Broadcast Journalist: Jim Metcalf, Ozark Mountain Ducks, Springfield, Missouri

Below is the results of an interview between Andrew McCormick, an Entertainment Management student at Missouri State University and Todd Rahr, Director of Business Development for the Ozark Mountain Ducks. The interview was conducted in the fall of 2001.

 

TR: I am the Director of Business Development for the Springfield-Ozark Mountain Ducks. Within that function for the Mountain Ducks, I oversee the facility here, which actually has two tenants in the ballpark: one is us, obviously, and the other is a subsidiary company called Total Entertainment Concepts, who books the concerts for the special events. I had a lot more involvement with TEC until about the last month; now I’ve actually taken more on with the baseball side. The venue itself is still under our [the Mountain Ducks] umbrella.

AM: What do these responsibilities entail as far as your day-to-day activities?

TR: My role is to make sure this team makes money. Revenue is the key to making everything else run out here. I actually direct the sales and marketing team, which consists of the General Manager, Brad Eldridge, two marketing representatives, a ticket sales person, a marketing manager who does our community affairs, and myself. When it comes down to the facility itself, my function on a day-to-day basis is very limited except for overseeing it. I manage a gentleman named Brock Phipps who does field and stadium maintenance with a crew of about two or three other people, and I just have a task list I give them. This time of year we’re just trying to make sure the facility is kept to standards. We winterize everything, make sure things are put away until next baseball season, and we’re also looking ahead to next season at what repairs and improvements need to be made.

AM: How much of a part do you have in the booking of events?

TR: I had a gentleman underneath me named John Purdue who did all the booking for us. He had to come to me to get a stamp of approval on certain things, but I gave him ultimate control over that. Now we outsource all the booking of events to TEC, but we assume all control in the actual running of those events.

AM: What kinds of employment opportunities exist in this field?

TR: Recently operations departments have been constricted and sales departments have grown, because you obviously need money to move the engine. So even though the opportunities in the operations department are more limited, you still need someone who can supervise the stadium and field maintenance, as well as someone who can do event administration. When you look at the majority of people that work in this industry, you see mostly in-the-stadium staff, and a very small amount in sales. But it’s mostly part-time jobs/game night positions. In the arena area there is more opportunity, because you could literally hold an event there 365 days out of the year. You could theoretically be a full-time usher if you wanted.

AM: Where are the jobs in this industry?

TR: If I were to put money down out of my own pocket, I would invest in arenas. Baseball parks are great, but we have more days we sit dark than we do with the lights on. With an arena, you can house multiple sports and hold multiple events year-round. I would focus on getting knowledge on how to operate arenas. As far as regions go, the money is in the bigger cities, but I thing the U.S. is saturated. International is the place to go. More buildings are being built in Asia and throughout the world in order to compete with the U.S. market.

AM: What are the salary ranges of a venue manager at your level?

TR: I would say $40,000-$70,000 depending on experience, size of the venue, accountability you would have over the venue, and the amount of staff you would have underneath you. I would assume that someone running an arena would make more than someone running a ballpark, because there’s just so much more opportunity there to bring in more events; meaning more revenue, more work, and more accountability.

AM: What is your actual degree?

TR: I went to Ohio University and got a degree in Sports Sciences with an emphasis in Sports Industry, which is just a fancy way of saying Sports Management.

AM: What initially attracted you to this field?

TR: At first it was to get into baseball, because I am a big fan of the sport itself, but I quickly learned that I am not in baseball, I’m in business. What I’m really doing is trying to make a living selling boards in the outfield, radio time, and promotions. Baseball is almost secondary. It just happens to be the thing that’s on the field. When it comes down to it, I know I’m not in this business for baseball, I just happen to be lucky enough to come to a ballpark everyday and overlook it. The real attraction for me now is the challenge of actually running a facility.

AM: How did you get where you are now? Explain where you started and how you advanced.

TR: Facilities was actually about as far away from where I was starting, because I started out as a media relations director and sold advertising for a team in Savanna, Georgia, and I really had nothing to do with the facility. Then I progressed to a job in Eugene, Oregon with a baseball team where I actually did marketing for the team, and I also controlled the concession operation, which is a huge part of your building. I had a lot more to do with facilities at that point that I intended starting out. Then I became general manager down in San Bernadino, California where the city was in 100 percent control of the facility. Price Cutter has been the place where I’ve learned the most, because we own it. I didn’t set out to be a facility manager, but if you’re going to be a general manager or a vice president, you’re going to have to know how a facility is run, and you have to have good people underneath you.

AM: How many years did it take you to get where you are now?

TR: I started in Savanna in 1991 and came to Springfield in 1999. Typically I would think it would take someone eight to ten years to go from graduation to my position. But my advice is to not rush yourself. There are a lot of learning experiences to be had along the way.

AM: If you could go back, on what would you have put more emphasis?

TR: Hands down sales and marketing, hands down. You can pick up facility management pretty easily just through experience. The people who generate income in facilities are the people who can sell. Whether it is signage, tickets, or whatever, they are generating the income, not the facility operators. At Ohio University, sales and marketing were never even touched upon, but when I had my first job in Savanna, I got in the car with the general manager who was showing me all these places on my first day, and on the very next day he said, “Here’s your account list. Go sell.” If anything could have gotten me further quicker, it would have been that sales and marketing knowledge.

AM: So what knowledge is more essential in your position, management or sales and marketing?

TR: I think they’re both fairly equal, but I think it’s harder to sell. Once you get in a position like myself, you not only have to sell billboards and tickets, but you also have to be able to sell the team, as well as your philosophy to your staff. You also have to be able to manage different personalities and make sure they aren’t counteractive to what you are trying to do. You have to kick them in the butt when they need it and pat them on the back when they deserve it. However, I think a lot of the management skills exist inside someone in the first place, whereas sales and marketing are sciences that must be learned and experienced.

AM: Where could you go from the position you are in now?

TR: I could move into a bigger market, such as the major leagues, but that by no means guarantees I’ll make more money or be a bigger fish. What I’m looking at doing is maybe overseeing both Price Cutter Park and the new arena that they are going to build over here. Advancement at this level would either come with moving to a bigger market or expanding my current one. Currently, all accountability is on my shoulders, so there’s really nowhere to go when you already have 100 percent accountability.

AM: What makes the most successful people in your field the most successful?

TR: They are excellent at customer service. They can sell not only inventory items, but also their team and their vision. They can look someone in the eye and make them excited. They know how to manage people, and they have ethics.

AM: What makes the most unsuccessful people in your field the most unsuccessful?

TR: In a nutshell the people who are unsuccessful are the people who are out there just to make money. Those who just want to make money and couldn’t care less about the customer are the most unsuccessful, because without customers sitting in the seats, you dont sell billboards. If you don’t have people watching, you don’t have a team. Baseball will only be as successful as it has been if there are people to watch it. The first GM I ever worked for could sell at will, yet he had no customer service skills, no drive, and no ethics. I learned how not to do things from him.

AM: If you could engineer a person with a perfect personality for your position, what would he/she be like?

TR: Someone who is even-keeled and realizes that all things-good and bad-will pass. Someone who can sell with the best of them, but doesn’t sound like a salesperson. Someone with a passion for what they do and is business savvy. Someone with ethics and is out for the customer first and foremost.

AM: What changes have you seen occur in the past ten years in venue management?

TR: More money has gone into facilities in the last ten years in order to offer more amenities to customers, such as skyboxes and all-reserve seating. Facilities have become more like palaces. These features are being offered because venue operators see the money potential in those skyboxes and personal seating licenses. Unfortunately it has made sporting and other events a lot more expensive, which I don’t see as being as good of a trend as some may think it is.

AM: How have sales and promotions changed?

TR: There has been an increase in the amount of mediums you can advertise in. There’s TV, radio, newspapers, the Internet, and non-traditional mediums such as stadiums and events. It used to be easy to sell billboards ten years ago. People just thought it was great to have their company’s name at the ballpark. Now they want to know how many people are sitting in the stands and how many impressions they are going to get. Sports sponsorship has become very competitive. Advertisers want exclusivity. Ticket sales, especially season ticket sales, have become very difficult. People don’t want to commit to that amount of time, so now we are offering mini-plans of 15 pre-packaged games.

AM: What are the pros and cons of your position?

TR: In private venue management it is a pro not to have to answer to the city or county, as well as the lack of politics. The con is having to spend our own money to do things. Another pro to small, private venue management is being able to have a say-so in just about every aspect of the facility.

Interview note: Todd Rahr was extremely helpful and easy to talk with. I would encourage anyone who is interested in venue management or the Mountain Ducks to talk to him.