How the Cowboys Are Future-Proofing Ticket Sales Operations, Inventory and Customer Experience
Doug has been with the Dallas Cowboys since 2007, beginning as Senior Director of Ticket Sales & Service and rising to his current position in April 2021. He came to the Cowboys having served seven-plus years in sales roles for the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA and the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL.
In his interview with host Jim Andrews, Doug explores organizational culture, the values and qualities of a successful sales team, the rising importance of suites and other topics. Below are edited highlights of the conversation.
Jim: You have a well-deserved reputation for having established a successful culture at the Cowboys, particularly a sales culture. One of the elements you mentioned when we spoke earlier was establishing trust with employees and letting them know you are interested in helping them build a career. Is that difficult to do?
Doug: I don’t think it is. We start that off just from the jump. We make sure they understand that as much as your success here is important to us, if we show you we value your success for your whole career the benefits are going to outweigh any negatives.
We’re very transparent about it. We enjoy having these types of conversations. I have regular coffees or lunches just to talk career and discuss how we can help get you where you want to go. The hardest thing is that it goes both ways. They need to trust you as much as you need to trust them. I’ve had people who were not comfortable with having that discussion with their boss. Once you get over that hump, it’s amazing how successful it can be.
It can be something as simple as figuring out that someone is unhappy because they miss family. In this industry, the six degrees of separation is unbelievable, so it’s very easy for me to say, “What city do you need to be in for whatever reason?” and within seconds I can reach out to counterparts in that city or region and help them. I’ve been on TeamWork Online while someone is in my office, helping them find the best job opportunity.
This is how I got my start in the industry and it’s something that is important to me and the culture I was going to set up. When you show someone your “family tree” they see how incredible it is to have that many people who you have maintained relationships with. I still have those conversations with people even if they are no longer working with me. It’s not something that is just for your time at the Dallas Cowboys, but we envision it lasting for your whole career.
Jim: One of the challenges with any sales team is that you have goal-oriented people with individual goals they are required to meet, yet it’s imperative that everyone have a team mindset and view success for one as success for all. How do you instill those kinds of values so that you have enough healthy competition to motivate hard work but not too much that people don’t see the big picture?
Doug: It’s incredibly important, first and foremost, to get good people. I remember doing interviews 20 years ago and I felt I could tell if the person was a hustler and if they could communicate very well, but I didn’t have a great sense of whether they were a good person and whether they could come in and be a great teammate. That’s more important to our culture than any sale we could possibly make.
I don’t want a bunch of lone wolves on our sales team. I want people who will get just as excited by a sale somebody else made as they would about their own. Our current staff is as good at that as any I have seen. That’s also the service team. They get excited for the sales group and that hasn’t always been the case in places I’ve been.
It’s a simple formula: If you get good human beings, you have a much better chance of having that. Now some might ask how you know that in the interview process. You have to ask some deeper, thought-provoking questions. I want to know what you do on the weekends. What would your friends say about you? That helps us understand what kind of person we are dealing with.
Don’t get me wrong. You’re going to miss. The important thing is correcting your mistake. You can’t make someone a good person or good teammate. If that’s not within them, it’s not something you can create. It hasn’t happened very often, but when we have had that person who doesn’t fit because they’re not a great teammate or person, we try to act quickly to take that person out of our culture. It’s not that our leadership team gives up early; we’ll do what we can to try to get them to where we need them to be. But if they can’t get there, we’re not afraid to make a change. Some people don’t like to have those uncomfortable conversations or make those changes, but we won’t risk our culture for anything.
Jim: You mentioned the service team. There’s an inherent risk of overlooking the service and support team because they are not the ones closing the deals and ringing the bells. How do ensure that doesn’t happen within your organization?
Doug: Our sales team, because they are good people, pay a lot of attention to the service team. They do things for them. It’s amazing how even little things like texting them on the way into the office and asking if they would like a coffee can go a long way.
When we do any sales competition, whether it’s a longer one for a full campaign or just a daily or weekly one, we always include the service team. When we do our annual reward trip and take our team somewhere exciting if we hit our goal, the service team automatically qualifies for that trip.
From top down, this organization believes it is important to engage everybody on the team, even down to our ticket ops group. That group is so important to our mission but a lot of time, unfortunately, they are forgotten about. We just did a trip with our suite holders and took our whole ticket office to Kansas City for the weekend for our game there. They got treated to going on a charter plane and a pre-game tailgate, things they may not otherwise have the opportunity to do. We do that every year with that group.
Because everyone sees how important it is to hit the goals and gets to share in the rewards, you will see the sales and service teams helping each other. The service team will call a sales rep up and tell them about a customer who needed two extra seats for a couple of games and refer them to talk about adding those seats for the season. They are helping to bring leads and deals to the table.
Jim: How many people do you have across the service and operations teams?
Doug: Right now we have seven on our service team, and 11 in the ticket office. That covers events at AT&T Stadium and the Ford Center at The Star. The events outside of the Cowboys include about 25 at the stadium and another 20 or 30 at the Ford Center, if not more including all the high school football we do there.
Jim: Switching gears, there’s been a trend among many teams coming out of COVID that suite sales have been very strong—stronger than general admission in many cases. You mentioned to me that the Cowboys have experienced tremendous suite success, so I’d like to hear more about why you think that is, and also how you realized you have a product that is missing at AT&T Stadium
Doug: We have a lot of suites at AT&T Stadium and a lot of them are under 20-year leases. We also have a percentage we lease from event to event. Not everyone can justify having a suite for 10 games or 20 other events, but they can justify it every now and then. Those per-game leases are also a great lead database for us.
Late in 2020, nobody knew what coming out of Covid would look like, but we wanted to be proactive in the case we lost some suite holders. Some corporations were saying “no entertaining” no matter what contracts they were under. So we took some of the rental inventory and sold it as full leases, knowing we would probably lose a few others. Within a week or two, we had already moved a handful of leases. Remember, these are 20-year terms, not three-year or one-year, so it’s a significant commitment.
We then decided we wanted to hit 10 of these sales before the start of the ’21 season. We hit that goal by February. We couldn’t sell any more because we needed to reserve some for rentals. Then the Cowboys schedule came out in May and the rentals started flying off the shelf like nothing I had ever seen before. We hit that goal by the middle of September, which is the earliest we had ever hit it.
Previously, we didn’t sell out of a game until a couple of weeks before, unless it was a marquee matchup with a Green Bay or Pittsburgh. And without getting into specifics, we’re not talking about a single-digit number of suites per game; these are big numbers. Third-party events were the same. We had a high school football game for which we rented over 80 suites. That absolutely blew my mind.
There are a couple of reasons why that happened. Number one, we heard a number of people who said they didn’t know what to expect but that if they were going to entertain, they felt their staff and guests would be more comfortable in a suite not having to be next to people who were not from the same group, with dividers between the suites, private restrooms, etc.
Number two, about 25 percent of the suite lease sales and another big percentage of rentals were to companies that had relocated to Texas from other states, especially California, because we were one of the states where they felt they could operate a little differently. If they had a suite at another venue, that’s the easiest sale ever, because they already know everything about entertaining in a suite. Our team did an amazing job of prospecting companies that were relocating to the DFW market and even to New Mexico, Louisiana and Oklahoma for that matter.
So as we were selling through everything, we had people with groups of six or eight who also wanted some type of private experience. All we had were suites and for a group of six the cost doesn’t match up for a suite for 18. Every year several members of our leadership team, including me, walk the building looking to see if there is anywhere we have a gap and where we could generate some revenue if everything else is sold—which is nothing new. This year—and we’re in the infancy stage—we found a place where we think we can add some loge boxes.
Jim: The Cowboys were the first NFL team to go live with SeatGeek in 2018. With a few years under your belt since the transition from Ticketmaster, how do you feel it has gone?
Doug: It’s been absolutely incredible. For me to say the transition was totally seamless, anyone in the ticket business would know I was lying through my teeth. We had our challenges.
We weren’t looking for another ticketing company. We were totally happy with Ticketmaster and through our 11 people in the ticket office we had 180 years combined experience with Ticketmaster. But something new was presented to us and if you add up everyone’s time, we did 600-700 hours of due diligence to see if it could work.
I talked a lot about good people earlier in this conversation and the thing we noticed about SeatGeek several meetings in was that they were unbelievably incredible people who were doing great things with technology that is sound.
This is season four and probably the thing I’m most excited about is the user experience. Our customers love it. Our survey results regarding ticketing and mobile ticketing are off the charts. Because we were so comfortable with the experience they provided, it made the decision to move to 100 percent mobile a lot easier and that was a pretty seamless process.
I think it’s good for our industry to have competitors in that space. It’s something that didn’t exist before.