Inside any sports organization lies an important cog that can either help fill the seats and make game day an unforgettable one or it can frustrate a fan base so bad that they would rather watch golf in slow motion, in black and white on a 10” TV screen. I’m not talking about the players, coaches or owners, I’m talking about the men and women who help you find that perfect seat in the stands, organize your group’s game day experience and pull out all the stops for “Star Wars Night”, led by the VP of Ticket Sales and Service, Brett Zalaski who is responsible for sales and partial ticket plans and Travis Watkins, VP of Premium Fan Services for the season ticket and premium ticket sales.
These gentlemen and two others (Shawn McIntosh, Senior Manager of Inside Sales and Patrick Clark, Account Executive, Group Sales) in the Dynamo Front Office were generous enough to take some time out of their day to show me around their office and talk about all that goes in to their chaotic jobs. (Writers note: “TM” quotes are my statements during the interview.)
Tell me about your department. How big is it?
Brett: Overall, including the guys in this room, we have about 35 on the team right now. About 10 are in the “Forever Orange Sales Academy” the starting point within our group. From there we break up into Account Executives, Group Sales, etc.
Travis: Typically people will stay in the Academy for 6 months to 1 year before moving into the full time sales staff. After 2-3 years in that position they start figuring out if this kind of work is something they want to build into a career or not and can move up from there.
Is there a “normal” work week for the group? Is there a difference between in-season, off-season, etc.?
(The group laughs...sarcasm is definitely noticed)
Brett: Many of us juggle multiple events and opportunities related to the Dynamo, Dash and other soccer related opportunities in the area (such as the Manchester Derby), then we also adjust our schedules to meet the fan’s needs. We always have something going on which requires us to be flexible.
TM: Like when I played phone-tag with my sales rep until 930 pm for Manchester Derby tickets.
Brett: Exactly right! Patrick might be talking to a non-profit corporate office in a different time zone, Travis could be working on another themed night and lining up the details, our schedules vary just on what is going on that day.
Let’s talk specifics, you have a variety of ticket packages, in addition to being able to buy single game tickets, what’s that breakdown look like?
Travis: We prefer a heavier number of season tickets, similar to any professional sports team, then group sales are our second largest draw. We monitor our stats closely and try to give fans the best chance to catch a game. If you can hit the right percentage of season tickets then fans will always get that complete experience in the stadium but also have enough tickets available for those wanting to check out a single game for the first time.
You have several “theme” nights each year. Is there a noticeable bounce in ticket sales for those events?
Shawn: To be honest, that’s not the point of those theme nights. Yes, we always want to bring more people into the stadium, but the hardest part of our job is getting people to realize the overall experience is the best in Houston dollar-for-dollar. So these nights are aimed at getting someone in the door that might not otherwise have given us a try. They go for “Star Wars Night” have a great time, then bring a friend to a game later on. We feel once someone experiences a game they’ll see how much fun it is and want to come back.
Brett: Some sports are great for watching on your couch rather than being in the stadium. Soccer is different.
Shawn: We don’t need loud music pumping all game, our supporters do that for us!
TM: My kids go to a baseball game and after a few days not much is said. Go to a Dynamo game and “Leeet’s goooo Dynamooooo” is echoed for at least a week.
Let’s hit on a sensitive topic for a moment. Define “Sold Out” for the Dynamo and the Dash.
Brett: That’s a fantastic question. Very fair, but definitely one that’s stirred a lot of questions. We have to remember there’s a big difference between “sold out” and “fully attended”. We do our best to sell tickets, but that doesn’t mean people walk through those doors.
Travis: That’s right. But to the point, BBVA Compass has 22,000 seats for Dynamo games and about 6,000 for Dash. A “sell out” means all seats were sold. Now for some games (like the FC Dallas game) we also sell tickets for “standing” areas. However those are not included in that definition. For the FC Dallas game we even sold out of those tickets and were turning away fans at the box office.
You have two teams right across highway 59 from you. One of them has a stadium with a similar amount of seats as your stadium, but you’re averaging higher home attendance even though they made the playoffs and you haven’t in a while. Why do you think that is?
(Person responding is purposefully not included by the writer for this answer) Honestly, I think it’s because we have fewer games which makes each game more important, and our stadium experience is better. Not to mention we’re more affordable, which makes it more attractive to sports fans. Fans can come, tailgate before a game, interact with other fans, then get great seats and have a lot of fun, for much less cost than other teams in the area. That’s not a slight on them, it’s just the way it is from our point of view.
TM: Well there’s a reason why I’ve bought more Dynamo tickets than every other team in Houston combined over the last three years, you summed it up nicely.
Last question, what is one message to the fans reading this that you want to pass along? Something about your group, the organization, whatever.
Brett: Honestly, and you’ll laugh about this, give us feedback. Like something, don’t like something, unhappy about a situation at a game, enjoyed a certain event, TELL US! People might go to one game and have a bad experience that we can correct but we don’t know if we’re not told. If you go to a game.
TM: You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know a problem exists.
A special thanks to Brett, Shawn, Patrick and Travis for taking the time to meet with me and show me around their offices.