Delia Willms the Texas Rangers’ Director, Suites & Premium Services and a 2021 ALSD MLB League Day Moderator, relies on flexibility and creativity in today’s sports business landscape. Getting through the Covid pandemic beckoned flexibility in client conversations and contracts alike, and a team effort to open and operate a new ballpark.
The Rangers collectively rely on creativity in suite and premium usage, which is key in keeping fans satisfied in Globe Life Field’s 117 suites and five clubs for years to come.
The ALSD caught up with Delia at the 2021 ALSD Conference and Tradeshow in Las Vegas recently to discuss how the Rangers premium, new business development, our group teams are serving and servicing their clients and how many other MLB teams are solving for the same challenges this year, which has been unlike any other.
This is obviously a different year, but without drawing too much attention to “the C-word”, how was this ALSD MLB League Day different from previous ones? What was the substance of the conversation?
Without using a lot of “the C word”, it did still come up a lot. We discussed different practices people are using, how we're moving past Covid and different things that we are going to be instilling, whether that’s flexibility or being sterner with clients.
A lot of teams talked about having different clauses in their contracts and different policies going forward so that we don't have as many getting out of contracts, in negotiation, having pauses, refunds, credits, and bonus credits. So, a lot of the talk was about moving forward and how we're going to go into 2022.
Are there any ideas or best practices? How are people finding success with those things?
A lot of people are finding success in being very flexible with their season ticket base. We have many clients at companies with different policies, different flexibilities, and different feelings on how they're going to move forward.
So teams are being very flexible with their season ticket bases. We're trying to keep that relationship because, at some point, we're going to hopefully pass this whole mess, and then we will be on to other talks. Having a lot of that patience and flexibility is what many of the teams have been going forward with.
You've been serving as moderator and facilitating rich conversations, but we don’t want to neglect the good work that you are doing in Arlington. Are there any best practices, tips, or ideas that you are able to bring that the Rangers have executed in the last 18 months that you’ve found success with?
We have been creative with some of our season base that has different policies, figuring out different ways for them to use their suites, whether it be for their VP's families, versus entertainment or client entertainment, or employee entertainment.
Things have gone more towards families and smaller groups. We've also had a lot of people that have used them for foundations: donating to our Texas Rangers Foundation, and generally donating to different charities along the way. Getting those tax deductions and using things in different ways is something that they've learned going forward that they couldn't do before, and I think it has changed some of their processes.
How has your premium department changed throughout all of this? You're in a bit of a unique situation, in a state with a slightly different point of view than some other states. How has your department changed, if it all?
Our department has not changed. We are still selling everything that we can. Our premium team, our new business development team, our group sales, everybody is pretty much selling the same, except that our group department has focused more on suites. We made it more of a hybrid team. We didn't know how groups were going to go this year, so we did more of a hybrid approach where that team can sell more suites. We incentivize them a bit more on that, so that is a change.
We actually upped our premium service staff. We have a bigger team this year going into the new ballpark and it has been great, because with 117 suites and five clubs we have to have a lot of service.
If your suite holders or premium customers are using these spaces for different reasons - maybe for personal use, family use, philanthropic use, all the things you just mentioned - how does having that larger service team really allow for that to happen?
Going into the new ballpark has really allowed more of a 'figuring it out as we go’ situation, while being more hands-on with some of our processes, as well as our premium sales team being more hands-on with families. They're dealing with scenarios like their CEOs coming out with their families, their VPs coming out with their families, or employees coming out with their families and using suites versus other companies' big events.
So yes, it has been a little bit different, but I think we’ve gotten to know our client base better.
Has this enabled you to learn more about your customers?
We've built stronger relationships with our clients. We’re hearing the things that they've been facing during our conversations. We’re getting to know them, getting to talk to them more on a personal level: what they're going through, what their company is going through, and how we can help them in different ways. We’ve very much had increased personal relationships through this whole thing.
Is there anything about this League Day that surprised you?
What did surprise me is that even though Texas is a very different market versus others, as we were talking to the other teams we saw that we're actually all going through the same thing.
We started on our first opening day at full capacity, full ahead on everything, whereas other teams didn't start until June, July, or even a bit after that. But the issues that they're dealing with are still the same. They're all dealing with the hold backs on the companies, the bonus credits, the credits, how they're moving their contracts, their verbiage, their food and beverage partners, and the different situations with vendors having less variety right now.
So even though we have different markets and are handling it in different ways, we're still all in the same industry and handling all the same problems, which was nice to hear.