SBJ/June 5-11, 2017/In Depth

‘We always have to be on our toes’

Neda Tabatabaie
Vice president of business intelligence, Sharks Sports & Entertainment



Photo by: COURTESY OF NEDA TABATABAIE
Neda Tabatabaie thought she wanted to be a desk-sitting, numbers-crunching “pure” data analyst.

Until it actually happened.

After earning a degree in economics in 2002 from the University of Toronto, Tabatabaie spent two years as a database marketing coordinator at Holt Renfrew, a Canadian chain of luxury department stores. That experience working in retail would help her down the road, but it was the few months she spent after that as an analyst at a customer loyalty company that was the impetus for her moment of career-related clarity.

“I learned that I need more from a job than just what I am doing when I am sitting at my desk,” she said. “Camaraderie, team environment and culture — I looked around and it turns out that these things are really important to me!”

The Toronto native was hired in 2005 by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, owner of the Toronto Raptors, Maple Leafs, Air Canada Centre, and (by the time she left in 2015) Toronto FC.

She was responsible for managing the CRM data, primarily for the ticketing staff, and was one of only a handful of people in sports performing that role.

Sports were everything that retail wasn’t.

“In retail you do a lot of sitting and planning a full fiscal [year] ahead. And, yeah, things may go up or down, but it’s really not that different from year to year,” Tabatabaie said. “In sports we plan ahead, but in a day everything can change. Team performance, weather, lots of things can affect us. We always have to be on our toes. I love that.”

The biggest difference, she said, is that ticketing data, which is every club’s biggest source of customer information, is unlike anything you work with in other industries.

“It can be very messy. Also, you have a limited supply [of tickets] that must be sold by a specific time, whereas in retail you can just discount it and move on.”

Tabatabaie joined the Sharks 20 months ago and has created a department that is the centralized location for business-side, sales, sponsorship, ticket and even building operation data.

She said it all comes down to feeling comfortable with both numbers and people.

“Data can be intimidating. A lot of analysts are great at what they do, but when they go to present to the sales team or the boss, they completely scare them with too many charts and numbers and formulas. You have to be able to explain it to other people.”

— David Broughton


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