Inside the World of Luxury Suite Administrators and Coordinators

The following was published in SEAT Magazine, Winter 2010

Question: Why do ALSD professionals need to understand luxury suite administrators/coordinators?
 
Answer: Understanding suite administrators/coordinators impacts the way venues and teams approach their interactions with people filling these important roles. All individuals who work in premium seating need to understand the impact of these unsung professionals who play a large role in business practices within the luxury suite industry.
 
Before introducing new information about suite administrators/coordinators, a definition of the role is needed. Suite administrators/coordinators are assigned by a company/suite owner to coordinate suite activity and disburse ticket inventory. More specific responsibilities include: acting as the liaison between the team and suite owner, acting as the liaison between suite users and the suite owner, choosing the menu and placing the food and beverage order, and facilitating the event-day catering and other service functions.
 
Dr. Peter Titlebaum, Associate Professor at the University of Dayton and Research Director for the ALSD and Dr. Heather Lawrence, Assistant Professor at Ohio University, have teamed up to begin examining this significant and under-researched area. During the fall of 2009, the researchers conducted Phase One of a multi-phase project related to suite administrators/coordinators. Five teams from each of the five major sports leagues (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB and MLS) were surveyed to gain knowledge about the luxury suite industry. The sample included teams in all market sizes. The goal was to gain a better understanding of the perceptions that luxury suite administrators/coordinators have about their position. The results indicated that little is known about the time commitment, role expectations and training associated with the position.
 
The current recession has made it clear that sport is not as recession-proof as was previously thought. As a result, corporate America has drastically reduced spending on what could be construed as non-essential, even frivolous, business functions. So although suite administrators/coordinators work for the suite client, they are still important to teams and venues. In fact, they may have a better understanding of suite usage than anyone else. They also have the ear of the suite buyer and believe they play a critical role in the renewal process. For all of these reasons and more, teams and venues should take an interest in engaging suite administrators/coordinators in a more active way.
 
When asked what suite administrators/coordinators thought was their MOST IMPORTANT role in this position, the top five answers were:
 
1) Being able to order food and beverage easily and quickly
2) Making sure that tickets are being utilized
3) Tracking the use of the suite for current and prospective clients
4) Making sure hospitality is responsive to their company needs
5) Being involved in the renewal process
 
These responses help paint a clearer picture of how individuals see their role as a suite administrator/coordinator.
 
It is valuable to understand both what is important and what is not important to these professionals as well. The two items that were considered LEAST IMPORTANT in the role of suite administrators/coordinators were:
 
1) Receiving additional rewards for taking on this role within the organization
2) Receiving direction from the suite buyer on the role of being the suite administrator
 
These responses echo recent sentiments across positions and industries, where much of the population considers themselves fortunate just to be employed. It is evident from the responses to these questions that suite administrators/coordinators do not have a clear sense of their influence over the initial and ongoing success of the suite. If they understood that the suite owner needs to fully value their investment, and could do so through better information and service levels, they might see how they could hold the key to success. Further, if they felt empowered and better understood how their role plays such an important part in purchaser satisfaction, overall performance would improve. And with access to relevant information, they could implement changes throughout the season. 
 
Another area under investigation was identifying what administrators/coordinators believe are the important factors for a company when deciding to purchase or renew a suite. The questions help shed some light on the decision maker’s thought process.
 
The most highly rated reasons by administrators/coordinators are a hint to what suite buyers perceive to be the MOST IMPORTANT factors when purchasing/renewing a suite:
 
1) Customer service provided by the organization and caterer
2) Entertaining existing business clients
3) Food and beverage costs
4) Entertaining new business clients
5) Impact the suite has on a company’s ability to keep and gain business  
 
The reason this information is important to ALSD members is that most of the items on this list are measurable, but not all are directly tied to commonly used ROI formulas. Much work is still needed on tracking this information so a better case can be presented to the suite buyer on the effective use of the purchase based on their own unique set of criteria.
 
The study also explored some general open-ended questions with the hope of using the responses to develop surveys in a later phase of the study. A few of the questions are highlighted below along with responses that sparked the interest of the researchers. 
 
Question: What do luxury suite administrators/coordinators do?
 
Answer: Today’s suite professionals perform a balancing act. They are trying to make sure everyone has a good time, a comfortable experience, and a memorable event. They do this while being responsive to game-day issues and making sure to utilize the suite investment to the maximum.
 
Answer: The goal is to make sure service is excellent, the suite is clean, and the equipment is working. They also make sure that the attendants are taking care of the guests and serve as a liaison with the caterer and team representative if there are any problems.
 
Answer: Suite administrators/coordinators manage requests, ticket allocation, and guest invitations to the suite. They also receive tickets and process game switches (when rained out). Some process these requests through e-ticketing technology for efficient ticket ordering and delivery. In addition to these responsibilities, they handle lost tickets, access to extra quality tickets, and last minute ticket cancellations, as well as the financially critical role of making sure all seats in the suite are filled.
 
Answer: Managing the suite experience, as well as the ticketing logistics, is a considerable role for what is typically a part-time position. Added to this is the challenge of containing costs associated with suite catering. The suite administrators/coordinators must manage the budget by controlling the overages in food and beverage expense for events where they are often not even present.
 
Question: Is there education that teams or arenas could provide to make life easier for suite administrators/coordinators?
 
Answer: Suite administrators/coordinators are looking for best practices examples in areas such as corporate branding and alternative suite uses both in and out of season. They want help in scheduling client meetings and in gaining information on who owns the other suites and how they use them.
 
Answer: It would be helpful to have a listing of all the services that can be provided by the venue to create a unique experience at the game, such as visits by former players and coaches. Providing research on popular food and beverage choices and cost effective ordering (i.e., flexibility in size of orders) would be helpful. Earlier involvement with the caterers during a suite holder pre-season meeting at the park would also be informative in advanced planning.
 
Question: What are the factors that most impact your role as a suite professional?
 
Answer: Tracking the cost of the suite, and having access to high demand events, are important as are ensuring ticket utilization and return on investment. Having the ability to order extra tickets for the suite or facility, receiving the tickets quickly, and being able to change requests are important. It is necessary to make sure the benefits that come with having a suite are realized.
 
Answer: Communication is a key, such as easily making catering order changes when needed or deciding on a standard menu for the season. The Suite Services Department must be informed and organized so they can answer questions in a timely manner.
 
Answer: Suite planning time is spent internally with management trying to figure out who gets what game and how to get high level decision makers to the suite.
 
After reviewing the responses, a few themes emerged that are noteworthy.
  • Some suite professionals look at the position as a perk, even though it is only one of many duties. They are also quick to point out that the role is not all fun and games as many may think.
  • Suite administrators/coordinators are looking for better ways to conduct business. Email would be a logical solution for many. The ordering of tickets, even overflow suite tickets, could be easily handled through email even utilizing the suite’s account to facilitate the monetary transfer. The current method of communication, the fax, is outmoded, inefficient, and time consuming.
  • Suite administrators/coordinators are looking for ways to deal with those who are not satisfied with their game selection and would like a larger variety from which to choose. Without a system of ticket prioritization, an environment is created that elicits aggression from those who do not receive premium game tickets. It is left up to the suite administrators/coordinators to allocate the request for tickets that should have been handled systematically rather than subjectively.
  • Suite administrators/coordinators are generally appointed by the CEO of corporate suite clients as an added duty to their existing job responsibilities. More often than not, these employees have no formal training in their role of suite administrator/coordinator and need education to do their jobs effectively. 
This is an area that the ALSD could enhance because previous research has shown that those who sell suites believe suite buyers highly value ROI/ROO information, but do not know how and if the suite buyers are accurately measuring it. At present, the industry consists of suite administrators/coordinators who are on the front line, but have no sense for their own influence over customer satisfaction and renewal. This could be an opportunity for the team/venue to provide education to the suite buyer and their administrator/coordinator on internal measures of ROI/ROO.
 
If this information is intriguing, plan to learn more on June 30, 2010 at 1:00 p.m. at the annual ALSD Conference. Join the researchers at the presentation, “Knowing Your Customers.”  Any team/venue interested in participating in future research in the area of luxury suite ownership, sales, marketing, or suite administrators/coordinators should contact Dr. Peter Titlebaum at Peter.Titlebaum@notes.udayton.edu or (937) 229-4222.
 
 
Peter Titlebaum, Ed.D., is an Associate Professor of Sport Management at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio.
 
Heather Lawrence, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Sports Administration at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.
 
 
 
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