The COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns were a heavy burden for sports and entertainment executives to bear. The health and safety risks and protocols were well-documented. We are all aware of the furloughs. All teams had countless morning meetings where detailed plans were laid out only to be scrapped by that same afternoon to start over. It seemed never-ending.
Sara Daniel, Vice President of Ticket Sales for the Carolina Hurricanes, was careful not to lose sight of humor through it all.
“You had to roll with it and keep things as light as you could, being understanding and respectful of the things happening in the world, but at the same time understanding what’s not worth getting so stressed out about,” says Daniel. “You control what you can control and keep things humorous and as light as possible.”
The ALSD recently caught up with Sara Daniel to learn more about how the Hurricanes weathered the pandemic storm and what comes next at PNC Arena.
What is something new that the Hurricanes implemented this past season that had positive returns?
When we were able to allow fans, because we had all sorts of protocols in place, a lot of people got displaced from their normal seats, and it kept changing. But what we found was, as a byproduct of forcing people into a new seat, we’ve seen people upgrading into different seats.
Because of a lack of inventory, we had some people who normally sit in our lower level end who had to relocate to center ice. Some people normally in the upper level were moved to the lower level. Some people in the lower level got moved to clubs. Long story short, what we have found is a lot of people opened their eyes to different views of the game and different experiences, and that has led to upgrades and additional revenue. We have conversations around upgrades all the time, but it happened here because people experienced it.
So now we’re thinking about how we can purposefully implement that this season. We’ve always had different upgrade opportunities on the ticketing side, but we really what to be more purposeful in targeting accounts. That’s a new strategy we’re going to be implementing, and it really came across almost by accident.
We’re going through that process right now with analytics of scoring of leads, looking at current season ticket members, and modeling them off similar buyers who spend more with us, either more seats or a different pricing category. We want to make sure we’re being strategic with this approach.
How has the philosophy or point of view of the Hurricanes organization changed, or not changed, as a result of the pandemic?
One thing I’ve always known, but has really been brought to light, is it’s always about the people. Throughout all of this, you can’t lose sight of the people and those connections we have both internally as well as externally.
We put so much care and effort into our sales culture. And when it was literally broken a part with the shutdown, we went through furloughs, and some people left on their own, I was concerned about how all of that might impact our culture. We’re not back fully, but we’re staffing back up. We’ve had some people who took other jobs and now have reached out. They want to come back because they miss the culture. They miss the organization. For me, that reinforced the solid foundation we had in place, how important that is, and how you must continually invest in it. It doesn’t happen by accident. And it doesn’t happen overnight.
It takes effort to do it. It’s those personal connections. It’s planning happy hours. It’s planning team building. We’re playing sand volleyball tomorrow night for anyone who wants to go out. It’s those little things, as silly as they sound, that do make a difference and connect people. We have a lot of people who aren’t from here, a lot of single people, and we try to make sure everyone stays connected and has those grounded relationships.
Did you choose a volleyball social so you can school your younger reps and relive your glory days as a college player?
Maybe. I have to show these young kids that I still got it.
What best practices can you point to as reasons for your current success with premium clients?
It goes back to the relationships. We learned how great the relationships are. Our dedicated premium service people have done an incredible job connecting over time with our customers, as well as the sales reps. We have that two-pronged approach here.
We weren’t sending out gift baskets or those things to stay in contact. We don’t invest those types of resources. We invest in the personal connection. And that paid off, as we’ve seen a high retention rate.
Process wise, we learned we can be more efficient. We also realized there are few people who are experts in certain areas, and they were the only expert in that area. So there was a little bit of scrambling when things were happening and people were furloughed. We learned we need to be more well-rounded and more efficient on the premium side in some areas, and that’s what we’re working towards.
What are your expectations for premium during the 2021-2022 season?
We are optimistic. I would say we are extremely optimistic with what we’ve seen and heard so far in all areas of the business. We have sold two new suite leases in the past three months, and we sold two additional ones in the previous six months, so four new leases in the past year while everything was going on, and I think that’s a big win.
We are going to have a killer concert schedule. Everybody will. And as we’re talking to people, and everyone is trying to get back to normal, companies are looking at how they can supercharge getting themselves back on track and reconnected with their customers and their prospects. Anything can still happen, but how we finished the season was a good springboard for people’s confidence going into next season.
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