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Volume 22 No. 15
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Timberwolves, Lynx take big steps for ticket sales compensation

In a world where base salaries for entry-level ticket sales representatives have been below $30,000 for more than a decade, it has become more difficult to attract talented young men and women. Promises of commissions are difficult for young people who are struggling to pay rent, utilities, cellphone bills, car insurance, student loans and groceries. A base of $25,000 (in many cases on the high side for pro sports teams) leads to a biweekly gross paycheck of $961.54, which probably results in a net check of no more than $750 — $1,500 per month — significantly less than the $15 per hour being paid by many quick-service restaurants.

Then take into account that the friends of these young men and women might have received a signing bonus, flex time, cellphones and the opportunity to work from home, making recruitment even more difficult and retention an entirely different question.

I’m happy to announce that the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx have developed Ticket Sales 2.0 to address compensation, flexibility, and career development. Effective Oct. 1, the Timberwolves are changing the position/title of inside sales representative to consumer sales executive and moving the base compensation from $25,000 to $35,000. Commission for all sales will be set at 3% and accompanied by an annual performance bonus opportunity ranging from $2,500 to up to $30,000 annually.

To address career growth and development, the Timberwolves created a four-tier promotional ladder and improved base compensation at every level. The first level of promotion for successful entry-level candidates is account executive, with a base of $45,000 (up from $30,000), then senior account executive with a base of $55,000 (up from $40,000) and finally account manager with a base of $65,000. Of course, there are the traditional opportunities to move into managerial roles that have always existed, but this is an attempt to professionalize sales and make selling an available option for long-term employment and growth.

The Minnesota Timberwolves recognized that larger trends in workplace culture and compensation are crucial to retaining happy, motivated employees.
Photo: minnesota timberwolves

“As an organization we are committed to challenging the norm,” said Timberwolves COO Ryan Tanke. “From the basketball side to the business side, we are in an era of creating a culture that people want to become a part of so that the organization along with the individual can thrive. When you add in the local Fortune 500 companies in our marketplace, it is very clear that we needed a new model that could provide us with an environment where people can be successful, culture that makes them want to stay and a compensation package that enables them to do so.”

In the interest of addressing competitive employee satisfaction issues, the Timberwolves and Lynx are also looking at a number of enhancements, including a cellphone allowance, schedule flexibility and reducing the number of home game responsibilities with later start times to allow for a better home/work life balance.

Jake Vernon, vice president of ticket sales and service, sums it up: “By redefining the department’s compensation structure and developing a flexible work environment, we are strongly positioned to better align with the needs of today’s workforce. We are confident that this new approach will provide us with a platform to recruit, retain and develop talent while also achieving our annual sales goals.”

Obviously this is a higher financial commitment than in years past. But the rationale is to create a working environment that is attractive in terms of not only recruiting but also retention. It is common knowledge in the industry that a salesperson truly comes into their own after the second full year, but the turnover is so high that retaining sales reps for three or more years is not nearly as common as it could be or should be. Retaining an experienced sales force that has no annual learning curve could obviously pay huge benefits for both the sales team and the organization.

As benefits evolve, so must the training and techniques used in the workplace. In large part, this needs to involve the utilization of effective technology and data-driven targeting to help that hoped-for success become a reality. Robocalling has had a detrimental effect on the success of the phone room and the days of making 100 calls per rep seems out of touch, particularly given the finger-tip technology that the cellphone provides. Sellers in 2019 need to be trained in creating content that can be distributed via social media outlets, personal selling via events and so forth. The phone will still be a primary tool, but not to make calls.

We are competing for young men and women who may not be as enamored with a career in sports as they were five to 10 years ago. They might not have a favorite sport or even a favorite team, instead following particular players or personalities. They may not want to work evenings and weekends and they want the same considerations and benefits that their friends are receiving. Compensation and benefits will need to be more creative and continue to evolve to address needs and interests that are common among young people entering the workforce — perhaps earning student loan forgiveness, tuition reimbursement for graduate school, or even day care funds to help young parents. The key is we need to move on from where we have been and make ticket sales a career opportunity with a livable wage.

 

Bill Sutton (wsutton1@usf.edu) is the founding director of the sport and entertainment business management MBA at the University of South Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_ImpactU.