Planning for the Unknown: One Leading Sports Organization’s Approach
Jarrod Dillon oversees commercial efforts across the multiple verticals under the Vinik Sports Group umbrella, including the 2020 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning; Amalie Arena; the University of South Florida’s Yuengling Center; the multi-media rights for all 19 USF collegiate sports properties; The Identity Tampa Bay, a free direct-to-consumer digital media network; and Tampa Bay Sports, a retail and ecommerce platform.
Host Jim Andrews’ All Access Interview with Jarrod discussed the lessons learned from corporate partner relationships and fan engagement during the pandemic and how they can be applied in planning for the future. Below are edited highlights of the conversation.
Jim: I think it’s safe to say that the planning season in the wake of the events of 2020 has been unlike any other we have experienced. In your leadership role at a multi-faceted organization like VSG, what does near-term planning look like when so much is still unknown?
Jarrod: For 2021, we’re not going to have set plans or finite goals that stay the same the entire year for our revenue-related groups, including partnerships, suites, ticketing operations, analytics and strategy, and marketing. We’re just going to have to work through the different scenarios that we have to model depending on fan capacity, number of games, timing of seasons, etc.
Jim: Looking beyond 2021, is the planning process forever changed?
Jarrod: We’ve seen as an industry how vulnerable we are to events taking place with fans in the building and how much of that is out of our control. Coming out of this, we’re going to be better than we were going in because we have been forced to adapt and try new things, such as new technology to improve the fan experience or for the value proposition for corporate partnerships. There is no better time to be open to failing than right now because the financials are going to be so different this year.
Jim: Do you believe the pandemic caused a shift in how sponsorship assets are valued?
Jarrod: We have to look at in-arena assets that are arguably not as valuable if only 25 percent of the people who were in the arena a year ago are there now. How can we provide new opportunities to reach and engage fans for sponsors with those assets?
If we are doing a good job of still reaching and engaging with our fans, the value of the partnership does not go down. Sponsorship spending does not go down.
We are in a good place to do that because the way we approach things with our partners is that we sit down and talk about their key objectives. That’s most important. If we’re not solving for that, then it doesn’t matter what the asset is. If we know that, we can figure out alternative ways to add value.
It starts with establishing the KPIs out of the gate that everyone is going to base success on. These are the metrics that we’re going to use to evaluate whether this program is working or not.
And now more than ever, we as the property need to be flexible as a partner’s business changes and we have to commit to that mindset. We have to be more adaptable to changing things out throughout the year and trying things together. Ultimately, if you show that flexibility rather than trying to stay within the guardrails that were agreed to on day one, you have a much better chance at a long-term partnership.
Jim: What will need to be done to instill confidence in fans coming back to live events?
Jarrod: Our research shows a majority of our fans want to come back. When it’s time to buy a ticket, will that convert? Our job is to earn their confidence that it’s safe to come back through communications and technology that will allow their journey to be as touchless and contactless as possible, which is what we were evolving the fan experience to anyway. The silver lining of the COVID experience is that it has put that on the fast track for every building in the world.