Below is the results of an interview between Chris Birnbaum, an Entertainment Management student at Missouri State University and Tyler Kirby, Inside Sales Manager at the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, MO. The interview was conducted in the fall of 2010.
How did you get your start with the Chiefs and how did you get the position you are right now? I was an intern in college over my last two years for the athletic department. I also interned for an arena football team and hockey team over my last year at college. Out of college I took a job with the arena team and hockey team that I interned for. It was a full-time job as a marketing coordinator, so I worked for them for a year doing sponsorship sales, game day productions, and a lot of different things for a minor league team there. Then I was there for a year, then came up to Kansas City and started as a ticket sales rep. Let’s see, about two and a half years ago in April. And I was a ticket sales rep all the way up until the season started. I moved into group ticket sales and sold group tickets throughout the season. After the season, I was promoted to an account executive position. I was in the account executive position for a year and then after that season I was promoted to senior account executive. I was the senior account executive for about 4 or 5 months and then went to the inside sales position. It started in April of this year and I worked that all summer. That is still technically my title but I’m managing more of the group sales now.
How long has the Inside Sales Manager position been around? They actually created it in April when I started. We decided to bring in all the seasonal staff and give that a shot. They moved me into that position and we brought in all the seasonal sales reps. I worked there all summer, but now I’m moved more into group sales now. The title hasn’t officially changed yet but that’ll probably be coming.
What is the day to day basis of what you do every day? Right now it’s a few different things. One thing we are working on is our 2011 business plan. From the ticket sales stand point, it takes a lot of time. Basically, it’s working all of our ticket prices: season ticket prices, group tickets, single games. Any restructuring we need to do, if we have areas in the stadium that are very hard to sell or haven’t sold well. We have to try and change those prices to sell more seats. As well as putting together goals for group sales and season ticket sales, any programs we want to do anything throughout the off-season like the seasonal position. If we want to do that, how many we want to bring in, what our projected sales are from them, the financials that coordinate with that. Basically making sure anything we do we can justify with bringing in enough money to not only pay for it but to help us out quite a bit. We are working through a lot of the stuff right too for these last few games. So we can limit our payment as much as possible and then also keep the games on air — On top of that just managing the day to day group sales. We are doing pretty well, we have done a lot of good here in the past couple weeks so just trying to manage that and the recording and all that good stuff.
Previous to this year I noticed the Chiefs haven’t been playing that well. How difficult was it to sell tickets before this year? It was extremely difficult. When I started they were coming off a 4-12 year. It was very difficult to sell and we had to come up with a lot of different creative ways and really work to push out a lot of tickets. Unfortunately, it seemed like the more we were pushing out the more we were losing in renewals. More just making up lost ground, people who had cancelled season tickets the previous year to try and get back and have a good and manageable season ticket base to where we can sell some group tickets and keep every game on air.
What are some of the creative ways you guys did? We got out in the public a little bit more. We went out to some chamber events. When I started we were doing something every weekend. We did a thing called total access where we went around to 4 or 5 different communities and had players come out. Those were pretty effective but the most effective thing was just being in the office and being on the phone and getting people to send out e-mails for us and working with companies to promote season tickets to their employees.
With the fast start this year, how quickly have tickets been going this year? Quite a bit better. It was about the same leading up to the season. We did have a pretty good year from a season ticket stand point but groups were really slow up to the season. After we started winning the momentum started picking up a little bit and we were able to move a lot more group tickets. We are closing in on our goal this year for group tickets which would be a huge accomplishment considering where we were at when the season started. From a season ticket standpoint, we have sold more already this year in 2011 than we have in any of the previous years. From that stand point we are off to a really good start. We hope that keeps going and we can keep building on that in the off-season.
Are most of those new season ticket holders or renewals? Those would all be new, we won’t send out renewals until mid-December. Those would all would new season ticket holders.
How many are on the sales staff at the Chiefs? Right now we have ten full-time, one group sale representatives, and three seasonal.
What are incentives they may receive to help them increase their goals? We do a few different things. Sometimes we do weekly incentives like gift cards or autographed merchandise. One thing we did this year, our top guy got to go on the team charter to the Houston Texans game. I don’t know if we will do another one this year but I anticipate we will do another one next year. A lot of both team related incentives as well as non team related. We do happy hours and such with the staff to build team morale.
What are the responsibilities of your staff on day to day bases such as phone calls and sales goals? We haven’t set their goals for 2011 yet because we haven’t released pricing or anything. For this year our team goal was 15,000 season tickets. We break that up depending on position. Our senior account executives have 1200-1500, account executives 1000, ticket sales rep 800. It all depends on their start date as well. If they started in April it will obviously be a little lower than a person who has been here all year. Group sales had a goal of 37,000. That is across the entire staff including sponsorship and suite sales. The group sales guy has his own goals he has to meet.
What is the process someone would go through getting hired onto the Chiefs? It used to be that we started you as a full-time ticket sales rep and then you were promoted as an account executive then senior account executive and then wherever from there. Now that we have introduced a seasonal program starting last year, you have to start in a seasonal position and based on performance and fit you move up into a full time ticket sales rep and go up the ladder from there: full time ticket sales rep, full time account executive, senior account executive. We put a guy into suite sales this year and I went into the sales manager so you can go a lot of different ways from there.
Can you explain the internship program the Chiefs offer? Yea, we do an unpaid internship and it’s for class credit only. We have a bunch of different areas: suite sales, sponsorship, ticket sales, game production, graphic design, marketing, and promotions each have their own there. It based on need mainly.
What are some of their responsibilities they do? It’s going to range; a lot of it is game day help such as coordinating things during the game and building databases and spreadsheets. It really ranges every day with something different just depending wherever we are at in the current time and what we need done and what we would like them to help us out with.
What do you do on game day? I usually get there early in the morning and make sure all the tailgates are good to go. Make sure they have what the needed, their tents and chairs are set up, and food and beverages are on schedule. I usually go around and visit them in the morning to make sure everything is okay and they are enjoying their time and try and help with renewals for the next year. Also, we have these things called party platforms and I usually go around and visit them and check any kind of issues with individuals that I can help our group coordinators or customer service with.
After hearing about the business side, what are some of the perks and advantages for working with an NFL team? Some of the perks would be coming to work every day. Going by the stadium and our brand new facilities makes your job easier and morale a lot better. For me personally, the essence of the job of what you are selling and managing. To me it’s a lot more fun and interesting than something like insurance. Even if you are doing the exact same thing with a different product, it’s not as fun and interesting as this is to me.
Were you a big football fan growing up? Yea sure was. I played all throughout high school and followed a lot throughout college and then after college as well.
Who was your favorite team? I was probably a Bears fan as a kid. I grew up in western Illinois, so Bears fan as a kid but then obviously when I moved here I became a Chiefs fan very quick.
One thing we can’t leave without talking about, can you tell me about the new stadium and all the new experiences that are a part of that? Well we just completed about a $312 million renovation project which included a lot of things. A large majority of the focus were to the premium areas. We now offer suites and club seats that now have indoor access which they didn’t in the past. Our club lounges and suites are also completely renovated along with the upper and lower concourses have been completely renovated. The team stores and concessions were all completely done. A lot of logistical issues were fixed, meaning that areas to help traffic flow were fixed to help make it a better fan experience for everybody. Another thing is we now offer a lot wider range in prices. In the past it had been very limited with $400 for the cheapest seat and a $1000 for your most expensive. Now you are looking at $250 for the cheapest seat and $2500 for your most expensive. There are a lot more different offerings for just about every budget. Whatever you are looking to get out of your experience: whether it is a more premium or getting yourself in the game and getting a ticket. We feel like we have that and can offer it to our fans.
What would you say is the most important thing for a person going into sales to remember? I think its hard work. Putting in the hours, phone calls, emails, and really getting out there and doing whatever ever you think it takes. Being creative and doing things that the people next to you aren’t doing to try to gain that edge there. It all kind of boils down to working harder than everybody else. I think the bottom line especially in this situation is it’s not something you have to be extremely talented at. When you get into corporate sponsorship sales and suite sales, obviously you have to have more of knack for face-to-face selling. I think at the season ticket and group ticket level it’s more just getting out there and it’s kind of a numbers game.
Lastly, what advice would you give to a college student looking to find a career in professional sports? I would say get involved as early as you can. Sports are an industry unlike any others where it’s very integrated. There is a lot of networking that’s sports related. You get know a lot of people from other teams but not just NFL teams or college teams or whatever you are working in. You get to know people from all other sports because chances are you are selling the same and using a lot of the same techniques. It is very network oriented and I think that’s what will really help you get in the door and potentially move around to an area or a team you want to work for.