GA SWARM Lacrosse Scores BIG with their Sales Culture!with Rob Strikwerda
Rob Strikwerda, sales manager for Georgia Swarm Pro Lacrosse team has 20 experience with sales cultures in the sports industry! Teams include the ATL Braves, LA Clippers, and more. He shares the impacts that “team mentality” has had on creating their successful sales culture. A culture that has the GA Swarm SCORING BIG with ticket sales and game attendance! Learn about their best sales practices, their sales challenges, and the drive they have continue to raise the bar year after year!
Sales Manager for GA Swarm Pro Lacrosse
My expertise in the Sports & Entertainment industry is focused on generating revenue, cultivating relationships and leading Operations teams to retain business at a high level. I have won NBA awards for retention and been documented in the top tier of my industry.
I’ve developed a skill set in operations and event management, allowing me to lead diverse teams across multiple platforms and overcome organizational challenges with positive outcomes. I am passionate about creating lifetime memories and experiences for clients every day I go to work.
I have an enthusiasm for recognizing and mentoring talent, active in the community and welcome all opportunities to further my personal and career growth in new and challenging ways.
Highlights: 2016 LA Hangar Studio’s launch. Supporting sales operations for inaugural season at SunTrust Park. Built, serviced and retained largest client base for LA Clippers (2010-15). Top 5 sales/retention producer for two time ‘#1 Sales Staff in the NBA. Chosen by the NBA to run operations for the 2011 All-Star game in Los Angeles. Transitioned LAC basketball operations with sales & arena operations challenges through 6 head coaching changes. Evolved Arena Operations department navigating strict NBA guidelines through unprecedented LAC organizational growth.
Ga Swarm Pro Lacrosse
The Georgia Swarm Pro Lacrosse team is a member of the National Lacrosse League (NLL), which is North America’s professional indoor lacrosse league featuring the best players in the world.
In 2017, the Swarm became NLL World Champions after a historic 17-5 season and brought Atlanta its first professional world championship in 22 years.
The Swarm competes in an 18-game regular season schedule from December to April, followed by the NLL Playoffs in May and June. The Swarm plays their home games at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth, Ga. In 2018-19, the Swarm is entering their fourth season of operations in Atlanta and 15th overall as a franchise.
The Swarm previously spent 11 seasons playing at Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul Minn from 2005-2015. The team is owned by John Arlotta and Andy Arlotta.
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Series Quick Links
Sales Culture Series
Announcer: Welcome to the Epic Company Culture podcast, where your host, Josh Sweeney, will give you, the business leaders, HR professionals and company culture aficionados, the knowledge you need to take your company culture to the next level.
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Series: Sales Culture
Introducing Rob Strikwerda!
Today is part of our sales culture series, and we have Rob Strikwerda from the Georgia Swarm Pro Lacrosse.
Josh: The ultimate in Atlanta box lacrosse, right, or in the country really. We’ve already won a championship, so the top box lacrosse team in the country, in North America? Where are we at now?
Rob: 2017 World Champions.
Josh: World Champions?
Rob: We came a game short from repeating last year, but we definitely, I would say, are the kings of the Southeast.
Josh: Yeah, maybe even somebody that can challenge us a little bit, right?
Rob: Yes, exactly.
Josh: Introduce yourself and tell us about Georgia Swarm, for those who don’t know anything about it.
Rob: Sure. Sure. Rob Strikwerda. Been in professional sports for 24 years. Started with the Padres, worked 20 years with the Clippers, worked for the Dodgers in there in between. Came out here, helped the Braves open up SunTrust Park, and then have hooked up with the Georgia Swarm.
Like many people, I did not know about professional indoor lacrosse before I came out. Got a chance to see the game and got hooked immediately. It’s an aggressive, fun, high-paced game where there is a lot of activity. Teams score about 20, 25 goals a game, so a lot more than what you’re dealing with on the outdoor game, and I still ask two or three times a game like, “Is that legal? Can they do that?” I know there’s a penalty box and there are infractions, but it feels like they’re just for like holding and moving screens and things. It’s not hitting people with sticks or two-hand chucking into the boards, so it’s a really fun sport. High-paced, a lot of energy, and we’ve got a great product.
Georgia’s Best Kept Secret
I always say we’re the best kept secret in Georgia, really. We did a Grand Championship here in 2017. Everyone thinks the United were the first team to bring one since the, what, ’92 Braves, but nope, we’ve got that title, and having a ball with it this year. Our attendance is increasing. We’re sitting currently third place in our division, two games out of first, but we’ve got a couple of those guys on the schedule coming up, so I mean, it’s anybody’s ballgame down the stretch.
Josh: Yeah. Both my kids play lacrosse and we’ve gone to a few games, and it’s definitely a lot of fun. I mean, they enjoy that. Every time you score, you stand up and dance, and it’s amazing they score 20 to 25, because the goalies are as wide as the goal with all the pads and everything that they have on. It’s funny to watch them put their pads on, because they go from a very athletic, skinny guy to very wide and very robust.
Rob: Yes. Very, very small holes to score, and it seems like the more dynamic you are flying through the crease, the more opportunity you have to score. Very rarely do you get guys just shooting on goal from, you know, 15, 20 meters, and scoring. There’s a lot of misdirection and back cuts and flying through and hitting the small holes, because there aren’t many. A much smaller goal than the outdoor game.
Josh: Yeah. Definitely a lot more exciting than many of the other sports I’ve attended. Super-cost-effective, in Gwinnett, so it’s easy to take the family to. It’s been a blast.
Infinite Energy Arena
Rob: I agree. Infinite Energy Arena, a very intimate arena in comparison to a lot of the other arenas for hockey and basketball. We seat 10,500. Parking is free. We have affordable concessions. It’s really it’s based for the kids, and we have more season ticket holders that buy after coming to their first game than any other sport I’ve ever been involved with, so it’s really cool. It’s an instant connection with everyone that comes in, even when they don’t understand the game.
Josh: Yeah, that’s awesome. I know we got connected because I went to a coaches’ clinic that the Swarm was putting on, so I got to meet players, go in the locker room, meet the owner, yourself, all kinds of team members, so thank you for putting on the coaches’ clinic.
Rob: Yeah, yeah. That was cool.
Head of Ticket Sales
Josh: That was a great impact, and everybody loved the pictures that we brought back from that. This episode’s all about sales culture, and you’re the head of ticket sales. You’re the ticket sales manager, so you have a whole team of people that are, I’m guessing, pretty hyperlocal, you know, to the Atlanta area, maybe even heavily in Gwinnett. Feet on the street out there selling tickets, right?
Rob: Exactly. Exactly. We are a grassroots marketing organization. You don’t see a lot of TV, print media. We put all of our resources into the community and our season ticket holders, and also the feet on the street type of mentality. We believe in growing from the grassroots campaign. We want to get the kids involved as much as humanly possible as they grow, and as lacrosse is growing in Georgia, the more successful they are, the more successful we are.
We know there’s a synergy there, and they have been having a lot of success this season particularly on continually getting out community groups. We do our Faith and Family nights, Saturday night we have our big Heroes Night, so there’s something connecting everyone to the community in some capacity.
Josh: Awesome. Yeah, well, that’s … I see it. I see it out there every day. I see the communications, everything, come out, so everybody looks like they’re doing their job, firing all cylinders. I met one of the ticket salespeople at a Gwinnett Chamber event one time, so definitely out there.
The Sales Culture of a Sports Team
On the sales side, we’re going to jump into the sales culture aspect. First let me go back before the Swarm, learn a little bit about sales culture in the teams that you’ve led. You mentioned baseball teams, I think. Was there a basketball team in there?
Josh: The Clippers?
Josh: You know, Padres, things like that, now lacrosse. What are you seeing in some of those organizations that was just core to the sales culture? What were things that the sales team did in their culture that maybe the rest of the company didn’t do, the ethos of it?
Rob: Yes. When it comes to any kind of professional sports sales, it’s a 24/7 job. It’s not you just take your hat off and you’re like, “Hey, I’m out for the weekend,” because it’s constant. That’s the difference between our sales department and our marketing, our community relations or things of that nature. It is constant. You are bumping into people you know at the store, you’re going to networking events. You’re doing a lot of community work as well, because the more involved we are in helping the community, the more connection. You know, people don’t care what you know until they know that you care, really, is kind of our mentality.
Focusing on not a nine-to-five. If you think it’s going to be a nine-to-five, then that’s not the job for you. What’s been consistent across the board is everybody … I mean, your cell phones are on your business cards, because you’re going to get calls at all hours at any time, especially when it comes to service and helping. The more problems you can solve, the more successful you’re going to be, so that’s a consistent constant in sports sales.
Not for Everybody
That’s not a job that everybody really wants to do. They want to check out, and especially if you have kids and you have stuff going on, there’s just a lot of inopportune phone calls, and wives can get a little angry at that kind of thing. It’s a tough grind, but it’s just a team mentality. That’s been every successful sales department I’ve been in. That is like the mindset going in and how we treat it.
Know the Hours
We also take care of time off. If you’re working two weekends … you know, we work out schedules. We’re not here to burn anybody out, but that’s been a successful thing that I’ve seen. With the Padres, when I started, that was a single-A franchise. The Clippers, 41 games a year, and on top of that you’re looking at every holiday … Martin Luther King, President’s Day, New Year’s, Christmas Day. I mean, you’re working a lot of hours, so you know, burnout can be a problem, but that’s just something you just keep in mind going in.
The Dodgers Sales Culture
Then with the Dodgers, that culture is unique to anything else I’ve ever been a part of, because it is such a family-oriented organization. All of your Hall of Famers are walking the halls. All of your VIPs are there constantly. It is an open-door policy for them, so you may have someone come sit down next to you. That’s how I met Vin Scully.
He sat down next to me as I was making a call and he goes, “That was a really interesting call. Can you tell me about that client?” I just sat there and shared it with him, and just an incredibly nice guy. Like he has so many other things to do other than sit down and talk to what a salesman’s doing in his office.
Georgia Swarm Sales Culture
Then the Georgia Swarm is very family-oriented. We are a smaller organization, but as far as connectedness, we are tied in to everybody. We’re not working with a big office space, so we are consistently in each other’s business, I guess you would have to say, because we are counting on each other to help each other solve our objectives and meet our goals.
The Off Season
Josh: Yeah, so with that, with them knowing that they’re going to be getting calls all times of the day throughout the year, I’m guessing during offseason, you’re still trying to sell season tickets and other … you know, schedule events for the upcoming season. How do they get that time off? How does that usually work, or is it one of those things where ticket sales generally leads into another position with a sports franchise? How does that look?
Majority of Sales
Rob: Typically, a sports organization will do the majority of their sales during games, when there are games being played, when you get eyeballs on the game. You’re going to sell 75 to 80% of your tickets then. Then you go through your renewals, and during the summer is really kind of recalibrating what worked, what didn’t, what kind of programs can we put together for next season, and then also we’re just flooding the community. We’re getting involved in every festival, every odd and end, so we’re going to work probably the same type of hours, but it’s not going to have that stress of like, “Hey, we’ve got a game in a week that we’ve got to sell X amount of tickets for.”
Proactive VS Reactive
It’s a lot more of a relaxed, more fun, entertaining type of atmosphere than what you have during a season, where it’s like goal-driven. You’ve got X amount of time in the office. You have X amount of calls you’ve got to make, you’ve got to connect with so many people, so summer is more forward thinking, I would say, as opposed to … it’s more proactive. During the season, unfortunately, a lot of the stuff we have to do is a lot of reactive. You know, we all work better in a proactive environment. However, if you get a season ticket holder call you immediately about a problem, then that’s going to take the next 45 minutes of your day and kind of throw you off a little bit. Good salesmen can handle that kind of stuff, but work best when they’re in a proactive environment.
Josh: Got it. What are some other aspects of culture that you’ve seen in these sports franchises and maybe even at the Swarm? Do they have call quotas? What are the other bounds that are put on teams? I’m assuming you have to sell a certain number of tickets. You probably have to book a certain percentage of a game. What are put on those individuals that are part of that, other than the time element?
Swarm Quotas – Game Goals
Rob: Just to give you a little bit about the Swarm, we have game goals. We play 18 games total. Nine of them are home, nine of them are on the road, and we play Friday, Saturday, Sunday, so it’s not typically your monthly outlook where, hey, I’ve got to do this over the course of a month. It is revenue goals and ticket goals per game. You’re laying it out, you’re building your pipeline, and you’re doing projections on what you think you’re going to be able to bring in.
Different Experience Levels
Then obviously, we help from the management and director positions to kind of get them there, because you’re going to get all different level of seasoned sales staff, depending on the organization you’re in. We’re very lucky because we have someone that’s worked with the Atlanta Dream for multiple years, someone that’s worked with the Falcons for a couple of years. I’ve got a lot of years of experience on my end. We have another one that’s come from NASCAR, the Brickyard, Indy 500 type of thing. We’ve got some experience here, and it’s not training from the get-go. We will train on certain modules and certain things that they need help on, but we’ve got a team that can get out and run.
A Typical Day
A typical day, your minimum is 75 calls. You’re trying to get over 100, but the more activity you have, the more meetings you schedule, the more networking events you have, obviously those numbers fluctuate. You know, if you’re not out of the office, we want 100 calls. We want documentation in Salesforce. We want to see your pipeline, see how it grows from there.
That’s specific to the Georgia Swarm.
When you start looking at some, like the NBA, you have monthly goals, “I will do this,” and they need to be specific, measurable, action-oriented, results-driven and, you know, the task, necessarily. We call them smart goals, and that is a little bit more specific.
“I’m going to do this, I’m going to sell in this category, I’m going to do that,” and that is monthly meetings, mid-month meetings, and then usually some type of one-on-one in between.
Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Josh: Just to clarify, you said you had 18 games and nine are at home. Is the ultimate goal to basically sell out nine games? That’s the goal for the year, would be ideal?
Rob: That’s the ideal, and that puts a lot more stress on the sales staff because once it’s gone, it’s gone. That’s, you know, 10%, or more than 10%, of your season. The same thing with the NFL. It’s like they turn and go and that revenue’s gone, and that’s a big chunk of revenue. Basketball, you’ve got 41 games, Major League Baseball you’ve got 81, so you know.
Mercedes-Benz Game Count
Josh: I got invited to walk through a suite for the Mercedes-Benz, and they were trying to sell me the suite for the company and everything else and I was like, “You know, I’m guessing this is a bit pricey.” They got to the price and everything and I’m like, “Yeah, that’s a lot, and it’s a long commitment,” and I said, “Well, how many home games?” I never really thought about it. I don’t watch football. I never thought about how many home games there were, and they’re like, “Eight.” I’m like, “That’s a lot of money for eight games in a season.”
Yeah, similar to that. You know, one game’s over. There’s no recovering if you didn’t hit your sales numbers that game. It’s already gone. There’s not a way to catch up, essentially, I’m guessing.
Hitting the Target
Rob: We try not to micromanage, but at the same time there’s a lot of stress. There’s a lot of resources going to each one of these games, so you really need to hit our targets. There are times that we can’t. The schedule comes out, we’ve got a game the day before Easter, which is tough. We’ve got a game during Spring Break, which I’m new to Georgia, so I hear during Spring Break week, like this whole state leaves and heads to Florida.
Josh: Right. Pretty much.
ITP vs OTP
Rob: I’m learning about that, so that’s going to make the game on 4/5 a lot more challenging. Then where we play, we are in Duluth and we do great from right around us. We pull people from everywhere. It’s hard to get people from inside the perimeter out to Duluth on a Friday night game. We have four of those this year, so that kind of segments the areas in which we can target, because I’ve tried to do it. People think I’m crazy if I’m trying to talk them into coming from like Buckhead to Duluth on a Friday night.
Josh: Yeah, they don’t go outside the perimeter.
Rob: It’s like, “That’s crazy talk. What, are you kidding me? No, that’s not happening.” I’m learning. I’m learning some of the nuances of selling in Georgia.
Sales Culture Blunders
Josh: Of living here, yeah. As far as the sales culture side, what would you say are some of the things that you’ve seen that were just … and you don’t have to name any franchises, of course, but they were just blunders? Like, you know, people that … just mismanagement or lack of quota, or where do things go wrong in sports?
Success of the Team is NOT the Success of the Franchise
Rob: So many different ways. I mean, I worked for the L.A. Clippers for 20 years, but see, my overall record with them was 628 wins and 916 losses. That’s my career. You don’t need to be successful to be a successful sales franchise. I’ve seen a lot of people come through, a lot of directors, we’ve had some different VPs, and the biggest thing is when people push instead of pull. You know, you get leaders that … well, people that are in leadership … that come in and just start pushing people into certain areas. Like, “Hey, you’re doing this because,” as opposed to getting out in front, leading by example and pulling the sales team along with them. That’s the definition of a leader, in my eyes.
Micromanaged to Suffocation
That’s where I’ve seen it’s kind of gone wrong, people getting into the micromanaging aspect and just suffocate the personality of the salesman, because that’s as important as their desire, their motivation, their ability. Their personality is the stuff that engages them with their clients. If you have a dial tone for a sales guy, they’re going to struggle. Their voicemails are … so it’s the same thing with like a director or VP, guys that are more apt to be in front of a computer as opposed to being out in front of somebody and leading by example.
That’s the biggest thing that I’ve seen over the course of my career. That happens more time than you think it would, because you would think in sports sales, I mean, these are manly men, you know, guys that can close anyone. You know, like, “Hey, this is where we’re going, follow me.”
Unfortunately, there’s people that can’t close a door, can’t lead you out of a room. You just try to work around. Hopefully the support system you have in that sales department can help with those goals that you’re trying to get to.
Knowing the Function of the Job
Josh: Yeah. I mean, no, I’ve definitely seen it. In my last company I did CRM implementations and Salesforce, things like that, and it was really tough to walk in and have a manager that the manager didn’t know all the function of his job, wouldn’t pick up and call somebody. They’re just telling the other people on the team they need to do this, but they can’t walk them through how to make that cold call or what the reasons are that you say certain things. I think that’s the difference between the push and pull, as you said, on sales.
Have you ever seen or been, or maybe seen a game where it was just a total flop, like the sales just didn’t happen? Like you’re having a great year and one game just didn’t sell the same way?
Josh: What causes things like that?
The Sales FLOP
Rob: Well, this particular year, we had a bit of … we had like a two-week lockout with the NLL, just getting … in the National Lacrosse League, the players don’t live in the cities that they play in. There’s a lot of people that fly in for the games, and they have multiple jobs. You know, they all have jobs outside of the NLL, but one particular game that was supposed to be the opening game, it was the battle of the champions. It was us again Saskatchewan in what was going to be the opener, the two champions for the past two years, but it got bumped to the game on the 27th of January.
We had about five, six weeks to try to turn around and get our … you know, our theme night going, and it was difficult, and it was by far our lowest-attended game of the year. That would be … that’s kind of out of your control. We did everything we could, but we just needed more time.
Tough Turn Around
It’s tough to turn around and sell in six weeks. People don’t know. We’re already fighting with the fact that people in Georgia don’t really know what indoor lacrosse is. People know the outdoor game, but the indoor game, we’re doing a lot of educating on top of that, so that was one case with the Swarm.
Selling While Losing
I remember with the Clippers, I mean, I went through two years where we lost. One year we lost 17 games in a row, and in another one we lost 16 games in a row …
Josh: That’s a rough year.
Rob: … to start the season, so you could see our attendance was just getting tougher and tougher. When I first started, I remember one of my managers said to sit down and count all these people in the arena, and I did. I could do it by hand, so you can say that’s not a lot of people. That’s a direct reflection on the sales department. When you walk into an arena and you’re a sales guy and you see there’s no one in there, we take that personally. You know, that’s on us.
We have aspects, but I’ve never been in a situation where the team has failed to do something. Or we’ve had some ticket issues, we’ve changed some games from the second to the third or something like that that will cause problems in show rates, but not a complete fail on the sales side.
Recovery of the Team
Josh: Yeah. How do you rally the team after, you know, the playing team, the players, the franchise, loses 17 straight games? How do you rally the sales team, knowing that they’re going to be calling people that are not happy with the record and all of those types of things? I mean, that sounds like a challenging task as a sales manager.
Rob: Oh, yeah. Yeah. There’s a couple different things I’ve done. I mean, that’s where you come in with like, “Work hard, play hard.” You know, “We’re going to work really hard and we’re going to get our butts kicked, and people are going to yell at us and they’re going to be unhappy, but we’re going to play hard. We’re going to make sure this is a fun environment for you to work in.” Usually you’ll get your sales staff to respond to that in itself.
Taking the HIT Together
Other ways to do so is we know … I mean, we here know, more times than any demographic in here, and we know that … so you just bond together. You sit together. You do things together. You do special things with the sales team, so they know that we have their back. “No matter what happens, no matter how much you’re being yelled at, no matter how unhappy people are. If you need to transfer them to me, I’ll take the hit on that.”
My job is to teach them how to take a bad situation and turn it into a buying opportunity, because I love when somebody’s unhappy with the organization or an issue or this or that, because it’s just … they’re telling you. They’re telling you exactly, and it’s providing you opportunities to solve the problem, and that’s what we do. We just solve problems. I mean, you’d think, “Hey, you want to come to a game? You want to buy a ticket?” We’ll get them that way, but that’s really not how it works.
Sports is the Connector
I mean, sports is the connector to everybody. It’s the last reality programming you’re going to see. You don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Everybody wants to spend time with their family, their friends, their co-workers, and we’re the solution. Whether it be indoor professional lacrosse, whether it be outdoor swimming or if it’s a youth program somewhere, so that part, we’re very lucky to be able to be that much a part of people’s lives. No matter how bad it gets, we can still provide a life-changing moment for a child, for a team, for someone having a birthday, and those are the things that you come back for.
The Team Mindset
That’s the stuff that keeps you in this industry, because you can make more money selling other products in other companies. You can work less hours, making the same money doing stuff, but sports is a … it’s a unique thing, because we all played in teams. We’ve all played, like I played baseball in college. It was like there’s always something that connects you to the team mindset. We don’t have a lot of individuals. We have people that want to be part of a team and be part of something bigger than themselves, and we provide the roadmap of how they can do that and be successful doing it.
Josh: Got it. In being successful, what are some of the sales habits you like to instill on your team?
Habits to Instill on the Team
Schedule the Day
Rob: Good question. I’ve got a few years on this. I tell you, planning your day is key, and if you can do it the day before. When you leave work, your inbox should never be empty. Then you just don’t have enough work to do. Your inbox is always going to have something, so you should be scheduling the day before you leave to come in the next morning, so you can come in and hit the ground running and to avoid a lot of those distraction type of things. You know, 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there, those are key, but scheduling the day. Working your plan, holding yourself accountable.
Rewarding yourself for doing something, for hitting your goals, that’s been successful across the board. Money, cash incentives, are always key. You know, you get people walking out of a sales office with cash money, that’s an incentive in itself. Then as you get to know your sales staff, I do incentives, personal incentives. I know a guy’s a sports fan, big football fan, likes concerts, likes time off. I mean, you know how to put the carrot out in front, so incentives are very key for a sales department.
Create a Process
Organizing your day, and then you’ve got to have some kind of process to be able to manage your leads, pipeline, the people that you need to call back on Wednesday at 2:00, on Friday at 2:15, whatever it may be. You’ve got to have a system in place that’s going to work for you, otherwise you’re just going to spin your wheels, and you’re going to be missing out on all these things that fall through the cracks.
Josh: Yeah, I definitely identify with that one. I spend Sunday evening looking at my calendar and setting targets and block time for things that I need to get done, meetings with clients, everything. You know, the Sunday night before that next week. When I sit down and do it, it makes a huge difference. When I don’t is when I find myself with a little more idle time than I would prefer, so that planning stage is crucial.
Be Proactive Vs Reactive
Rob: Yeah. The proactive versus reactive. We can all handle reactive, but reactive takes five, ten minutes to reengage. “Where was I? I’m trying to build an email.” We’re all trying to work harder, faster, smarter, more efficient. As you progress, unfortunately I’m no longer just a sales guy, so therefore there’s a lot more stuff that’s expected out of me for the organization to be successful, so it’s even harder to stay on point.
There are days that I’ll schedule my day and, based on what’s come in or what kind of reactive stuff we need to deal with, that day is just thrown out the window, and I can feel it. I know. I feel like I’m starting over the next day, like this day was no longer. I handled the problems I saw, but I didn’t get a chance to do what I needed to be successful.
Josh: Yeah, you put proactive thought into what was going to happen that day and it just got derailed?
Josh: Been there before.
Rob: Especially when you’re trying to be the example for the sales staff and you’re like, “Plan your day, do this, hit this, hit this,” and then they ask me how I did. I’m like, “I didn’t do very well.”
Josh: Right. I didn’t hit my own quotas.
Rob: Do as I say, not as I do sometimes.
Ga SWARM – The Favorite
Josh: Yeah. Some of those days go that way. I guess the last question I have is, out of all the franchises you’ve worked for, what’s your favorite thing about sales culture at the Swarm? What’s the one thing you’re like, “This is different, this is the best”?
Rob: Well, I’ll tell you what drew me to the Swarm. I did 20 years with the L.A. Clippers. I started in communications. I moved to sales. I took over a game entertainment role, then I evolved into a game operations role and then took over the arena operations for the building with the L.A. Clippers, all the time progressing in my sales side. I’ve done everything there, from booking anthems at halftimes, running the ball boy program and being the person that deals with the dance team and the junior dance team and the kids and the whole deal. I’m excited about being with the Swarm because I have so much to give back at this stage.
Great Culture for GROWTH
You know, I’m still growing every day and I’m still moving forward, but I love the fact of being able to help someone else grow and point them in the right direction, and we have a really good culture for that. We have a lot of people that really haven’t had a lot of outside professional sports experience, and you know, I’ll sit in game operation meetings and be like, “Hey, this would be helpful.” Putting together our plans for sales moving forward, “Hey, I suggest this. Maybe we should implement this in how we do it operationally.”
Experience to Share
Which is fun, because I have so many examples that I’ve succeeded and that I’ve failed at. It’s just a huge catalog of like, “Nope, don’t do that. That’s a crash and burn. I already know why. I could tell you why, but let’s just save us 15 minutes and reliving that painful experience.” That’s good, like how you even pass out your giveaways in an arena. Like, “No, that needs to be passed out on the way out. No, let’s do it on the outside of the building, not on the inside.” Just little things like that, that all it takes is one bobblehead to get thrown through the arena and land on the field, and I don’t know what’s going to happen after that.
How You Treat the Sales Staff
You’re trying to protect the organization, the building. It’s, you know, risk management type of things. Same thing in the organization with sales staff, how you treat them. You know, hey, they’re getting burned out. All of a sudden, half your sales team goes down because of illness. These are kind of indicators of like we need these guys to be sleeping a little bit more and getting some time at home and taking care of themselves. You know, that’s what I like about the Swarm. We’re a family. It’s a close-knit family.
Lacrosse in Georgia
We’re trying to do the impossible. I mean, we are a professional indoor lacrosse team in Georgia. Now, this is not the state sport. It is a Canadian and a Northeastern sport and we’re trying to bring it into Georgia, and it’s growing. It’s growing. It’s not growing as fast as we would like it to, but we’re breaking ground. We are running through walls and solving problems and making new fans every game, so I love that about this team, and the way in which this organization dives into the community and does everything they can.
The Newness of Lacrosse
Josh: Yeah. I know a few short years ago, we would have never thought about playing lacrosse. We just didn’t even have it. Outside of Gwinnett, you can get into Atlanta and there’s teams, but you get further outside of Gwinnett and other, more suburban rural areas, it doesn’t exist. I know a lot of our coaches and things like that, they didn’t play lacrosse, unless they moved from the Northeast down to the Southeast. I can see how that’s a challenge, but it definitely seems like it’s picking up steam.
Learning from Clients
Rob: It is. That part has been nice. You know, the coaches’ clinic that we do that you came out to, it’s trying to find out exactly … I’m a basketball and a baseball guy, so I haven’t played lacrosse. I love it. I enjoy it, and I love the new challenge of like learning all about it, but I … I’ll sit down with my clients, and they’ll inform me about stuff that I don’t even know. I feel like we’re where the MLS was about 25 years ago.
New Teams in the Off Season
We’ve got a couple more teams coming in here in the offseason. We’ve got another one the following year. I’m hearing we’re going to get one down in the Florida region, so we’re going to have a partner. Sometimes we’ve got to do back-to-backs. We’ll play one night and then fly up to Rochester and play the next night. You know, back-to-backs in any sport …
Josh: That’s challenging.
Rob: Then to do it after a game, I mean, lacrosse is physical. To get them to play their best the following day …
Josh: It’s not baseball?
Josh: Standing in a field?
Rob: No, it is not. It’s an aggressive …
Baseball VS Lacrosse
Josh: I don’t want to throw shade on baseball. I know a lot of people like it, but as compared to lacrosse, it’s definitely a lot of movement the entire time.
Rob: Yes, constant. Constant attack. It’s constant physical … it’s hockey boards. I mean, I’ve seen guys getting their face smashed up against the boards. I feel bad, but like I said, “Is that legal? Can they do that?”
Josh: Yeah, sure can.
Rob: The two-hand stick on the back, that’s another one I just can’t get over. Like, “They allow that? That’s unbelievable.”
Lacrosse – The Great Catch-all
Lacrosse is such a great catch-all. When I was in school, I was a year younger than my class. I started school early, so in football I got my butt kicked by everybody because everyone was bigger than me. Basketball, I’m a five-ten white guy. I can only jump so high. I’ve got a good shot, but I’m not fast enough. In soccer, too much running for me. Lacrosse is the mix of the physical … the basketball, the back cuts, the revolving defenses … and then you’ve got the soccer mentality of being able to see two, three steps ahead.
I love it. I wish I would have gotten a chance to play. I think I would have been good at doing it. I played baseball, I’m a big golfer. I’ve got the hand-eye coordination, but I grew up in Northwest Indiana. It’s like it didn’t exist.
Josh: Yeah. Not a lot of opportunity for lacrosse there.
Rob: No. No. It was just starting to pick up in out in Los Angeles when we left. San Diego’s got a team out there now. I talk to my friends in L.A. and I’m like, “You know there’s a team in San Diego,” and they’re like, “What? No there’s not.” There is, so we’re doing a lot of educating. We’re trying to get a lot of our community into the building, and having some success. Plus we’ve got a great product, man. We’ve really got a good team. We’ve got a good environment. We’re real excited about where we’re going, and our organization’s going to grow as we keep developing.
Josh: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast and sharing all of that with us about the Georgia Swarm, sales culture, sports culture and sales in general. I don’t think we’ve had anybody on that has near this amount of experience in the sports industry.
Rob: Thanks for having me. I appreciate that. Thanks.
Announcer: Thank you for tuning in to today’s episode of the Epic Company Culture podcast with Josh Sweeney. If you enjoyed this content, please subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher. For additional content and transcripts, visit epicculture.co. If you have questions or topics you would like us to address or expand on, tweet us @epicculture1, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Podcast Highlights and Resources
- We put all of our resources into the community and our season ticket holders, and also the feet on the street type of mentality. We believe in growing from the grassroots campaign.
- We want to get the kids involved as much as humanly possible as they grow, and as lacrosse is growing in Georgia, the more successful they are, the more successful we are.
- People don’t care what you know until they know that you care, really, is kind of our mentality.
- The more problems you can solve, the more successful you’re going to be, so that’s a consistent constant in sports sales.
- With the Dodgers, that culture is unique to anything else I’ve ever been a part of, because it is such a family-oriented organization.
- The Georgia Swarm is very family-oriented. We are a smaller organization, but as far as connectedness, we are tied in to everybody. We’re not working with a big office space, so we are consistently in each other’s business, I guess you would have to say, because we are counting on each other to help each other solve our objectives and meet our goals.
- During the summer is really kind of recalibrating what worked, what didn’t, what kind of programs can we put together for next season.
- The more activity you have, the more meetings you schedule, the more networking events you have.
- You don’t need to be successful to be a successful sales franchise.
- The personality of the salesman, because that’s as important as their desire, their motivation, their ability. Their personality is the stuff that engages them with their clients.
- When you walk into an arena and you’re a sales guy and you see there’s no one in there, we take that personally. You know, that’s on us.
- We’re going to work really hard and we’re going to get our butts kicked, and people are going to yell at us and they’re going to be unhappy, but we’re going to play hard. We’re going to make sure this is a fun environment for you to work in.
- No matter how bad it gets, we can still provide a life-changing moment for a child, for a team, for someone having a birthday, and those are the things that you come back for.
- When you leave work, your inbox should never be empty.
- We are running through walls and solving problems and making new fans every game, so I love that about this team, and the way in which this organization dives into the community and does everything they can.
Infinite Energy Arena
From major conventions to NLL professional lacrosse to music concerts, The Arena at Infinite Energy Center can handle it all. With a seating capacity of 13,000, The Arena features a state-of-the-art house reduction system which can easily, comfortably and quickly convert the space for groups ranging from 3,500 to 13,000. The Arena includes 36 corporate suites, 2 party suites, club level seats, a spacious concourse, wider seats, a high-end sound system and acoustical enhancements to provide the best environment for experiencing a wide range of events.
The Arena also specializes in hosting large conventions and tradeshows with a capacity of up to 10,000 attendees. In the past, The Arena has held political campaign rallies, religious gatherings, sporting competitions and a variety of other events. These shows can also take advantage of the adjacent Convention Center for banquets, breakouts and exhibits.
The Arena at Infinite Energy Center is centrally located close to many hotels to accommodate out of town guests. Transportation can be provided to make transitions to and from events as seamless as possible. Our campus is also in close proximity to various restaurants, shopping areas and amusement attractions.
National Lacrosse League
Indoor lacrosse is played inside the confines of an ice hockey rink, with glass and rink boards intact. The playing surface consists of a green dieter turf carpet that is laid down over the hockey ice. The two teams combine to score a total of 25 goals on average during an NLL game.
Each team has five runners (forwards, transition players and defensemen) and a goaltender on the floor during the game. Each team dresses 18 players (16 runners and two goaltenders) per game, and the players rotate on and off the floor in shifts, similar to ice hockey. The game consists of four quarters, each fifteen minutes in length. A game that is tied at the end of regulation is decided in a sudden-death overtime. There are no tie games in professional indoor lacrosse.
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