No Coasting: How the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Stay on Top of Ticket Sales Opportunities and Challenges
Ben is entering his 13th season with the NFL franchise. His duties include overseeing the day-to-day responsibilities of the Buccaneers Sales and Guest and Member Relations Departments. These departments are responsible for the service and new sales of all Buccaneers Season Pass Memberships, as well as Group Tickets and Luxury Suites.
Over the past 12 seasons the Buccaneers have ranked in the top five in all NFL new sales categories including first in all categories in 2020. They also have been named number one in Customer Service in the NFL seven out of the last nine seasons. Ben also has spearheaded two satellite sales offices in Orlando and Sarasota. Each of those offices has consistently generated more than $1 million by targeting the tourism industry.
Ben spoke with All Access host Jim Andrews about the difference and similarities of selling for both championship and less successful teams and examined some of the latest developments in ticket sales. Below are edited highlights of the conversation.
Jim: You currently oversee ticket sales for the reigning Super Bowl champions, a team featuring arguably the greatest NFL player of all time. But two years before that the Bucs had back-to-back 5-11 seasons and just a few years before that were 2-14. From a sales operations’ perspective, how do you account and plan for those kinds of changes in the “product”?
Ben: We always talk about being playoff-win and championship ready because there is so much of our business that we can’t control. We went through years of the team having some challenges on the field and we just tried to do as much as we could with our customer interaction and building relationships.
We knew that if we got to a point like we did in March 2020 (with the signing of Tom Brady) that things were going to be great and we were going to get to where we are today. Like everybody else in the industry, we couldn’t plan for COVID, but we just tried to hire really great people, hold our brand in a really high regard and overdo it with customer service.
Because of COVID, we had sent everybody to work from home the Friday before the Tom Brady signing and our other player additions. We were just trying to make sure we were communicating with everyone and making sure that they had everything they needed to be successful. Credit to ownership and our leadership here that we were able to do that and have a lot of success with the news.
We always had to be ready for this and the pain that we experienced prior to this success made it that much more worth it.
Jim: You’ve also talked about the brand evolution the team has gone through and some of the challenges—and opportunities—presented by the market you’re in. Can you walk us through how that impacts the approach to marketing the team and selling tickets?
Ben: We had tried to redefine our brand for years. We knew we had a strong brand being an NFL team and being in Florida, but we wanted to make sure that when the team got better we were ready for the bigger stage.
Tampa is a very challenging place to sell tickets. There are people who move here for the beaches and the cost of living, and when they move here they bring their affinity for teams like Pittsburgh or Green Bay or the New York teams. We have always tried to say, “Come and experience our game. We feel great about our in-game experience. We put $160 million into our building a couple of years ago and we have a really unique stadium and set-up. In addition, we also do a really good job of customer service.
We were trying to get people to come to one game. We were confident that if they attended one game, we could get them to come to more. But it was difficult to get a fan to not wear the other team’s jersey for that game and instead wear a Buccaneers jersey. Now that we’ve had some success, there are a lot of Buccaneers jerseys.
What’s really important for our brand is that elementary school kids are saying, “I want a Bucs jersey, Dad; I don’t want your Steelers jersey.” That’s going to help us perpetuate our brand as we go even further.
We had always worked really hard to make sure we did everything in a first-class manner. Whenever you have success, you have to work that much harder to make sure it’s really great still. Our anchors were always really great in-game experience, really great customer service and making sure that people had a great time when they came out. That’s what made us successful, even through some rougher years, and that’s what we continue to do.
Jim: An interesting situation that is unique at this time and place in your market is the success of the other teams in Tampa. You’ve got the two-time Stanley Cup champions in the Lightning; you have a top MLB team in the Rays. Does that have an impact, whether positive or negative, when all of the pro teams in town are having success?
Ben: It’s an unbelievable situation. I tell my 11-year-old son that what is going on here is not normal with all of these teams doing great! It helps all of us. I’m on the board of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission and we are bursting at the seams trying to continue this momentum and also trying to attract major events, such as when we hosted WrestleMania last year. We’re trying to bottle it up and keep it going as much as we can.
Once again it comes down to the youth and to the sports fans who may not have a Tampa team as their number one team—this environment gives us a chance to make a Tampa team someone’s favorite team.
It helps too that the economy is good here. There are constantly companies moving to Tampa. The airport is really great here. The experience is almost surreal; I’ve had people from New York tell me it’s easier to get on a plane and fly to Tampa to go to a game than try to catch a game there.
Jim: I’d love to get your take on the near-term future of ticket sales. There are all kinds of third parties—large and small–becoming involved, you have technology developments like NFTs that could play a part. What’s your view on the industry and where it’s headed?
Ben: Now more than ever you really have to pay attention to everything that’s going on. And not just in sports, but in concerts and amusement parks, etc., because there is so much going on in the space. At the end of the day, you want to make sure that what you are doing or creating is resonating with the consumer. We can all have these really great ideas, but if people aren’t engaging with them or using them, it can be difficult.
For ticketing, what’s been true for the last 20 years is still true now: People just want things to be easy. A few years ago we developed an all-inclusive area in our stadium. It was at a time when the team wasn’t that great, but the concept was really great and we did it slowly and made it easy. People want to get from their homes, park their cars and get into the stadium and then they want things to be easy and all-inclusive does that.
When you are developing these new technologies and you are looking to roll them out, there’s an apprehension about whether people will “get it” or like it. But eventually they do. People are adaptable and we probably don’t give the consumer enough credit for how they approach things. But what it’s all about is ease: ease of purchase, ease of entry and ease of enjoyment.
Jim: Sales is all about relationships and relationships are often about understanding the other party. What would you like the companies that are buying suites and premium seating from the Buccaneers to understand about your organization?
Ben: We work really hard. We care deeply not only about the last person in the building, but the person buying sponsorship from us. We ask a lot of questions because we really want to listen as opposed to saying, “Here’s our package.” By asking and listening, we can find out that maybe you are purchasing for your company, but perhaps there is a personal interest as well. Or maybe you’re purchasing for your family, but there is a business interest also.
A lot of times there is a lot of meat left on the bone when you go through the sales process. If you just ask someone where they are from, what they did before this or what they like to do in their spare time, you can uncover so many more things. Especially being in a transient town, the question, “Where are you from?” comes up a lot and you learn through the sales process how to use that information to customize packages for the end user.
There have been many times when I’ve been in processes where it’s about the product and how excited we are about it and the salesperson is almost forcing it on people instead of sitting back and from a humble standpoint saying, “Here’s what we do, but tell me a little bit more about you.” That ends up getting to a really great spot. It’s fun when people are caught off guard by that because they are used to being on the defensive when a sales pitch is coming.
I love it whenever a customer comes back to us and says, “What’s the most unique thing you have ever done for a customer?” It doesn’t get asked a lot, but when it does it gives me the opportunity to tell our story and discuss all the work that goes into being number one in the NFL in customer service, or that goes into securing 22 sponsorship deals over the last year. I don’t want to throw all that out on the front end, but if they ask, I can dive deeper and tell them more about our brand.
We are constantly evaluating everything we are doing. We are testing and surveying everything. We’re not resting because we won the Super Bowl. It’s better, but we are continuing to work hard to make sure we keep that high level.
Jim: You have hired, trained and mentored many people in your career and there have certainly been many changes over the last couple of decades in workplace environment, corporate culture, the expectations that people have when they are hired. What advice do you have for both younger people seeking to advance in their careers, as well as for other managers and leaders like yourself in meeting the needs of a new generation of employees?
Ben: One word: patience. Whether as bosses or a workers, we all have to be more patient and ask more questions. If someone shows up late for a meeting, it could be seen as disrespectful, but you never know if that person is dealing with something in their personal life.
In terms of career growth and development, our industry has a tendency to put people on fast treadmills where you have to keep it going and have a promotion very soon and keep it going over time. What I have seen is that people who are patient, who are in constant communication with their supervisors and are really honest and transparent are the ones that grow and advance. It may not always be on your time, but employers value people who are willing to be patient.
We’ve been really fortunate. I’ve had people that have been here for over 10 years and that makes you really proud.
Jim: I spoke with someone recently who’s been in the business for a long time and was concerned that his experience from when he started out was no longer relevant as a reference point because things are so different now. What’s your take on that?
Ben: A lot of those traits and characteristics are still the same. If you work hard, are nice to people, invest in other people and have good, open dialogue, that’s still going to carry the day. Are there things we all need to learn and adjust to? Absolutely. I learn a lot from our entry level salespeople who are just coming out of school. I enjoy sitting down with them and asking, “What do I need to know?” I leave those discussions saying, “I get it now and I need to go and look at that.”
We have people on our staff who are super passionate about gaming and about the NFT situation who I can learn from. And I get a little more street cred from the staff for doing it, too!