A longtime ALSD member recaps ALSD 2017 and details why after 27 years, the conference matters more than ever.
Editor’s Note: You’ve read the ALSD perspective via Amanda Verhoff. But don’t just take our word for it. Now it’s time to recap the show from the attendee/sponsor point of view. We tapped Annemarie Hastings for this task. One of our longest-tenured and most respected attendees, most of you know Anne as one of the best customer service professionals in the business. She is class personified. Now through this editorial, she’s putting her journalism degree to work, and you’ll also know her as the brilliant writer that she is and has always been.
I arrived at the chic Loews Miami Beach Hotel a day early for this year’s ALSD Conference to prepare for a couple of pre-conference events that my “new” company, Fund Raisers Sports, was sponsoring. Up early the next morning, the butterflies started hitting me right in the bread basket. It wasn’t about the Solutions Session I was moderating, or the 16 Bullseye meetings I had scheduled, or the exhibit booth I had to assemble. It was because of the “reunion”.
Do you remember preparing for your high school reunion? Excitement. Sentiment. Anticipation. That same feeling floated through me as I thought about the group of folks I was about to reunite with (and meet) in just a few hours.
Allow me to toot my own AARP horn by saying that I’m a veteran of the ALSD reunion…ahem, I mean conference. My first show was in 1999 in Washington, DC when I was the newly appointed Director of Client Relations for the San Francisco Giants. Since then, I’ve earned my stripes from Bill Dorsey as a multi-year attendee, a two-time host, and 18 years later, a vendor and sponsor of the ALSD. In baseball, we call that hitting for the cycle.
The ALSD Difference
Back in 1999, not new to sports or conferences, I was certainly intrigued with the way all the attendees from all the different teams and leagues interacted both in the sessions and at the sports venue tours (and the hotel bar). Everyone seemed to be friends.
I do admit that I wasn’t quite prepared for the full ALSD experience – the thought sharing, storytelling, power learning, overindulging, idea inspiring, commiserating, congratulating, inside-joke telling, handshaking, hugging, hangover cursing, and next-new-thing pontificating. And, as it occurred to me later, what other group of professionals share, laugh, admit failure and success, and steal each other’s ideas so openly?
I attended that first conference with my colleague, Amy Quartaroli (now Loskutoff; she doesn’t hyphenate), a luxury suite legend, beloved by all longtime ALSDers. Each trying to impress the other with our professional dedication, Amy and I attended every session, shook every hand, got every business card, and soaked in every best practice we heard. The Giants were getting ready to open a new ballpark, then called Pacific Bell Park, the following year, so we needed all the industry information, tips, and formulas for success we could escape with, bring home, and throw at the ballpark wall to see what might stick.
That ALSD Conference offered us, among other takeaways and timely tips, a kind of “Opening a New Sports Facility for Dummies”. My partner in crime and I headed home heroes with our new-found information, now referred to as “data”.
Hellos, Hugs, and Handshakes
Fast forward to the 27th Annual ALSD Conference and Tradeshow in Miami and my “reunion” butterflies. With an armload of boxes, I chugged up the escalator to the tradeshow floor for the first time since my arrival and was practically blown backward by smiles, hugs, and a flurry of activity and fashion. It’s Amanda Verhoff, the veritable Vanna White to Bill Dorsey’s Pat Sajak. Or perhaps it’s the other way around, as Bill constantly reminds us who really runs the show. Some call her “Amanda the Amazing”.
Within minutes, the rest of the reunion kicked off with hellos, hugs, and handshakes from Scott with the Twins, Jared from the Lions, Dennette from the Braves, Rob and Lindsey from the White Sox, Bruce at the Sharks, and an ocean of team logos and welcoming warmth.
Spirits were high, each of us knowing what we were in for in the coming days – rubbing elbows with the sports elite, having the privilege to hear from A-List keynote speaker Jonathan Tisch, visiting amazing facilities like Hard Rock Stadium, Marlins Park, BB&T Center, and Broward Center for the Performing Arts, witnessing the legendary Jon Spoelstra receive the Visionary Award, and gaining valuable trade insight from industry icons like Mark Lamping, Barry Gibson, as well as colleagues and friends around the sports world. In Miami. At the Loews. During MLB’s All-Star Week. If you die and go to sports heaven, is this what it looks like?
Strength in Relationships
Later, sitting in my ocean-view, state-of-the-art room, with fresh, Visine-treated eyes and double-digit ALSDs under my belt, I asked myself: What is the special sauce that makes the annual ALSD Conference, Design & Build Forum, and Sports Sales Boot Camp feel like this reunion, dare I say, on steroids? (Calm down, everybody. It’s just an expression.)
Obviously, it’s the relationships. The many, many layers of relationships. And what Bill Dorsey and his all-star staff know is that business is personal and relationships matter (a nod here to Morag Barrett, author of Cultivate: The Power of Winning Relationships). But how does this happen so organically and authentically each year right around the 4th of July?
“What other group of professionals share, laugh, admit failure and success, and steal each other’s ideas so openly?”
In a word, camaraderie. From the French word comrade, as in “brothers in arms”. Brothers – and sisters – of the ALSD belong to a fraternity of individuals who know the pain of a ten-game homestand, demanding luxury suite clients, an underperforming team, the headaches of an aging facility, fatigue of building a new facility, rainouts, rain delays, invoicing, renewals, going ticketless, and the feeling of “Groundhog Day” leading up to the start of every season.
We comrades, soldiers of the sports industry, also know the incomparable upside of working in sports – the exhilaration of winning (even if it’s just one game), the power of a team brand, the rare opportunity to work in a ballpark, stadium, or arena, and the sweet sounds of the National Anthem, “Start Me Up”, “Now pitching”, “SCORE!”, Goal!”, “Touchdown”, and “Thank you for attending ladies and gentlemen. We’ll see you next season!”. And ultimately, the sweet arrival of the off-season that lasts about 13 minutes before starting all over again.
Homecoming for Best Practices
It’s safe to say that ALSD serves to herald and personify “Strength in Relationships”. Those three words appeared emblazoned in 100-point font on the backdrop for my Solutions Session and case study with the San Francisco Giants. That 10:00am presentation the morning following the All-Star Game put me on the stage with my former Giants colleague, Rocky Koplik, and my current Fund Raisers Sports colleague, Bond Hilliard. I played moderator, having served 20 years with the Giants, 18 as a Fund Raisers client.
Now post-MLB, I serve as EVP of Fan Engagement for Fund Raisers. Rocky and Bond are esteemed colleagues of mine and of each other, now new-found friends. Did you follow that? What’s the common thread? Strength In Relationships. As the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz once said, “Ain’t it the truth. Ain’t it the truth.”
Strength in Relationships is how Bill, Amanda, Pat, Max, Scott, Jared, Sam, John, Carole, and the superstars on that ALSD squad can entice sports industry icons like the Giants’ Russ Stanley (one good shout out deserves another), whose schedules are tight and off-seasons non-existent, to spend their “free time” speaking at this industry conference. It’s why Nancy Koors, entrepreneur and biz wiz, is there leading a session on “Outside the Box Marketing”. And it’s why we and our fellow attendees return year after year, maybe with a different team, like Lindsay Campbell, or a different company, like Cory Shakarian, looking forward to that sense of coming home, putting on our best practices hat, and sharing what we’ve learned (either through the pain of doing it wrong or pride of getting it right) with these friends in sports with whom we feel a unique camaraderie.
All Boats Lifted
And the relationships fostered through ALSD matter. Why? Because the cutting-edge, best-practice byproduct of those relationships is the rising tide that lifts all boats. The annual takeaways keep all of us in this industry – the vendors, architects, consultants, service providers, and salespeople – current, relevant, and meeting the needs of our customers, the fans.
This year in Miami did not disappoint. Does anybody else wish that this year’s “Marketing to Millennials” session would have been a day long? Could we have spent a few more hours gleaning wisdom about how to compete (cocktail in hand, of course) with the “From the Top Super Panel” at BB&T Center?
As we bid goodbye to one another in the foyer of that beautiful property on the last day, many of us expressed anticipation of next year’s reunion, I mean conference, in Atlanta. For some, it will be the next time we meet in person, but we will call and email and text for favors, tickets, budget numbers, and insight on “how did you get away with that again?”.
And next June, some of us will hit the gym or barre class two additional times each week, spend a couple hours at the salon, and pay a visit to Nordstrom as the conference draws closer. We will also pore over the list of our comrades who will greet us in Atlanta.
Thanks, Bill Dorsey. #
Look around our photo gallery to view all the images of ALSD 2017.