Vice President, Premium Partnerships, Sales, and Service
New York Jets
ALSD Board of Directors Member
By Amanda Verhoff, Executive Director, ALSD
The native New Yorker talks about being the only child of immigrant parents, speaking four languages, the thrill of working in New York City, having a seat at the table for the design and construction of Citi Field, and the unique experiential opportunities available to Jets premium seat holders.
SEAT: If a book was written about your life, give me the CliffsNotes version.
Roberto: I am a native New Yorker, but born to parents who were both immigrants. My mother is Brazilian, and my father is Swiss-Italian. So in an effort to assimilate into the culture and because of my affinity for sports, I gravitated to football and baseball. American sports allowed me to identify with something unique to the culture and also helped me meet friends.
I didn’t have a clean-cut plan for myself during college. But I had enough self-awareness to know that if I weren’t doing something I was passionate about, I wouldn’t be any good at it. I knew I couldn’t crush spreadsheets all day.
Sports were a passion and a good fit. I, like most, didn’t start out wanting to be a salesperson, but there was a telemarketing program right out of school, working for the Mets. It was one of those short-term, high-pressure situations where a large group was brought in, and only the one with the best numbers was promised a full-time job. It turned out to be something I was good at and enjoyed.
SEAT: How did being a native New Yorker and a melting pot of sorts yourself shape you, personally and professionally?
Roberto: I am a true native New Yorker, leaving for only short periods, so it’s a huge part of my identity. I grew up on the Upper West Side. It’s funny, either telling people you’re an only child or that you grew up in the city, people get this terrified look in their eye. I happen to be both! Add to that, I speak Portuguese, a little Italian, and enough broken Spanish to get by. It’s amusing that I have worked in the two sports that are distinctly American, where it may have helped more in a sport like soccer. But it helps when connecting with a certain demographic or with bilingual companies or those trying to cater to a demographic that is diverse.
SEAT: With countless sports and entertainment outlets in the New York market, competition is fierce. How have you succeeded?
Roberto: Yes, New York City definitely has a distinct identity and tone. But you learn that the New York advantage is the limitless list of businesses/industries that are growing and ever-evolving. While it’s the same market, and we’re all pulling from the same major revenue streams, the ecosystem in this market is intricate and complex, and there are always emerging opportunities to drive revenue for the different teams in the market.
SEAT: You’ve worked for two teams in the New York market – formerly the New York Mets, now the New York Jets. What are some of the differences between the leagues?
Roberto: Working now for the Jets, it’s been impressive discovering the staggering power of the NFL brand. The primary difference I’ve seen from a hospitality standpoint is a function of scarcity. Having eight regular season home games creates an environment where every game is an event. Every quarter, every play can impact a season. Scarcity is extremely powerful and even more so when paired with the loyalty of an NFL fan base. It’s tremendous.
The high volume of games in baseball taught me to be creative when it comes to product development and marketing. It’s keeping a finger on the pulse of the consumer and putting together fitting and unique packages.
The building process of Citi Field was one of the best professional experiences I’ve had, and alongside excellent ownership, it was extraordinary having a voice in determining which premium spaces to build and how to build them. Crediting the Wilpons, who had a very unique vantage point as real estate moguls on how to build something that caters to the end user, a very clear vision for Citi Field was developed. They were very intent on getting staff and client input to achieve the ultimate hospitality and sponsorship objectives.
SEAT: What are the current challenges in the industry, and how are you approaching them?
Roberto: The industry has changed. Venues turn over quickly. The timeline is shorter, and new and renovated venues with more premium options come on the market often. The ALSD.com stat is that it used to be 3% of seats were considered premium. Today, it’s more like 20%. We have to continuously stay creative, building out different types of spaces and finding spaces that meet the consumer’s need in a unique and ever-evolving way. As a TV experience, sports have gotten much better, so we are constantly striving to make the in-game fan experience more compelling and unparalleled. Otherwise, it’s easier to not go to a game.
Providing clients with unique experiential events is now a key focus in our industry. With the advent of the secondary ticket market and expansion of premium areas, people believe they have access to tickets if and when they need them. So client partnerships are driven by access to the team, its executives, owners, and players. How close can the client get to the actual game? Part of what I found so useful about ALSD is it’s, for lack of a better term, an aorta for best practices and understanding what is working in different markets and sports. We need to share those money-can’t-buy experiences because we are all facing the same challenge.
A differentiator is taking clients down on the field to get people as close to the game as you can. Recently we had sponsors, suite holders, and season ticket holders lead the J-E-T-S chant on the field. We made our fans part of the game. It’s the same reason the mania surrounded Seattle this past year with the 12th man experience; they were actually impacting the outcome of the game.
SEAT: Do you have to sweeten the pot for premium clients now, in terms of packaging, pricing, value-adds, and access?
Roberto: For instance, we are giving executives peer-to-peer experiences. Speaking directly to our partners and fans makes them feel like stakeholders. Mr. Johnson [New York Jets Owner] is tremendously involved and passionate. He is instrumental to our efforts and generous in providing us access to him and the team. At a recent Town Hall, [Jets General Manager] John [Idzik] outlined his vision and rationale for drafting certain players. [Jets Head Coach] Rex Ryan is an excellent ambassador as well.
One of our most valued experiences is taking clients on the team charter to road games. Clients literally feel like a Jet for those games, even experiencing the arrival to the visitors’ stadiums in front of jeering, opposing fans.
The business has evolved. Again, many clients are comfortable buying tickets only when needed. So flexibility is huge. We have been focused on building creative packages like the flex-spend package, which we implemented at the Mets and reconstructed here at the Jets. I have learned that clients’ needs change not just year-to-year, but on a game-to-game basis.
Companies market themselves in anything but a cookie-cutter way now. Where one client needs only two seats on the 50-yardline for one C-level executive for a game, another may want to send summer associates or junior recruits to a Hertz suite. Some clients may consider food and beverage valuable, and we can offer a high-level culinary experience. Starting this season, these are all elements that are offered by our flex-spend program, where the client makes the financial commitment to the team up front, then can have access to spend that money as they see fit. We have to offer what the client needs to produce the return on investment they are seeking.
SEAT: Do you have a motto, a mentor, or a way of life?
Roberto: I have been very lucky to have a series of mentors over the course of my career. Starting in sales, I was originally inspired by Paul Danforth [formerly Senior Vice President, New York Mets, currently Head of Global Sales, CAA Sports], who is a very dynamic, relationship-focused salesperson. One key he taught me is that the most underrated skill in sales is listening, being aware of your clients’ needs and adapting the customization to their needs.
I was really lucky to work for [New York Mets Senior Vice President of Ticket Sales & Services] Leigh [Castergine] as well, who is extremely sharp and taught me about the business, including pricing and product development.
Rob Sullivan [Senior Vice President, Consumer Sales & Services, New York Jets] has turned into a key mentor for me as well. He’s extremely dynamic and has experience across different leagues and markets. He inspires you to come to work every day and encourages an environment that allows innovation. He is the model for servant leadership, a priceless advocate that motivates you to be better at your job every day.
SEAT: What keeps you hungry at the end of the day?
Roberto: It’s two-fold. I’m competitive by nature, and sales speaks to that part of someone’s character and keeps you driven because it’s quantifiable; you can see your impact. What I love about our business is the opportunity to develop relationships with our partners while sharing their passion for our product. With that in mind, I’ve managed to not get bored over an 11-year career.
Would you like to network with Roberto?
ALSD members can find Roberto's contact information in the 2014 Summer Issue of SEAT Magazine.