SBJ/Feb. 3-9, 2014/People and Pop Culture

My Start in Sports — Sean Downes



I went to Villanova. I did not have any internships. I was a liberal arts major. I was a 280-pound tight end who wanted to play in the NFL. That was my goal. But I got injured.

Downes greets NASCAR legend Richard Petty.
Photo by: NASCAR
I was shooting hoops at Villanova in 1995. I saw Ron Skotarczak [now senior vice president of sales at MSG]. … He told me I should talk to Scott O’Neil. He was with the Nets as director of sales.

I met with him and he said, “If you want to work in sports, you need to know how to generate revenue.”

Once I got in front of the right people, they wouldn’t hire me. I had no experience and they made that perfectly clear. I said to them, “I will come and work for free under the agreement that if I prove myself, you’ll put me on payroll.”

I was a salesperson making zero dollars going out to a territory every day doing cold canvassing. I would walk into accounting firms and law firms and would ask the receptionist for the name of the person at their firm who entertained clients. I would give them tickets and get that name. I was kicked out of buildings. I was threatened with arrest. It was all a big game.

I was completely out of money. I had two suits. I was living with my grandfather in Jersey City. I went into the VP of sales. I said I have led the sales team for three months. I think I’ve proven myself. He said, “You did. I put you on the payroll last week.”

Downes with his father on the sidelines at Veterans Stadium during his time with the Eagles.
Photo: COURTESY OF SEAN DOWNES
I walked into one of my first sales calls. It was one of the largest accounting firms in New Jersey. … [The office] was covered in posters of the New Jersey Devils. He said, “You were really persistent. I just had to meet you in person and laugh in your face about the New Jersey Nets.” At that point, I knew I had nothing to lose. … I walked out of there after he bought four season tickets.

We had to be at our office by 7:30 a.m. If we were there at 7:35 a.m., the vice president of sales would walk over and say, “Good afternoon. Now go home.”

By 8:30, we had to make 40 phone calls. Of those 40, 20 had to be connections with a live voice. Of those 20, 10 had to be decision-makers. Of those 10, you had to get two appointments for the next week.

Once 8:30 a.m. hit, you were out in your territory. We had to have 12 meetings a week, documented. There were about 15 ticket salespeople. It was great.

See also: My Start in Sports — Chris Lencheski
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