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If You Avoid Learning How To Sell In Sports, You’re Not Marketing Anything

The largest challenge of any sports marketer is the idea that they can avoid learning how to sell. That somehow, they will find a way around the entire concept of “sales,” because the word is less fashionable than whatever is currently trending as a marketing topic. This is where words such as “demographic analysis” or “Big Data” or “Fan Development” are used. Because they are, in many ways, safety words. They don’t seem as scary or as rough as the word “sell.”

Learning how to sell is a valuable asset. Learning how to market is easy because all you are doing is literally spending a budget line item. Selling means that you are actually generate the budget line item to spend on marketing. But selling is also a very frightening practice. Ask any sports marketing department if they are willing to make 1,000 cold calls to former customers to generate 50 sales. Chances are, they will ask why they cannot just give away the tickets instead. Because selling has very tangible results tied to it. And no one in sales can avoid showing exactly what they did or what they didn’t do, when it comes to revealing the numbers at the end of the day.

Selling is also a difficult proposition and mindset for a marketer to get into. Typically, once you’ve learned how to enter into a path without selling, you become convinced of a greater impact based on hyperbole and conjecture. It’s a lot different when you begin to understand that selling isn’t a nefarious practice, it’s damn necessary in order to foster revenue growth for the sports franchise.

When someone is selling, they are convincing a prospect to part with a monetary value in order to buy into the opportunity to gain a unique experience. This is where selling is unique in the sports world. It is the marketing department’s goal to create the unique experience once the prospect is in the building, converting them into a fan. There are 5,000 sports sellers right now in the United States, each making outbound sales calls, engaging in conversations, and getting paid customers sold on experiencing the product that marketing creates.

In many ways, this is a new concept for some of the largest sports entities. Most laymen in the media or actual fans believe that wins sell tickets. Or continue to foster the idea that giving away the product is the best way to sell it, by a conversion tactic. Neither of those two components factor very high in sports revenue generation. Yet both debunked theories continue to thrive today by some of the industry’s sports marketers and their rampant fear of actually selling the product.

Wants, Needs & Desires Of The Customer

There still remain several sports entities which treat their operation in the same manner as their fans do. The belief in the ESPN hype, the mantra that “winning solves all economic ills.” None of this is true. There have always been teams which have garnered winning records with empty stands, and several moribund organizations unsuccessful on the court who entertain a packed house nightly. Everything comes down to the fundamental misunderstanding about the wants, needs and desires of the customer.

This became a reality for the National Basketball Association about 20 years ago. That’s why TEAMBO (Team Marketing & Business Operations) exists in Orlando, Florida. The TEAMBO concept is to develop the best sales and business practices, selling the product to the customer and prospective customer, regardless of market size. Whenever any NBA, WNBA or NBADL team needs help in their sales department or has a great sales concept that can be shared by others, TEAMBO helps facilitate that to the other teams around the league. Major League Soccer and the National Football League have already started their own concepts around this type of sales atmosphere.

But while the majority of laymen, media and fans believe that the NCAA is “oozing” money at the expense of their student-athletes, the truth is that most NCAA schools have no real revenue mentality within each department. The vast majority are subsidized by the school, student fees, or alumni donations. And the revenue streams that they do have are reliant on free ticket theories that have deflated their markets by not taking their constituencies seriously.

If someone were to truly examine the bottom line of most NCAA schools and how each athletic department sells its product, they would be surprised that each organization would be still afloat. Little of the standard, regular season attendance actually pays for their tickets, especially compared to how many of the tickets are given away in the failed attempt to “build fans.” This is where marketing has trumped sales, harming the overall ecosystem of college athletics because there is no per cap estimation, not feeding of internal ancillaries to build revenue growth. Instead, there is largely an avoidance of sales altogether.

Make Marketing And Sales Cohesive

Part of this dilemma comes down to what the marketing focus is and is not. Marketing is the experiential component that keeps a fan in their seat after they have arrived inside the building. It is not what initially draws the fan, except when offering the form of an enticement such as a free giveaway item. But is that really a good measure to set? Bribing someone to enter the facility in order to share an experiential result has not sold or obligated the person to truly receive or engage with the marketing effort once inside.

This is where outbound sales and customer service efforts to sell the prospect into becoming a fan matter. Unfortunately, the NCAA model has skewed way too far into the idea that the marketing realm is king that the main idea garnered is that spending budgets on promotions to distribute, along with free tickets, shores up a constituency. This isn’t true at all. There are plenty of would-be politicians never elected despite paying people to vote for them. If it doesn’t work with a direct monetary transaction, it won’t work with a Bobblehead or free ticket.

What this has done is create a “give-me” culture in each economy. Where the fan base feels entitled, and has eroded toward the point of either expecting free gifts in exchange for their “possible” attendance or free tickets. Neither of these scenarios help the bottom line of a sports organization.

None of this is true marketing either. It is also not true selling. Neither component should feel favored over the other, since this isn’t a marketing versus sales argument. However, there should be a fundamental understanding that, without actually selling, marketing cannot perform its job effectively in order to capture, retain, and renew that elusive fan.

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