Research Team Members: Nels Popp, UNC; Jason Simmons, University of Cincinnati; Chad McEvoy, Northern Illinois University
Why did you do this study?
Major league teams, minor league teams, and college athletics departments generate revenue in a variety of ways. They sell media rights, sponsorships, merchandise, subscription services, and concessions. Ticket sales, however, remain one of the most important revenue streams for these sport organizations. For many of these entities, ticket sales also represent the greatest potential for growth. Recently, sport organizations have been hiring more and more employees whose sole purpose is to sell tickets to prospective buyers. Twenty years ago, most teams relied on team success and more traditional marketing mechanisms to sell tickets, but many sport organizations are realizing the most effective and efficient way to sell their product is to develop relationships with prospective buyers and offer ticket products which best meet buyer needs. Thus, the role of ticket sales professionals has increased substantially among sport organizations. For example, the Philadelphia 76ers currently lead the NBA with over 100 employees in their ticket sales department.
One relatively unusual problem for sport organizations is the recruitment and retention of effective sales representatives. Working in sports is an attractive career option for many people, particularly new college graduates. Because of this, many sport organizations have little trouble finding candidates for entry level sales positions; many vacancies will result in literally hundreds of applications. As a result, many of these sport organizations have put limited effort into effectively training sales personnel. While many non-sport firms will invest significant resources into training their salespeople—sometimes as much as several months of dedicated training for new hires—sport organizations have often short-changed such sales training efforts. The prevailing thought has been that sport ticket sellers are easily recruited, so if a new hire is not productive, he or she can be quickly replaced. High employee turnover, however, comes with a price. Although vacated positions can be filled quickly, and poorly trained employees can make a lot of cold calls, the end result is inefficient selling. Many business researchers have examined sales training effectiveness in other fields, but to date, no researchers have looked at the impact of sales training within the domain of sport ticket sales.
What did you do and what did you find in this study?
The purpose of our study was to measure the amount of sales training taking place within sport organizations, the types of training that both sellers and managers found most effective, and the impact of training on actual sales performance. Sales managers have an abundance of training methodologies they can utilize with their employees. These techniques include: role plays, computer simulations, video tutorials, reading materials, reviews of sales calls/meetings, mentoring by senior sales employees, observations of others, peer reviews, and use of third party trainers. For our sample, we selected sales managers and sales representatives at NCAA Division I universities. We selected this sample because it provided greater variability among respondents. Some athletic departments have hired sales teams of 20+ while other departments have only one or two ticket sellers. We identified 658 ticket sellers and managers through online directory searches and sent an electronic survey link to all of them. A total of 140 responded, for a rate of 21.3%.
Perhaps our most alarming finding was that 6.5% of respondents indicated sales representatives in their organization received no training prior to making sales calls, while another 17.4% received fewer than two hours. Over half of respondents said they receive no or fewer than two hours of on-going training per month. Less surprising, but no less informative, was that managers consistently rated nearly all training methods and training feedback types significantly more effective than the trainees themselves. And when we grouped sellers by their sales performance (falling short of sales goals, meeting sales goals, and exceeding sales goals), we found robust evidence that the better sellers routinely received more initial and on-going training. Top sellers rated the training types of mentoring and face to face reviews significantly higher than poorer selling respondents.
How do these findings impact the public?
The focus of our current research is on better management practices within sport organizations. Many sport ticket sales managers know they are not providing adequate training for their staff. However, these managers are often fighting for limited resources and are not always able to convince their superiors of the importance of better training. We are hopeful our research will provide them greater evidence to improve hiring and training practices. We are also hopeful that our research will create better and more productive work environments for many of our Sport Administration graduates who often take these entry level sales position.
In addition to this study (the findings of which are currently under review with the academic journal Sport Marketing Quarterly) we also collected data regarding job satisfaction and turnover intention among ticket sellers, again tying it to training. We hope to expand this research to professional sport settings and to further examine the recruitment, hiring, and orientation/training processes of sport sales organizations with the end goal of improving organizational efficiencies and administrative best practices.