When Digital-First Also Means Clients-First

In this ALSD Member Highlight, meet Jonathan White, Director of Premium Hospitality for the San Jose Sharks. 

Jonathan White, San Jose Sharks’ Director of Premium Hospitality and a 2021 ALSD NHL League Day Moderator, knows that a proactive approach is better than a reactive approach. Coming out of Covid, teams were tasked with strategizing about the future of the premium seating business, along with protecting clients moving forward from both a health and safety and a contractual perspective. Equally as important is how White’s team is proactively strategizing their digital approach to sales and service. 

As White considers, “How can I enhance the service for our current suite holders? How can we double down on that experience for them?”, it’s that digital strategy that always rises to the top. Thus, he’s looking at the whole client journey to embrace digital. He’s even shared the beauty of being able to buy a suite in three clicks. 

The ALSD sat down with this Silicon Valley leader to better understand how digital leads to deal and satisfies clients’ desires.  

What were common topics discussed during League Day? 

COVID obviously was paramount for us. We've hopefully made it through the majority of the make-goods, suite contracts, and all of those negotiations that took place over the past 12 to 16 months. We know our current situation, so it was really good timing for ALSD to come together and have a more proactive conversation instead of a reactive one. 

We were able to strategize about protecting contracts and suite holders moving forward, in case things go sideways again. It was extremely valuable to get together with like-minded individuals, discuss a game plan, and make sure we're relatively on the same page heading into this upcoming season.

Are people now beginning to think about how it will look in 2022 in order to plan accordingly? 

Absolutely. From a contractual standpoint I think we're in a really good spot with a lot of our venues. But my biggest takeaway is that the fans are ready to get back to it.

We're all trying to adapt and figure out, “What's the new normal going to be? What health and safety protocols are we going to have to adapt to?” Which is fine, but the fans are ready. 

I'm not in the NBA, but to see the NBA Finals a couple of weeks ago with 50,000 fans outside the arena in Milwaukee was fantastic for our industry. Again, our fans are ready to get back to it, so it’s our job now to get them into our venues as safely as possible.

We're going to have a new experience. We all understand that, but we're all going to be better for it and hopefully provide a better experience for all our fans for in 2022 and beyond. 

Is there a tip or best practice, something actionable that came out of League Day that you will take home with you? 

I'm new in premium - I don't shy away from that. This is my first season, so it was valuable for me to get in and start to learn the space and meet individuals. Selling suites is going to be a challenge on its own, but before I can even get to that, I have a current database that I need to take care of. They’ve been through a lot with me in year one, and so my biggest takeaway coming out of this was “How can I enhance the service for our current suite holders? How can we double down on that experience for them?”

The Coyotes put together a phenomenal presentation yesterday. Jared Kozinn and his staff showed just how they're going to completely revamp their benefits and then call it a year-round membership for all of their suite holders. They did a fantastic job explaining how it's going to align with corporate partnerships and ticket sales. 

It was great because we're in the exact same position in San Jose, starting fresh and wanting to provide a new experience coming out of COVID. We had a lot of great takeaways from member events that we're potentially looking at, gifting ideas that we're going to explore, and those are things that are turnkey for us. I was on a call with my staff this morning saying “Here’s a number of things that we can do in the next 60 days, starting to integrate some of the things that we learned at ALSD." 

We're excited to get back to it, and we have our first event in four days at SAP Center. It's going to be a busy week for us, but we’re ready. 

Is there a tip, a best practice, something that you think you're doing well in San Jose that the rest of the membership can really benefit from hearing?

Being in the heart of Silicon Valley, we're a digital-first organization, and that really starts with our team President. He's a former CEO at SAP, so we are really trying to get ahead of the digital landscape at SAP Center. One of the things I'm most proud of right now is that we actually have a partnership with Suite Experience Group. 

We had a challenge coming in. I took over a 30-year-old product. As of last season we were printing off PDF tickets, and we were the last team in the bay operating that way. Levi's Stadium isn't doing that, Chase isn't doing that. So that’s a problem that all of us have had to tackle. We were able to align with Scott and SEG. We partnered with Ticket Manager and Troy and their group, and so we've really doubled down on going completely digital for all suite holders.

This was a tall task for us heading into 2021 because we have 30-year members that are used to a certain experience. We’ve done a really nice job gracefully getting them to digital-only for the SAP Center. I'm sure everyone at ALSD knows how it is, we've all had to go through that at some point. But I think that's been a really nice feather in our cap. And more importantly for us from a service standpoint, we can also sell digitally. That’s something that in our tenure we've never been able to do. It’s been a clunky manual process, but now it's a completely frictionless experience which is something that our leadership team has been very focused on. They tasked us with that early-on when we took over suites, and we've been able to deliver.

In partnering with SEG, have you seen an increase in suite rental sales? Is it too early to talk about that? 

Yeah, a little too early. We went live with our website couple of weeks ago and we've been spending the last few weeks getting it linked to our website so that it starts to show up through SEO on Google, as well as some other optimizations. We’ve started to get some traction. It's doing well on Google, and then again we'll go on sale Thursday. That’s really when we're going to pump some marketing behind this thing and drive traffic to it.

But again, the fact that fans can now but a suite in three clicks is great. That's a big win for our organization and one that we're really proud of heading into ’21-’22.

Circling back to the League Day conversation, is there anything that surprised you, anything that you thought you would talk about but it really didn't come up that much? Or something that came up that you weren’t expecting? 

Not a lot of surprises, honestly. We knew that health and safety was going to dominate the day for the most part, but again, some of the benefits and premium experiences that we can do for our suite holders was a pleasant surprise for us. I didn't know we would spend that much time on it. I think that was our only topic for the entire afternoon, premium service. And we thought that would be a small 30-minute session. We took two hours on it. 

To see a lot of teams really focusing on the premium service angle was refreshing. To know that there are a lot of teams in the same boat as us, looking to double down on these experiences was great. That was the most impactful session for us because we heard a couple of things that we can start to integrate immediately. 

From a COVID standpoint with health and safety we're all pretty buttoned up at this point. We're all ready. We have our contingency plans. But I think the premium service part was really exciting for me, as someone that is from a service background.