Uncovering Assets which Already Exist

In this ALSD Member Highlight, meet Kelsey Bannister, VP, Premium Sales & Service for the Milwaukee Bucks.

For Kelsey Bannister, the goal is to provide distinctive premium experiences by utilizing the assets within Fiserv Forum and the Deer District and listening to her clients.  

What she’s discovered over the years is that only a bespoke experience can really be called premium. One-size-fits-all has never been in her lexicon; rather she looks at what exists and elevates it, unequivocally uniquely. 

The ALSD caught up with new Bucks star to understand how to produce experiences outside-the-box, even by staying within its confines.  

You've been in premium now for about a decade. Briefly explain your background and how you define hospitality and a premium experience? 

I started my career in Houston with the Houston Rockets on the building side. I was behind the scenes at all of the events and worked my way up over to ticket sales and service. In my tenure there, I managed the books of business of our courtside accounts and all premium elements. 

I then shifted to Denver and worked for Kroenke Sports Entertainment for six years. During that time, I was part of the building out the Club Lexus, which was the courtside club there, expanding the premium elements throughout that building in that space. I was also in charge of the membership platform and building out benefits for the Denver Nuggets specifically. From there, I shifted over in Denver to vice president of premium client service where I was responsible for all four teams and two properties in Denver, making sure all the premium accounts had a good experience, and focusing on retention. 

I've been at the Milwaukee Bucks for two and a half months, as of this recording. I’m new on the job here and it's been a really fun journey so far. My role here is over all the premium sales and service. So, any of the premium elements within Fiserv Forum for and the Deer District, is currently what I'm overseeing.

As we define hospitality, I find often that people assume hospitality is, “Here's your ticket. Here's your food and beverage package. Have a good night.” To me hospitality is much more, way above and beyond just a ticket and a food and beverage experience. 

It's the overall: How are we impacting the company, the organization within the city? How are we customizing it and making sure it's not streamlined benefits where everyone gets the same thing? It’s learning what's important to the client and how can we build something out to make it make sense for that client every time they come here.

Milwaukee Bucks Fiserv Forum Sunset

That's how I define hospitality, and I really have advanced that over my career too. 

What are you focused on now? What have the Bucks implemented recently that you're seeing have success or have returns? 

Right now, the big focus is rentals for the season. We are going through that process as we speak and also planning for the 2022-23 season. We are focused on this year, but then really looking at that two-to-three-year trajectory of how we're going to continue to implement our current premium products. What does that future look like not just at Fiserv Forum, but also the Deer District?

Milwaukee Bucks Fiserv Forum Sunset

One exciting thing here is looking at the premium spaces. We aren’t just focused on a suite for 10, 15, 20 people, but asking, “Why aren't we building something with more of a focus on some single tickets and suites?” We are looking at creating a steppingstone for every single premium account coming in. Having a new arena – which is awesome for me coming in – allows us to look at all the spaces strategically and ask how we make sense for every single client coming in, especially with the changes from COVID. 

Not everyone wants to come out in a group of 50 people. They would rather come out in twos and fours, so what product can we create to make people feel safe but still have a good premium experience? That is something that we're really shifting our mindset to.

One of the things I'm most excited about is also looking at some of the spaces that are used on the concert side, and how can we implement those spaces on the Bucks side. For example, the green room. Right now, that's only used for concerts, only for the main artist. So, we're looking at how we can revamp that into a bunker-style suite with really cool access into a green room that is exciting for a Bucks fan too. We’re still in the works of it. We haven't launched it yet but some of the new cutting-edge things that we're looking at doing here which are very exciting. 

We're all trying to utilize underutilized space and it’s often looking at how can we build out space into something else, whereas you make creative use from space that already exists. So, for the example of the green room, clients would use it like a bunker suite, have F&B and so forth in the space, then go out to their seats?


Milwaukee Bucks Fiserv Forum

We are also looking at some of the areas where we need to sell inventory in the bowl. So, you might have a standard ticket, and then you get a badge and credential which allows you to go back the green room behind-the-scenes and have access to it the entire night. A cool element too, where you can rub elbows with some celebrities that might be coming in for the game. It’s a more behind-the-scenes situation. 

Milwaukee Bucks Fiserv Forum

I think we all are very similar regarding what we are we going to spend money on to blow walls down and can we create something new. The challenge that we've been presented with, which is really exciting, is to uncover what we already have and how we sell that. Then we can look long-term at making sense of it. So that's been something that sounds very simple, but it's a challenge for myself too, using something we already have for a premium experience that we haven't done before.

Your team is using Fiserv Forum and the Deer District as assets for premium. Could you tell me more about that?

Through the Championship run into playoffs, the Deer District is now recognizable, so much so that the first time I tell someone that I just moved to Milwaukee and work for the Bucks, they say, “Oh my gosh the Deer District. How cool is that?”

There’s really neat the brand recognition that's already there. And around Deer District there are great restaurants where we're going to eventually build out a lot of elements of one-stop-shop so patrons can come and have an experience for a night, for a weekend, and not have to go to multiple places. Right now we have a great restaurant – Mecca – that's right across the Deer District alleyway. We are already having premium experiences where you can go over there pregame, rent that space out, have a big group, and then that entire group will come over to Fiserv Forum, rent out a club lounge, rent out a space.

A long-term the goal as we expand the district and continue to grow it is to understand how we get people to come in, have dinner, go to the game, have a hotel room, and have concierge service. It’s really creating that premium experience more than just a ticket to a game, but really a one-stop shop to have a really cool time with friends and family. You're blending this all together.

Are you aware of venue or premium changes that are here to stay versus those we abandon because of Covid specifically? 

From a staffing standpoint, we have seen changes. I've seen from the from Peter Feigin, the Bucks president on down. We collectively make sure we take time, have flexible schedules. It's compliments of the company itself, and also I think a response to COVID. We are really taking care of the person first, which is really nice, and I truly believe that's what it's about, especially with the amount of events and amount of time we spend here. It is nice to have flexibility and recognize that we care about the human element first. 

Through your lens, what does a path to leadership look like?

I think it's twofold. First and foremost, one of the things I've learned is to take a 30,000-, 40,000-, or 50,000-foot view, but also know when you need to get in the weeds.

There has to be a balance of showing support alongside your staff, but then also making sure you can continue to lead with the vision and direction of your organization. The best leaders that I've seen are very good at knowing when to do both because both are vitally important.

The second part is hiring the right people around you. The Bucks have shown that as a whole, as an organization. It’s something we live and breathe by, and it’s exciting to be a part of. In my career, a goal is to make sure I have a hand going up and a hand going down to help bring people up with me. It’s taking time to have that extra meeting with the inside sales rep, make sure others feel valued, and be a mentor, even without a mentorship title.

Over your career, have you seen how buying habits and cycles have changed for clients?

When I first started my career in sports some time ago, the mentality was that we have a product, we're going to sell it as-is. Now, we are unanimously making sure we listen to what our clients need.

We are looking at how we are showcasing the premium experience online, how we can get better, and what technologies we can use to support that.

Milwaukee Bucks Fiserv Forum

On the experience side, how do we make it as easy as possible for someone coming out to the game? For example, we have a Christmas day game this year. We have some spaces that are 24-30 tickets, however many people are communicating that they have a family of four or a family of six. So, let's adapt that space. Let's hear what the needs are from our client and customer and adapt to that. 

Milwaukee Bucks Fiserv Forum

You mentioned selling smaller ticket packages, even singles, in premium. Can you tell me more about that?

Our club lounge, for example, is 24 seats. It's essentially a single-game rental and we look at big games that are coming up, for instance. We can price it more aggressively per ticket also. We worked with Levy and created a food and beverage package, and beer, wine, and food are included. We make sure people know there are going to be others in the space; you don't have the space to yourself. In that space, there are assigned seats, but they can buy it in twos, four, sixes, and so forth. Clients get exposure to this space when perhaps otherwise they wouldn't have been able to. It’s a system that works out well to get people exposure to the space, and also can be sold as a single ticket.