She cut her teeth in government and accounting services. She ultimately chose sport management over law school. And she now leads premium sales in Major League Soccer’s newest venue. She’s Chelsey Burns, Director, Premium Sales & Service at Orlando City.
Chelsey Burns has had a career, and a personal life, that’s a direct result of hard work, a bit of luck, and a dash of serendipity.
After graduating from Florida State University in 2006, Chelsey went to work for Florida Governor Charlie Crist in External Affairs, assisting with special events, including the annual Easter Egg Hunt and official bill signings.
Following that experience, she worked in business development at a CPA firm in Washington, DC, selling accounting services to corporations. Eventually, she decided it was time to further her education. After doing well on her LSATs, she enrolled in the Sports Industry Management Master’s Program at Georgetown University, while keeping her day job at the accounting firm.
A former high school cheerleader and diehard Florida State football fan, Chelsey thought enrolling in the Sports Industry Management Master’s Program might prove more appealing than law school.
“We were never a big sports family,” she says. “But we really liked watching and shared a passion for sports. And I thought I could do a good job.”
While sports marketing was her anticipated route after graduating from Georgetown, ticket sales quite literally fell into her lap.
A Foot in the Door
Now here’s the serendipitous part.
“It was my last semester at Georgetown,” Chelsey remembers. “The professor, the VP of Sales at the Washington Nationals baseball team, asked one night, ‘Who in this room would be comfortable in ticket sales as a career?’ Now, this was a sales class, but I was the only one to raise my hand. I was always comfortable selling to C-Suite executives. All I knew at that point was that I didn’t want to sell accounting services forever.”
“I was always comfortable selling to C-Suite executives. All I knew at that point was that I didn’t want to sell accounting services forever.”
Chelsey says most of her classmates dreamed of becoming a GM, sports agent, or a scout.
“I guess they didn’t think ticket sales was glamorous enough,” she says.
Fast forward to graduation when her professor told her about a job opening at the Washington Nationals as a Premium Account Manager, selling premium tickets and suites.
“I applied, and I don’t know if he pushed my résumé to the top of the pile or not, but I was called in for an interview.”
And there’s even more serendipity. The day she went in for the interview was the day she also met her future husband, Andy Burns.
“They basically told him to keep me entertained while I waited for the person who was going to interview me,” she says.
And needless to say, he did.
Early Career Success
When Chelsey got the job with the Washington Nationals, she started cold calling, social selling on LinkedIn, and networking to make sales.
“We did a good job selling,” she says. “Ninety-nine percent of my sales were to businesses – that was my bread and butter. I’ve always felt comfortable talking to executives and explaining the value of hosting clients at games.”
After two-and-a-half years at the Nationals, Chelsey felt it was time to move up in her career and take on more responsibility.
Her father told her about a new soccer team coming to Orlando that might potentially become a pro team. Being from the Orlando area and already having her entire family still there, it seemed like a perfect opportunity.
“I asked my old boss from the Washington Nationals (who has since moved on himself) to put in a good word for me with the Orlando City soccer team, and they flew me down for the interview.”
Andy, who had worked at the Nationals for eight years, had also moved on to Fortress, a London-based sports fan technology engagement solutions company.
“I read about all the amazing things the team was doing in Orlando, becoming a Major League Soccer team, and building a new stadium,” Chelsey says. “It was an opportunity for me to start from the ground up. It’s definitely been one of the more challenging jobs of my career, but such a huge learning experience.”
Breaking Ground on New Opportunities
When Chelsey started with the Orlando City Soccer Club in 2014, the team was playing at the Citrus Bowl (now Camping World Stadium) – still two years away from opening the new stadium.
“The Citrus Bowl was mostly selling their own suites, so my team and I worked on selling club season tickets, and focused on selling the new stadium,” she says. “One of the challenges we faced was that we still needed to establish pricing and seating capacities.”
Orlando City Stadium broke ground in August 2015 with plans for 31 suites across two levels.
“We’ve been lucky because Orlando, as a city, has embraced the team,” says Chelsey. “We sold out our first game, and then sold almost every suite on five- to seven-year contracts, and our Audi Sport Club seats for four-year terms. I’m working on selling the last two suites. We’re determined to sell in the next few weeks.”
Chelsey and her team also had to educate suite members and Audi Sport Club members on the new paperless ticketing via mobile phones and the use of season ticket cards.
“On gamedays, we are also responsible for ensuring all the food and beverage orders are in the suite and that the process is smooth.”
“We’ve had contracts go back and forth, and sometimes, I felt like a paralegal. I realized I made the right decision not to go to law school.”
As far as sales, Chelsey admits there have been a few roadblocks but feels that stands to reason.
“Sometimes you’re asking for six figures, and they might have to get approvals, so it’s basically just a longer sales cycle,” she says. “We’ve had contracts go back and forth, and sometimes, I felt like a paralegal. I realized I made the right decision not to go to law school.”
Once all the suites are sold, there’s no sitting back.
“We’re always servicing the accounts and managing relationships,” she says.
Chelsey also gets requests that require special attention, like the couple that met at an Orlando City game, wants to get married before a game, and have a tailgate for their reception.
“I told them we’ll make it happen.”
While the wedding might be a bit unusual, Chelsey is always looking for new and unique ways to sell the stadium for non-gameday events, which is one reason why she enjoys attending the ALSD Conference.
“[At the conference], we get together with other MLS teams and talk about ways we can work together,” Chelsey says. “I also get new ideas from other people in my position on selling the stadium, such as putting seats underneath the scoreboard and calling them premium seats.”
She’s also brought her Washington National baseball experience to Orlando in selling the shared suite idea, as she does for the Audi Sport Club.
On and off hours, Chelsey and her husband spend time with her “obsession” – their dog Tuukka, named for Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask. Together, the couple also plays golf and watches sports.
“We still watch 75% of all Washington Nationals games, and I can’t miss a Florida State football game,” she says.
The couple also spends time with Chelsey’s extended family (she is the second oldest of eight siblings) that lives in the Orlando area, playing kickball, swimming in her pool, and enjoying cookouts.
Her future plans include growing her sales career and possibly branching out to the sponsorship side. But for now, she’d like to stay in Orlando as long as she can.
“With my family here, I don’t really see myself anywhere else.”