The VP of Premium Seating and Group Sales for Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment shares some of his personal triumphs and struggles, current views on premium, and association leadership focal points.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
You worked in Canada, played in Canada, grew up in Canada. Now Florida is where you call home. What differences stand out between the States and Canada, personally, in sports, in the workplace?
First of all, it’s really hot down here in Tampa. I was up in Canada last week and found myself being cold all the time. It’s fair to say my blood has thinned out, and my buddies are always calling me out on it.
Second, I will tell you, sports are sports. When you compare Canada to the market here in Florida, I don’t think there is less passion. However, in a market like Toronto or Montreal, people have grown up with the game of hockey for generations.
When we look at how things work here in Tampa, we have some unbelievably well-educated hockey fans, who also yearn for more of an event. As such, we try to be a “show” from start to finish. We pride ourselves on creating the best in-game and customer service experience in the industry. We want every single fan to walk out of our arena, win or lose, and say they truly had a great time.
You have a family and you work with people who have families. Do you encourage your staff to find balance? Or do you believe that when you enter this industry, you have to understand the commitment?
It’s funny, if you would have asked me that question five or six years ago, my answer would be completely different than it is now. For me, growing up in sports, all I knew was how to work hard. First in and last out of the office, that’s just the mentality of an athlete.
When my son Guinn was born, things completely changed. I reevaluated everything that was important to me and put my priorities in a completely different order. We talk about family first, and that is something we live by. There is no way you can be a good employee if you can’t be good at the most important job, and that is being part of a family.
If you allow people time with family, or just to get away from the office, they are going to be significantly more valuable when in the office. We have limited opportunities to get people out of the office, so when the opportunity allows it, I believe in getting away and recharging whenever possible.
This industry requires a lot of hours, and everyone that gets into it knows that ahead of time. We all work the standard 9-5 workday like other industries, but we execute our product when the rest of the world is off – evenings, weekends, and holidays. There are a lot of sacrifices made for that and normally the people that suffer are the ones closest to you. It takes understanding families to work in this industry. But I have to say, there isn’t a more invigorating workplace than walking into an arena with 20,000 fans standing and cheering during a playoff game and watching all the hard work come to life.
“If you allow people time with family, or just to get away from the office, they are going to be significantly more valuable when in the office.” – Matt Hill, Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment
What in this industry gets you out of bed every morning?
This industry is fun, and we are so fortunate to be able to do what we do for a living. But when it comes down to it, we are a community asset. We are a team, a sports team. Fans get financially invested, but more importantly they get emotionally invested. The ebbs and flows of a hockey season, 82 games, when we win, and we lose, they feel that as much as we do. If we can provide our fans with an experience second to none and a team to be proud of, we have done our job.
When Jeff Vinik bought this team, he mastered the ability for a sports team and a community to create an organic partnership. He has come in as a servant leader to this community, and he serves it very well. In return, we have sold out the last 158 games and put a Stanley Cup contending hockey team on the ice. It’s been a fun ride.
Where do you see the industry going as a whole? Is the premium model changing?
You know, it’s a cliché, but the sky is the limit. We have so many smart people in this industry, so many talented architects, builders, and developers that can build things from crazy ideas. It’s amazing, and it’s necessary because our markets demand it. Customers and clients have limited resources they want to spend on entertainment, and if there is something new, or cool, they are more likely to spend it there.
We all realize that one of our biggest competitors right now is the living room. How can we compete with a sofa, a fridge, and an 80-inch TV with surround sound? We have to come up with something. Now, do we put a living room in our arena? I don’t know if that’s the answer, but that’s something we need to think about.
“We have so many smart people in this industry, so many talented architects, builders, and developers that can build things from crazy ideas.” – Matt Hill, Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment
What about other crazy ideas, maybe even impossible ideas? How about attaching suites to the roof of the arena that are on a track that rotates them around the arena, giving clients different angles and viewpoints of the ice during a game or concert stage. Can that happen? Would it make sense? Maybe! I can’t wait to see what the next game changer is in our industry.
Let’s switch focus to your new role as ALSD Board Vice President. As a longtime member, attendee, and now leader, what growth area or new ideas should the association and industry focus on?
I’ve said it before and will again: I truly believe in the association. It’s an immeasurable resource. It’s a special thing to attend these conferences with counterparts and share best practices. If you can take home six, seven, eight ideas, it works.
The other component is the relationship-building opportunity. I’m very fortunate to have met so many great people in our industry I can call on a regular basis to bounce ideas around, from across the NHL, but also across all other leagues and teams. You run into them on vacations, and they become friends. It goes back to the ‘gracious selling’ thing. It’s all about relationships.