the President of the Trail Blazers, has a strong ticket and premium sales background. I know this because I was his first boss at the Los Angeles Kings when he started out as a ticket sales rep.

I haven't done the research but I'm betting there are no more than ten team Presidents in the major sports leagues that started their career as an actual ticket salesperson. There are probably even fewer Athletic Directors who have ever picked up the phone to make a ticket sales call. Sure, plenty have been in marketing along the way, bought advertising etc but how many have actually picked up the phone and made 75 sales calls a day to know what the day to day grind is like? (Check out one of my all-time favorite videos on selling here) Because he has been in their shoes, Chris knows what the salespeople and the VP of Ticket Sales should be doing on a daily basis. He asks the right questions.


Whether you're the boss at a team or the AD at a college, you have to pay attention to ticket sales. No doubt about it. All the other business line successes (sponsorships, concessions, donations, merchandise) revolve around ticket sales. So it makes sense that the team President or Athletic Director is actively engaged, right? Doesn't always happen. In fact, I've talked to plenty of teams and schools where the boss, who has virtually no ticket sales experience, doesn't pay a lick of attention to the ticket sales staff, the ticket marketing strategy or the results.

If tickets don't hit budget, it's either because the team didn't win enough or the VP of Sales was a fool and needs to be fired. Instead of those two excuses, the boss should be paying attention throughout the process. I'm not suggesting they make marketing decisions or handle the training. That's for the ticket experts on staff. I'm suggesting they ask the following questions to the person who is directly in charge of tickets:

  1. "How is the sales culture?"
    Are the salespeople excited about coming to work and having success or are they just punching the clock? Does the rest of our organization treat the ticket sales staff like lepers and ask them to do silly tasks like unload boxes or man the front desk phones or do they respect our ticket sales staff? The boss should schedule lunch with the ticket sales staff regularly to let them know he values them and give them a voice to the top. The boss should also make sure they take the time to know every ticket salesperson's name. You can't show respect if you don't know their names. Also, walk through the sales bullpen every day. Congratulate those who made sales that day or the day before. Ask how it's going. You'll be shocked at the buzz that engagement creates.
  2. "Are the salespeople improving?"
    Are they learning from the Sales Manager how to sell more? Is the Sales Manager regularly on sales calls, videotaping etc? How often? Do the salespeople feel like they are growing? You want ticket salespeople who spend 3-4 years in the organization and get promoted to a sales management position, to selling higher priced products or are picked off by other teams. You don't want the same people in the same job for 7-8 years. Their efforts will get stale and they will lose their motivation.
  3. "Is the activity level where we want it?"
    Are they making enough calls? Are they making enough appointments? Do they have the resources necessary to succeed? You don't want your Sales Manager to be a slave driver but are the salespeople working enough hours to make them and the team successful? What else can be done to help the salespeople close more sales?
  4. "Is our advertising working?"
    Is it helping us sell more tickets? Don't settle for a "I think so." answer. Marketing dollars are limited at most teams so they have to generate a return. The marketing guy and the Sales Manager shouldn't just run ads to run ads. It's the safe way out to not track advertising. They can say, "I ran the ads. I don't know what happened." Are the ads making the phones ring? Make sure as the boss you see an Ad Tracking report.
  5. "Let me see your marketing plan/strategy."
    Ask the Sales Manager to see his full season marketing plan and his next 90 days marketing plan. The boss should bless the full season plan before it's even launched. However, that's not enough. Since plans don't always go, well, as planned, the Sales Manager should be adjusting regularly and marketing on the fly. Make them plan 90 days out so there are no surprises. The boss should be asking to see the next 90 days every month. You don't necessarily need to know if the plan will work. Just make sure they are planning.

    Not only should the boss be asking questions, he should also be involved in some of the weekly ticket sales meetings.

    • If there is an all ticket sales staff meeting, he should sit in on it. The boss may not say much but just being present shows everyone there how important tickets are.
    • Weekly one on one with the Sales Manager. This meeting is where the boss can ask the above questions and anything else. The Sales Manager can craft the agenda but the boss should be prepared with some questions on their own. Many times, a Sales Manager may be afraid to bring up bad news. The boss should encourage an open dialogue so he knows what's going on.
    • Do these steps on a regular basis, daily, weekly and monthly. As the boss, you'll be shocked at how all of a sudden, activity and performance picks up. If you're the Sales Manager and your boss isn't doing any of this stuff and you'd like him to. You have two choices. 1) Print this column out and slide it under their office door at night or 2) Send me an email with your bosses' email address and I'll send it to them unsolicited. Good luck!

      Steve DeLay has spent more than 20 years in the sports business working in Major League Baseball, the NBA, NHL and minor league baseball. He presently works as a consultant for teams and colleges on sponsorships and ticket sales. He can be reached at or on Twitter@SteveDeLay2

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