Photo Credit Jan Garrison
A behind-the-scenes look at professional sports
September 23, 2015
This Tweet of George Hill wearing the Hickory uniform brought the Pacers a lot of attention this summer.

There will be 16 players on the Indiana Pacers roster when they host the New Orleans Pelicans for their NBA preseason game on Saturday, Oct. 3, but they will account for just 2.67 percent of the people needed to make the game happen.

Todd Taylor, the senior vice president/chief sales and marketing officer for the Pacers, told The Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur students Tuesday that approximately 600 people are involved when a Pacers basketball game occurs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. While the players and coaches are the draw, it takes the ticket sales people, the parking garage attendants, the concession stand personnel, and others to make the game day experience enjoyable for the fans.

With NBA team payrolls reaching $100 million annually, filling the seats is increasingly important. Taylor said more people in the seats help to sell arena advertising, team sponsorships, and increased concessions. While television revenue is the major financial driver, people in the seats drive local revenue.

And keeping the fans on a long-term basis is what every professional sports franchise strives to do. In some ways, it is like dating, he said. Selling a fan a single game ticket is similar to having girl accept your invitation to go out on a first date. If the experience goes well, that may lead to a second date, and eventually to a long-term relationship, he explained.

For a professional sports team, having a fan purchase a season ticket is similar to a couple dating and eventually getting married. The team hopes the fan will continue his or her relationship through the good and bad times, Taylor said, and there will be down times. In rare instances, like the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, and St. Louis Cardinals in baseball, the fan loyalty can span generations.

He said the Cubs also have Wrigley Field, which is considered one of the crown jewels of baseball, as an added attraction. Many people who are not necessarily Cubs fans attend games just to be at Wrigley. Now that the Cubs are winning and could contend for the World Series, it will be interesting to see if they maintain that strong fan base if they do start to lose again.

The Boston Red Sox were in a similar position. They had not won a World Series for decades and had a very loyal fan base. Then they won the World Series, followed by a few lean years. And those losing teams resulted in a drop in ticket sales, Taylor explained. “They became like every other team.”

With the invention of the smartphone, NBA teams have fans spread around the globe. But while fans in China may buy T-shirts and hats, it is fans in the immediate area (75-mile radius) that carry the load through the purchase of tickets. “We are global brands that operate locally,” he told students.

We are sending out several press releases every day, but in 140-character increments.

Another challenge brought on by technology is pushing content out to fans through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms. Taylor said sports news organizations like ESPN consume a huge amount of content, and having a story take off on those sites can really help – or damage a team.

The Pacers have five people in their publishing division handling social media, Taylor said. When he started in the mid-1990s, teams didn’t even have publishing divisions.

“We are sending out several press releases every day, but in 140-character increments,” he said, referring to Twitter. And players, who were originally discouraged from using social media, now have their Twitter handles publicized by the team. It is a precarious situation since it only takes one Tweet to cause a major backlash, he said, but it can also pay big dividends.

One example is when the Pacers introduced the Hickory High replica jerseys in July. Photos of player George Hill wearing the uniform went out on Instagram and Twitter and things went viral from there. Taylor said the jerseys are being worn to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the movie Hoosiers.

Taylor never thought about working in professional sports marketing. His first job out of Ohio State was selling corrugated boxes. He became interested when the Columbus Blue Jackets franchise was announced. He took a pay cut to join the organization and his first position was selling tickets for a team didn’t exist in an arena that was under construction. It was a chance he was able to take because he was young and single. He has since worked for the Portland Trailblazers, Milwaukee Brewers, and Texas Rangers before coming to the Pacers three years ago.

He finished by warning students that one important aspect of marketing that is being lost as people become increasingly reliant on technology.

“I know I sound like a dad here,” he said, but people don’t negotiate or close deals for sponsorship agreements with a text or over Skype. It must be done face-to-face, he said, and talking is becoming a lost art.

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