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The Ultimate Toolkit Secrets Revealed

Stay up-to-date on everything going on in the world of ticketing, sponsorship and marketing

with one of the best: Steve DeLay

Congratulations to Jon Spoelstra for being named one of Sports Business Journal’s Champions of the Sports Business Industry.

Click here to view the article.

  • 30 Mar 2020 10:05 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    I know.  It’s terrible. 

    The season has shut down.  Sales have dwindled to near zero or below zero.  Sports property staffs are starting to see layoffs.

    I know it’s terrible because I face the same challenge with my team, the Macon Bacon.  I also have talked to dozens of team execs in the last two weeks. 

    One thing I tell all of them - There is one huge positive that can come from this unprecedented sports shutdown. 

    It gives you time.  Specifically, it gives you time to build your business plan.  A business plan that answers the question:

    “What’s it gonna take?”

    Here’s the deal though.  You have to finish the second half of the question.  “What’s gonna take to do xxx?”.  You know what ‘X’ is.  I don’t.

    ‘X’ could be:

    • How do we return from this shutdown with a dynamically better sales staff?
    • How do we go up 15% in group ticket revenue next year?
    • How do we increase season ticket sales to the business community by 200 seats, 300 seats, 500 seats?


    Before we dive in to how, I’m going to make two big assumptions.  

    The first big assumption: You asked yourself the question, “What’s it gonna take to (fill in the blank here)?”  

    The second big assumption: You need to get approval from at least your boss, or your owner.   Here is a two-step process that will get you an easy approval:  

    Outrageous Preparation. Very few bosses, including me, respond well when an employee comes up and wants to send up a trial balloon on a new idea. It usually goes something like this.

    Employee:  “Hey, I’ve got a new idea.  What do you think about this?”  (Insert here a very sketchy description of any new idea that you may have heard lately.) 

    Boss: (Because the idea is sketchy and not fully fleshed out, the boss will automatically and instinctively see the problems with the new idea.)  “Have you thought of this?”  (Insert any objection to the idea that the employee floated in front of the boss.) 

    Employee:  “Well, yes, ah... ah... you see... that could be worked out...I think...”

    Boss:  “See yah.”

    Sure, I might have over-simplified this little discourse.  Maybe.  I could have put stronger words in the bosses mouth like, “That’s a stupid idea,” or “That won’t work,” or “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.”   Any of these phrases would, of course, scuttle the idea.  Repeat this a few times, and the employee will finally get the message.  If the employee stays with the company, that employee will be covered with scar tissue that will always be there to remind them of the personal risk of proposing new ideas.

    Preparing Like You’re Going in Front of the Supreme Court

    There is an antidote to that.  Preparation.  Real preparation.  Written preparation.   People might have a different interpretation of what real preparation is.  Let me put it this way:

    Imagine you’re defending yourself in front of the Supreme Court, where if you win, you walk away scot-free and if you lose, you go to prison for life.  How much would you prepare?  Would you prepare just enough to wing it?  I don’t think so.  I think you would prepare more seriously than you have ever prepared for anything before in your life.  I suspect you’d prepare with maniacal fervor.    

    Well, that’s the type of preparation I’m talking about here.

    The Supreme Court, in your case, is anybody you need to say ‘yes’ to what you’re recommending.

    This preparation isn’t a trial balloon.  You’re preparing to get the idea accepted

    This preparation isn’t a trial balloon.  You’re preparing to get the idea accepted.

    The written part of the preparation shouldn’t be in volumes; think in terms of a written Executive Summary that will be six or seven pages.   

    The written preparation (or ‘Executive Summary’) should consist of the following:

    • Foreword:  What are the present conditions of your team in areas that would be affected by the initiation of the new idea?  This could be a summary and graph of how your team is trending in group ticket sales for the past three years.  This has to be an unemotional and accurate picture of the situation.  If it is not accurate, or if it is skewed by emotion, then your opening premise could be seriously challenged.  If the opening premise is wrong, then the solution will be considered wrong.  This foreword is a vital point in establishing your case. The length could vary from one to two pages.
    • Concept:  This is a concise written statement of what the idea is. This could be the concept of increasing group sales by 50% over three years and what it would take to achieve that.  

    This Concept section should be one to two pages.

    • Rationale:  Why the team should initiate the idea?  What’s in it fr the team?  This may seem obvious, but when there are more sellouts, concession sales go up, sponsorships become more valuable, it’s easier to raise ticket prices the next season, etc.  What does that new ticket revenue mean to the team?  This is a good place to insert budget analysis.  How much is the new revenue; how much is it going to cost?  How long will it take to get the idea working and the revenue rolling in?   Do a simple cash flow.  This could take about two pages.
    • Problems:   These really are the objections you would expect to encounter in trying to sell the idea.  Trust me, there’s no way you would skate through the oral presentation without facing some serious objections.  After all, your bosses are experts when it comes to objections.  The strategy here is to think of the precise problems and precise objections before the boss does.  By thinking of objections before the boss does, you’re preparing how to overcome those objections.  You’re preparing yourself to win.  How you handle these objections in front of your Supreme Court is the determining factor whether you win or lose.   Take several pages in this area if need be.
    • Summary:  This is a Call for Approval and a timetable.  One or two paragraphs.

    One word of warning about this written document.  

    Watch the hype!   You shouldn’t use exclamation points!!!!   Go through the document and look at every adjective, adverb, and wildly assertive sentence.  Eliminate those that you find.  A proposal that is hyped too strongly will lose its credibility.  

    You can use hype, but not in this document.  It’s easier to use hype and emotion during the oral presentation without losing credibility. In the oral presentation, you are talking, it’s not being recorded, it won’t be examined and re-examined like a written document.

    Presenting in front of your Supreme Court.  

    You’re now prepared to meet the devil face to-face.   This is your chance to be F. Lee Bailey or Johnny Cochran.  

    First and foremost, never, ever, ever, ever go in front of your Supreme Court to present a big idea without practicing.  You’d never go make a big sponsorship or ticket sales pitch without practicing, would you?  No way you step in front of your bosses, your owner or anyone else on your Supreme Court without extensive practice.  I would even go practice it in front of an audience of your fellow staff members.

    Now you’re ready.  At the beginning of your oral presentation, tell your Supreme Court that you have all of what you’re going to talk about in writing.  Show them the spiral bound booklet that you’ve prepared.  That’s show, not give.   If you give your Supreme Court the booklet, your oral presentation is over because your Supreme Court will jump ahead, page by page, leaving you mumbling to yourself.  

    By just showing the booklet, you are underscoring the fact that the meeting isn’t just a trial balloon of what do you think?   It shows that you are serious.  This will set a very good stage for you.

    Once you’ve shown your booklet, you start innocently enough by just re-stating your foreword.  This isn’t a reading.  This is more conversational, setting up the idea.   If you’re accurate in relating the present situation, you’ll be able to smoothly go to Point B, your concept.  

    If you’re not accurate in reading the present situation, or you tried to skew the situation to fit your concept, be prepared to fight and lose a battle here. By losing here, you lose it all.


    Your oral presentation should flow in the same order as your written Executive Summary except that you’re talking it.  

    While explaining Point B, your Concept, you may encounter objections.  Try to delay defense of your Concept at this stage by saying something like, “I think we have the answer for that, but first let me finish describing this concept.”

    When you start talking numbers, you should have them on a separate piece of paper.  Hand the piece of paper to the Supreme Court like you’re presenting evidence. If the numbers are reasonable and not pie-in-the-sky, this should be a smooth part of the presentation. 

    Your finishing statement is simple.  You summarize, you present the booklet to each member of your Supreme Court and you give the timetable for when you would like to start.

    Handling Objections

    The Supreme Court (or maybe just the Supreme Justice) may look through your ‘Executive Summary’ or they may put the booklet down and just start spouting objections.  Here is where you can really impress.  

    The Supreme Court will ask a question or state an objection, and because you have prepared for it, you can answer something like this, “Yes, we have considered that problem and we feel the solution is blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah and the answer is on page 6.”  That type of response often stuns your Supreme Court, although they’ll make their best effort to hide it. 

    (If you’ve recruited some soul mates to help in the presentation, make sure each person has a carefully rehearsed role.  There should be only one captain or “play-by-play person.”  The others on the team should remain silent except when it is appropriate for them to contribute as a “color commentator.”  You don’t leave these roles up to chance; you’ve practiced them.)


    I’ve gone eyeball-to-eyeball against some of the best naysayers in the world.  These people have made a career of saying no.  And yet, when I’ve used the steps described in this chapter, my batting average is about .900.  That’s nine hits out of 10!  I attribute that high batting average to preparation.  

    There are some things in this world that aren’t fair, and after preparing for my Supreme Court, sometimes the oral presentation was too easy.   It wasn’t even a contest!  

    It wasn’t easy preparing the written document.  But, once that was done, it was easy in getting the approval.   

    These victories are based on human nature.  You see, the Supreme Court is ready and prepared and poised to say no.   The Supreme Court can easily reach back and pull out a few objections.  But, the Supreme Court is not ready and prepared and poised to meet an executive that is so well prepared.   When the Supreme Court throws out an obvious objection, the executive has a decisive and well thought out response.  C’mon, that’s not fair to the naysayer!  


    You’re right.  To get a big idea and a big boost to your business plan is a lot of work to get approved.  But, you have time right now, for the next 20-30 days, to put this written plan together and get it approved.

    If you want help with your big idea, give me a call or send me an email.  I’d be delighted to be your ‘naysayer’ to help you test out your theories and ideas.  You can reach me at 702-493-2661 or stevedelay@theultimatetoolkit.com.

  • 23 Mar 2020 12:02 PM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    We aren’t listening.  Not even close.

    If we want to get back to normalcy and get sports started again, we as a society have to pay attention to our government leaders and follow their directions on how to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

    However, we aren’t doing that.

    Let me give you two simple examples I experienced first-hand, just this last Saturday.

    The golf course didn’t seem to care.

    For the first time in months, the weather in North Carolina was finally spring.  80 degrees and sunny.  My brother and I decided to go play golf.  I have been spending a little time with him and his family off and on the last few weeks in a socially distanced acceptable manner so we figured we were safe.

    He checked on the course website to make sure they were open and the course had guidelines for what they were doing to prevent the spread of the virus:

    1.      One person per cart.

    2.      All sand trap rakes removed

    3.      No need to take the flag out

    4.      No towels in the carts, no scorecards

    5.      Employees using hand sanitizer regularly.

    “Okay, sounds perfectly reasonable.  Let’s do it,” I thought.

    I get to the course and:

    • Employee walks up and says, “Let me take your bag for you.”  I notice he had just taken someone else’s bag and also pulled up in a golf cart that someone else had just been driving.  No hand sanitizer in sight.  “No thanks,” I say.  “I’ll load it myself.”  He seems put off.
    • “Where is my individual cart?” I ask.  “We’re too busy.  You’ll have to share with your brother,” I’m told.  I’m sort of okay with that because I’ve already been hanging around with my brother during the week but now we’re a foot apart instead of six feet apart.  And, what about everyone else who is sharing a cart?
    • I notice when I load my own bag on the cart that there are towels already on the cart that someone had put there from the club.  I have no idea who put them there and no idea if they’ve washed their hands.  Odds are no because they were so busy.  I pick up a stick and take the towels out without touching them.

    •  I go inside to pay.  “Where do you want me to stick my credit card so you don’t have to touch it?” I ask.  “Oh, don’t worry about it.  It’s no big deal,” says the 65+ year old person working the counter.  Thankfully, they had some hand sanitizer on the counter so I wipe down my card with it before handing it to her and then tell her to put it back on the counter after she’s done with it and I hand sanitize it again.  She hands me a pen to sign the receipt.  I have to ask for a tissue to pick up the pen and then throw it away as soon as I put the pen down.
    • This all takes place before we even set foot on the course.  As we head to the first tee, the 70+ year old starter stops us and touches the cart in 4 or 5 different places to make sure he has the number, it’s charged etc.  Thankfully, I had already disinfectant wiped down the handles, the steering wheel, the strap and anywhere I or someone else might have touched.
    • As we play, I see other groups fist-bumping, high fiving and taking out the flag on putts.  Silly.  Or, stupid!

    We can still be outdoors and enjoy the beautiful weather but for goodness sake, pay attention to stop the spread.

    Dog lovers don’t seem to care either.

    Done with golf, I head home and take the pooch to the dog park.  When I arrive, I realize there is a latched gate and a chain link fence we have to go through to get in.

    I pick up a stick to unlatch the gate and then use the stick to open the gate.  A lady behind me impatiently says, “Come on, it’s no big deal.  Hurry up.”

    We get inside the dog park and like any pooch, Nina poops a few minutes in.  I pick it up and look for the garbage.  The garbage can still had a metal top on it.  Hmm, time to find another stick.

    However, in a span of 3-4 minutes, I witness three other people walk over to the metal can and barehanded take the top off and drop in their dog’s poop.  I find another can in the dog park that didn’t have a top and throw away Nina’s doings in that one so I don’t have to touch the can or a top.

    On our way out of the dog park, I’m looking for another stick to unlatch the gate and open it.  While I’m doing that, two other people use their hands and open and shut it.  I find a stick and use it to open the gate.  Once I’m through, I shut it and as I’m hooking Nina’s leash back up, three more people use their hands to open and shut the gate.

    What does it all mean?

    You can accuse me of being paranoid.  You can accuse me of being too cautious.  However, I want our economy, our society and most importantly to me and my personal success, I want sports to restart again.

    If we don’t listen to the smart people battling this problem, we’re in for a long nightmare.  I urge you for the sake of our economy, your team and your jobs. 


  • 17 Mar 2020 10:48 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    Normally, I would use this forum to talk about ticket sales strategy or training.  However, this week is not normal times as teams are forced to send sales staff to work from home and games are canceled.

    I work with numerous teams and leagues and spent all day on Monday on calls talking about how to keep salespeople focused and productive when either working from home or having nothing to sell since games have been postponed or canceled.

    For the first time in a long time, you have time to plan, train and organize.  Take advantage of that time.

    Here is a list of ideas and subjects gleaned from calls with the G-League, WNBA, ECHL and other clients.


    Establish Clear Expectations for your staff.  This is critically important.  There are technology questions to be answered about computers, CRM access and phone capabilities if they are working from home but in either a work from home scenario or no games scenario, make sure each salesperson knows their activity metrics for calls, emails and online research.

    Once you’ve established those metrics, here are some areas you can get a lot accomplished in a slow time:

    Sales training.  Normal sales training involves getting together in a group setting with a sales trainer or with internal training.  Right now, that’s not as easy.  A couple years ago, we took all the group sales training content in The Ultimate Toolkit and turned it in to an online training class.  Now is the perfect time for online training.  You can go to www.groupsalessuperstar.com to learn more.

    As a special recognition of the challenging times we’re in, we’re offering our online training for $100 off per salesperson for the first 50 salespeople signed up.  Just go to www.groupsalessuperstar.com/individual.   Where it says “Have a coupon, click here to enter your code”, enter the code ‘virus’ and you’ll see a $100 price break applied to the price.  If you have any questions or want to sign up multiple people, give me a call at 702-493-2661 or send me an email at stevedelay@theultimatetoolkit.com
    Group Audit.  Now is your chance to review how deeply you’ve penetrated specific group categories.  To do that, simply perform a Group Audit.  A Group Audit helps you determine the number of prospects in your market in each key group category and then how many you’ve actually gotten to come to a game. If you are in the midst of the current sales season, you can perform a group audit of where you are right now.  If not, you can build one from the last year. Click here to see more specifics on how to do a Group Audit.  This will give you an instant target list as soon as the lights are flipped back on and you can start selling again.

    Group sales database building. No team I’ve ever worked with has maximized group sales.  After you’ve completed your Group Audit to determine which categories are your growth opportunities, assign those categories and leads to salespeople to build your group sales database.  After your Group Audit, you have your benchmark starting point. Then on a weekly basis, have your one on one call/meeting with the salesperson assigned to that category and make sure they are adding new contacts and relationships.

    Top 100 Business Audit. Have you gone through the top 100 employers in your market and determined how many have bought tickets from you?  Season tickets, hospitality and/or group tickets?  Have they bought enough?  Sure, they could also be sponsors but that doesn’t mean their ticket purchases are high enough to meet their needs.  Identify those that are ‘short’ and build a strategy on how to get those larger companies more involved – specifically, who is going to call on that prospect and at what level? 

    Group Renewals Evaluation. Now is a terrific time to review all the group buyers from your most recent complete season and what percentage came back the next year.  Don’t guess at the percentage of accounts that bought again.  Analyze them all by looking not only at accounts but also seats and dollars renewed.  Then, talk to your sales staff on why particular groups did not come back.  You likely will discover that your sales staff just didn’t make enough phone calls to that preferred group buyer.  Build a strategy now for when you know you’re playing again to immediately attack this group.

    Client relationship calls.  A terrific time for your sales and retention staff to get to know your season ticket holders and group leaders in a more personal way.  Have an organized process and system for your salespeople to make calls, what questions to ask and then where to ‘store’ that information in your CRM.


    One area that management can tackle now – separate from sales activity - is business planning for next year.  Whether you’re a winter or spring sport that has been canceled or postponed, you have some time to lay the groundwork for next season and ideas and strategies you’ve never had the time to think through in depth because you were playing a season.  You can also use this time for your action plan for when the lights go back on.

    When I was Chief Marketing Officer at Mandalay Baseball Properties, we always had our business planning meetings in April, less than a month after our season started.  Bob Murphy, Mandalay’s COO and President of the Dayton Dragons always wanted to have those business planning meetings in February or March so we could get even further ahead of the curve.  You now have that chance and the time to think of the future.


    Like everyone else, my business travel has been curtailed.  However, I am available by phone.  If you want a complimentary review of your business plan, want to bounce some ticket or sponsorship sales ideas off me or want help with www.groupsalessuperstar.com, feel free to give me a call at 702-493-2661 or email me at stevedelay@theultimatetoolkit.com

  • 02 Mar 2020 7:37 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    “Impossible.  We don’t control our concessions.  Our concessions operator will never agree to it.”

    That’s what I heard from dozens of sports executives after my last column on how we sold 7,000 5-game plans for the Staten Island Yankees using All-You-Can-Eat as a value-added benefit.  (Click here to read it if you missed it)

    “Not true,” I responded to each call or email.  “You can do it.  You just have to show your partner what’s in it for them.”

    First, we have to think about the mind-set of your concessions’ operator.  Put yourself in their shoes.  What are they constantly thinking about?

    • Their concessions per cap.  It’s as if they get paid huge bonuses based on their per cap and nothing else.  That’s okay.  We can show them how their per cap will go up.
    • Reducing costs to improve margins.  For a concessions’ operator, they have two types of costs.
    1. Cost of goods related to items sold such as their hotdogs, beer, popcorn, napkins.  These costs are pretty much 100% related to the amount of food they sell and people in the building.
    2. Fixed costs such as labor, overhead and utilities.  These costs are pretty much the same regardless of the number of people at the game.  Sure, they might have a few less game day staffers preparing food for a poorly attended Tuesday night game compared to a big Saturday night crowd but it’s not a huge variance as that staff is typically paid minimum wage.
    • How to make themselves look good to their bosses and move up the  corporate ladder to a bigger property.  This is normal for any employee anywhere so don’t act surprised.


    Considering these three factors, you have to think about your proposal from their viewpoint.  What’s in it for them?  It can’t just be, ‘Give me free food and we’ll draw more fans.’  That’s a risky proposition for any concessions manager and doesn’t really help them accomplish any of the above.  You have to think about your approach to the concessions’ manager as the most important sales pitch you’ll ever make.

    You have to show them:

    1.      How AYCE will increase per caps

    2.      How AYCE will improve margins

    3.      How AYCE will make them look like a hero to the home office.


    First, let’s make some basic assumptions for our team.  I’ll call them the Big City Kangaroos:

    • Concessions per cap is $6.00 per game
    • On a typical Saturday night, the team has 400 full season tickets, sells 100 mini-plans, 750 group tickets and 1000 single game tickets.  That’s 2250 tickets distributed.
    •   Let’s assume all 2,250 show up.  That means total concessions revenue of 2250 x 6 = $13,500

    Let’s also make some basic assumptions about food costs.  For example purposes, I’ll just the food costs we have at the Macon Bacon.  Your costs may be higher or lower by a few cents but if they vary a lot from these, you need to re-negotiate.

    • Hotdog - $.53.  (Includes the bun and wrapper and basic condiments)
    • Hamburger - $1.03
    • Chicken sandwich - $1.04
    • Can soda - $.32
    • 16.9oz bottled water - $.30
    • 16oz fountain soda - $.38 (cup, ice included)
    • Cookies - $.20 (two prepackaged cookies)

    Finally, we’ll use the Macon Bacon consumption history to calculate how much each fan might eat and drink.  Keep in mind that we only offer AYCE to people who buy one of our ticket packages (full, 10 game or 5 game) or buy 20+ group tickets.  We DO NOT sell AYCE to single game buyers. 

    Also, our AYCE tickets are $15 and $18 each.  We don’t gouge the fan and charge $50 so they feel like they have to gorge themselves to get their money’s worth out of their ticket.  Be fair and reasonable on pricing and the fan will be fair and reasonable on how much they eat.

    Macon Bacon Consumption

    • 1.75 sandwiches per person – 1 hotdog and 1 burger = $1.56
    • 2 sodas per person - $.64
    • 2 cookies - $.40


    TOTAL INCREASED LABOR COSTS PER PERSON - $0.  I say zero because your concessions operator can cook and distribute the AYCE food out of the same locations they do for the paying customer, just like we do in Macon.  No additional labor costs needed.


    1. The team will pay all food costs for the AYCE customer.  Assume it’s on average $2.60
    2. The team will pay a $1 ‘profit’ to the concessions’ operator for every AYCE customer.  That means as a team, you’d pay roughly $3.60 per person.  With the $1 'profit', the concessions operator gets at minimum a 40% profit on that customer assuming that they don’t spend a nickel on any other food and beverage.
    3. The team would receive no commission on that $3.60 payment to the concessions’ manager.
    4. No single game buyers would receive AYCE and the team would limit AYCE for only select games that they want to sell out. (Friday and Saturday nights). You can always expand this later as you start seeing huge increases in attendance.  Your concessions’ operator will likely encourage you to expand it.

    Now, show them some numbers with a few assumptions:

    Assumption #1 - The per cap from the AYCE customer drops by 50%, from $6 to $3.  Remember, they aren’t getting free beer, popcorn, ice cream, cotton candy and a lot of other staples.  They will still spend some money.  That means the concessions manager is receiving $6.60 from each AYCE customer ($3.60 from the team and $3 from the customer).

    As an example, I’ve done this in 8-10 different markets with no decrease in concessions per cap and in a number of cases, an increase.  The reason is, the fan still comes to the game with $x in their pocket to spend on food and beverage.  They’ve essentially forgotten they already pre-paid for food when they bought their ticket package (see my last column two weeks ago by clicking here)

    Assumption #2 – The Kangaroos don’t sell a single new season ticket, go from 100 to 600 mini-plans, go from 750 to 1500 group tickets for a big game and still sell 1000 single game tickets.  These numbers are likely low projections.  We sold 7,000 five game plans in Staten Island and sell nearly 2,000 ticket packages for the Macon Bacon.


    Without AYCE With AYCE
     400 full season 400 full seasons receiving AYCE = ($6.61 x 400) = $2,644
    100 mini-plans

    600 minis receiving AYCE = ($6.61 x 600) = $3,966

    750 group tickets 1500 group tickets receiving AYCE = ($6.61 x 1500) = $9,915
    1000 single game tickets 1000 single game not receiving AYCE = ($6.00 x 1000) = $6,000
    2250 total x $6/per cap = $13,500
    3500 total generating $22,525 in concessions revenue = $6.43 per cap


    Remember the three goals your concessions manager has:

    1. Increase per cap – You just did that by $.43 per person by the team paying for a share of each customer’s food.  You must remind the concessions manager that your team, the Kangaroos, is now their largest customer.
    2. Reduce margins – Because you’ve increased revenue for the concessions operator and there is no or a very limited increase in game day staff and no increase in fixed costs for operating, you’ve in effect improved their margins for them.
    3. Looking like a hero – This plan provides the concessions operator a $9000 bump in revenues for a big game with no risk on the concessions operator’s part.  If the team doesn’t sell any AYCE tickets, the concessions manager doesn’t lose a thing.

    You can convince your third-party concessions operator to do All-You-Can-Eat.  You just have to show them the numbers and what’s in it for them.  If you have any questions on how to negotiate, give me a call at 702-493-2661 or send me an email at stevedelay@theultimatetoolkit.com

    Also, congratulations to Jon Spoelstra for being named one of Sports Business Journal’s Champions of the Sports Business Industry. Click here to view the article.

    My next column on March 16th will talk you through how at $1.50 hat and $.50 hotdog led to an 800% increase in group sales.  

  • 18 Feb 2020 5:17 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    That’s what the burly guy from Staten Island told us when we rolled out All-You-Can-Eat ticket packages for the first time.  That was way back before the 2007 season.

    Bring it on,” we told him with a smile.  That was because we’d already seen the tremendous upside for using free food as a way to sell more ticket packages.

    I was going to use this week’s column to talk about all the various amenities and benefits hard-core fans and even casual fans want with their season tickets and ticket packages. 

    But, after I wrote it, I realized that it was a lot of the same old/same old that teams have been hashing about for years.  If you haven’t realized by now that things like payment plans, ticket exchange programs, easy-pay playoff packages and special events with players and coaching staff are cool for hard-core fans, you’re years behind and you need more than this column to catch up.


    The Single-A short season Staten Island Yankees had been in existence since 1999.  In 2001, they moved from a college stadium to a fabulous new ballpark right next to the Staten Island Ferry terminal with unencumbered views of lower Manhattan.  In 2006, Mandalay Baseball Properties bought out the local owner and we were now 50-50 partners with the New York Yankees.  We were the managing partner.

    Here’s what we were told about the problems we would face:

    1.     Dangerous neighborhood.  In my first week there, I was warned by over a dozen people not to stray too far from the ballpark.  Way too dangerous.

    2.     Limited parking.  The team shared the parking lot with the terminal for the Staten Island Ferry.  The lot seemed spacious.  However, during weekdays it filled up with commuters who parked their cars there and then hopped the free ferry to Manhattan to go to work. By the team’s 7:00pm game time, the commuter cars still filled half the lot, severely limiting where the team’s fans could park.  On weekends it wasn’t a problem. 

    3.     Two Major League teams.  Why go to a Single-A baseball game when you could see the New York Yankees or the New York Mets?

    4.     Traffic was horrible.  Actually, I might make this #1.  Traffic was indeed horrible on Staten Island, especially near the ballpark.  There were no freeways on Staten Island.  It was all surface roads, mostly with ruts that acted as speed bumps.  Additionally, unlike Manhattan or Brooklyn, train service was highly limited. 


    We knew it was going to be a challenge so we rolled out our ultimate weapon, the 5-game plan.

    Our 5-game plan cost $75.  $300 for a family of four.  That was $15 per person, per game.  Here’s was our deal:

    1.     5-game plan.  You received the best five games on the schedule.

    2.     Choice seats.  You’d get seats between the dugouts (remember, hardly any tickets had been sold before).  You get the same seats for every game.

    3.     All weekend or holiday games.  This included three fireworks shows.

    Pretty mundane so far, eh?  But wait, as they say in infomercials, there’s more:

    4.     All-you-can-eat all game long.   Included with your ticket, you could eat all the hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken sandwiches you want.  Also included is all the soda and water you want.  This is what got the big burly guy’s attention.  He looked like he could pack away the hotdogs.

    5.     You get two free gifts.  You’ll get a New York Yankees cap (value $22) and the best gift that the New York Yankees gave out at Yankee Stadium (value: unknown) and we’ll give it to you at our ballpark. 

    Was this package popular?  You bet it was.  Turns out people in Staten Island really like to eat!  We sold more than 7,000 five-game plans in just six weeks.  Our salespeople couldn’t keep up with the phones ringing off the hooks once we started marketing the package.  We credit the 5-game package with selling out five games in the 2007 season.  In 2008, we expanded the package to seven games and sold out 17 games.  In 2009 we sold out 26 of the team’s 38 home games, a remarkable turnaround for a team that had never sold out a game.


    I can hear all the Naysayers shouting in unison, “You bribed them!!!  You gave away the ranch!  You let them stuff their bellies for free! There’s no way that this pencils out!  You’ll lose a fortune!  You were desperate men doing desperate things!

    To the charges that we bribed the folks of Staten Island to come to our games:  Of course we didn’t.  A bribe is something illegal. What we offered, among other things, was to feed them at their expense.  Yep, we considered the food in this package to be prepaid food


    Here’s how it worked:

    1. Raising ticket prices.  We raised the ticket prices in the choice sections (basically more than half the seats) from $12 to $15.  There was no backlash on raising the ticket prices by $3 because nobody went to the games to know what the prices were in the first place.  What mattered was the fans felt like $15 for a ballgame and unlimited food and drinks was a good deal.
    2. Negotiating with the concessionaire.  We negotiated with our concessionaire to pay for net food and labor costs.  We also agreed to give the concessionaire a $1 on each person who received a wristband to enter the All-You-Can-Eat line.  This was their profit for each person.  In essence, the team became the largest customer for the concessions operator.  We covered their food costs and paid them a profit for each person on the AYCE plan.  They grudgingly accepted our reasoning.  It was really quite simple.  Which would be better for the concessionaire:  7,000 mouths at the stadium or 800 mouths?  Even though the 7,000 mouths got plenty of hot dogs and such, those mouths didn’t get any ice cream or beer or peanuts or popcorn unless they paid for them.  Since we served the All-You-Can-Eat from a buffet line near our concession stands, all that other stuff was right there for them to easily purchase.  Believe me, 7,000 mouths would buy far, far more than what 800 mouths would buy even if you fed the 7,000 mouths with hot dogs, hamburgers, soda, and water.
    3. The total cost for free food and drinks.   It averaged out to a little less than $3 per game per five-game holder.  So, in effect, considering that the ticket price had been $12 the year before, this was like prepaid food.   When the fan missed a game, the prepaid food was like the prepaid ticket; there was no refund.  So, if the fan missed the game, there was no expense for the food that the no-show didn’t eat. 


    We started our free food strategy in 2004 with our Double-A team, the Frisco RoughRiders.  We did it in the three highest priced sections.  Here are those deals:



    Number of seats



    1st row




    2nd thru 7th rows







    Hot dogs, etc.**

    * The buffet was in an air-conditioned restaurant in the second deck behind home plate.  Also included was free beer and wine.

    ** The food here was all-you-can-eat hot dogs, cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, and all the soda and water to wash it down with.

    We routinely sold out the top two priced plans on ticket packages.  The costs were a little different in Frisco:




    Food & Drink costs

    Net ticket revenue

    1st row




    2nd thru 7th rows








    The ‘Free Food Strategy’ was the principal reason we were able to get far higher net ticket prices than anybody in minor league baseball at the time. 

    We liked this concept so well we started to include free food with group tickets.  This led to over 90% of our tickets in Frisco being sold with some sort of ‘free food’ attached to them.  And, all this free didn’t lower the concessions PER CAP for our games.  We usually ranked in the top two in our league.


    History shows that for years teams have used promotions like $1 Beer Night or $1 Hot Dog Nights to try to sell tickets.  These promotions started in minor league baseball but have recently made their way in to a number marketing plans of big league sports teams. 

    History also shows that Major League Baseball teams expanded that concept and have All-You-Can-Eat sections in their tough-to-sell seating areas.  These sections are for walk-up fans only.  Fans can walk up to the box office the day of a game and buy a ticket in that section for $35-$50 and challenge themselves and their friends to eating prodigious amounts of hot dogs, nachos, pizza, and popcorn. 

    The problem with these promotions is that they focus on the walk-up buyer and it requires the fan to buy a ticket to just one game. 

    These teams have a far different motivation in using food to help sell tickets.  They’re looking at a few more tickets for one game.  We’re looking at selling a ton of ticket packages to multiple games that will lead to more sellouts.  In Staten Island, we used food to sell out not just one game, but 26 out of 38. 

    Our ticket plans were designed to have that walk-up buyer trade up to at least a five-game plan. 

    We wanted to take that walk-up buyer and provide an inducement to increase their frequency of attendance a little bit.  We have no better marketing tool than food to help us do that. 

    Food has been a potent marketing tool to increase our number of sellouts.


    If you’re a team that’s already selling out or close to selling out, you most likely don’t need to include food with your ticket packages to sell more tickets.  Hallelujah!  That’s a terrific position to be in.  Heck, we used it in Staten Island because we needed the ultimate weapon to help us get something that had never happened with the Staten Island Yankees before—sellouts.  We used it in Frisco because we felt the market could afford higher ticket prices if there was reasonable justification.  Food was that reasonable justification.  If you don’t need such a weapon, that’s wonderful.  Just know that it’s there if you eventually need it.


    If you’re a team that is under new ownership or have fallen on hard financial times, you may need a powerful catalyst to get fans to pay attention to you.  To get people talking, you might invest millions in a major renovation of your facility, if you have the money.  You might trade for a marquee superstar.  You might threaten to move the team if fans don’t buy tickets.  If those options aren’t possible, you have to build a story about yourself for why fans should buy tickets.  It has to be something dramatic.  All-You-Can-Eat (AYCE) food can help your team create that buzz.  

    Some may consider a move to All-You-Can-Eat as desperate people doing desperate things.  We, however, consider it a really shrewd marketing tool to help you get more sellouts.  And, I’ve continued to use it when I helped launch the Savannah Bananas and the Macon Bacon. 

    If you have questions on how All-You-Can-Eat can be the biggest perk and amenity you can offer your season ticket holders, ticket package buyers and group buyers, just give me a call at 702-493-2661 or send me an email at stevedelay@theultimatetoolkit.com


    In our next column on March 2, we’ll dive in to more details on the costs of All-You-Can-Eat ticket packages and how we sell thousands of them at the Macon Bacon.

  • 03 Feb 2020 7:03 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    We all love season tickets.  If we could sell out 90% of our buildings on season tickets to people who love the team and love our sport, we’d do it, right?

    “Heck yes,” I can hear you nodding your head. 

    However, I’m betting, if you take the NFL and their PSL programs out of the equation, you can’t name more than five teams in all of North America who can sellout out 90% of their stadium on season tickets to big-time fans.  Go ahead, I’m waiting. 

    The rest of us have to work at it.  And that means taking some key marketing steps.


    Sounds simple, right?  Identify who is going to buy your tickets.  Not quite as easy as it seems.  There are four audiences:

    1.      Hard Core fans – These are the face painters, the fans who want to call and talk for an hour the day after the game about that last second goal or basket, the fan that automatically takes advantage of your early bird discount to renew.  You could probably throw up on their desk and they would still renew.

    2.      Casual fans – They like your sport and like going to games but either don’t have the time or the money to go to every single game.

    3.      Social Fans – Primarily people just looking for something to do on a Friday or Saturday night.  The team’s record means nothing to them and they likely couldn’t tell you the name of a single player on the team.  There are two sub-groups within this category:

    a.       Individuals and their buddies looking for a night out

    b.      Members of a group like a church group, alumni group, school or youth sports organization.  Usually families.

    4.      Businesses – We’re not talking about the dry cleaner, fast-food joint or flower shop.  We’re talking about businesses that make and sell products where relationships are important to them and their clients.

    Or, big enough businesses that have enough employees where a reward recognition program pays dividends.

    Each of these target audiences requires a different approach to successfully sell them tickets.  A different approach on:

    1.      What ticket products and amenities make sense for that particular audience.

    2.      How to market and sell to them.

    3.      Sales training.

    So the question for any team is this:

    “Do you have a well thought out strategy and plan to sell to each of these target audiences?”

    Most team answer with a plan focused only on the hard-core fans (#1 above) and the individual buyer (#3a above).  Everyone else is paid lip service and attended to only after the team has tried to sell as many season tickets possible to hardcore fans and they devised a bunch of zany, off the wall single game promotions to attract individual casual fans. 


    If your team has stopped at just the hardcore fan and single game buyer, you’ll like the next couple columns.  First, we’ll tackle the amenities and benefits for hardcore fans and casual fans and then follow that up with successful amenities and benefits for the group buyer and business buyer. 

    If you can’t wait, give me a call at 702-493-2661 or email me at stevedelay@theultimatetoolkit.com and I’d be happy to talk through your situation and give you some suggestions.

  • 20 Jan 2020 5:10 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    It pains me to see it – even now in 2020.

    I’ll consult with teams and they’ll invariably say, “We need to sell more season tickets.  We’re not going on sale with groups or ticket packages for a few months so we can focus on season tickets.”

    WWWWHHHHYYY NNNOOOTTT? I want to scream at them.  Why not have a full array of ticket products to sell every single day, all the time?

    Think of all those sales calls the salesperson makes where the customer wants to buy something, just not season tickets?  They are left with saying, “I’ll give you a call back in a few months when our packages (or groups) go on sale.”  What are the odds of that prospect answering the phone again?


    I love pizza.  I would eat it every day if it wouldn’t make me 400 lbs.  That’s why I like to use my favorite pizza shop as an example.

    The call might go something like this:

    Potential customer calling in: “I’d like to order a pizza.  I’d like pepperoni on it.

    Pizza Shop: “We aren’t offering pepperoni pizza until 8pm tonight.  We’re trying to sell our mushroom and anchovy pizza instead.

    Potential Customer: “Well, I don’t like mushrooms or anchovies.  In fact, I hate them.  I want pepperoni.

    Pizza Shop: “What if we threw in some free breadsticks?  And a free two liter of soda and we dropped the price of the mushroom and anchovy pizza by 30%?

    No longer a Potential Customer:  “No thanks.  That’s not the product I want.  I’ll spend my money somewhere else.

    Now, the skeptic might say you could get a few people to bite when you include all the freebies.  Maybe.  But then, when they get their pizza – with anchovies and mushrooms – and hate it – how do you think they will feel about going back to that pizza shop ever again?


    Certainly, this is crazy.  No pizza shop would ever operate this way, would they?  Of course not.

    If a pizza shop wouldn’t do it, why do sports teams basically do the same thing by not selling ticket packages and groups from Day One of the selling season?  Why do teams still wait to sell ticket packages until they’ve ground up the market in hopes of selling season tickets?  A product probably 95% of their market doesn’t want?

    Think of it this way. 

    What’s better?  The fan buying the right product… or trying to shove season tickets down their throat?  Should teams really be bribing the fan with boatloads of expensive freebies, huge discounts or other worthless (to the buyer) perks to get them to buy a product they don’t want?


    I’ve heard the arguments all before. Here are the two big ones:

    1.      “We wait because customers would just buy the smaller package and we need to sell season tickets.”  -

    “Nope,” I would respond.  You need to sell the right ticket product to each customer so they:

    1)      Use the tickets.  If someone bought too many games or too many tickets due to a high pressure sales pitch, and then don’t use them, that empty seat crushes the in-game atmosphere.  That empty chair doesn’t cheer or make noise.

    2)      Renew.  If someone bought too many games and didn’t use them, the odds of renewal are pretty slim.  Regardless of what perks and benefits you throw in, nobody is going to spend money on something they don’t use.

    3)      Eat concessions.  For someone who bought too many games, they are less likely to consider the games an event and buy food and drinks and merchandise at the games.

    2.      “My salespeople will just sell the smallest package because it’s easier.”

    “That’s on you as the sales manager and your training,” I would shoot back.  If you train your salespeople correctly, they will make a specific recommendation that fits the prospect’s needs.  If you don’t train your salespeople, they’ll just hand over a ticket brochure and keep their fingers crossed the prospect will buy something.

    There is one simple rule when it comes to Full Menu Marketing:

    • Sell the customer the product that makes the most sense for them, not the product that the team wants to sell.

    Fundamentally, the product that makes the most sense for the customer should also be the product that the team wants to sell.  Unfortunately, more often than not, it isn’t the case.

    As we dive in to Full Menu Marketing over the next several columns, we’ll cover:

    1.      Identifying target audiences – This includes hard core fans, casual fans, social fans and businesses.

    2.      Creating ticket products that fit each of your target audiences.

    3.      Developing a marketing strategy to reach those target audiences.  It’s not one-size-fits-all when it comes to reaching your different audiences.

    If you need some advice or feedback on your Full Menu Marketing strategy or just how to get your bosses to buy in to it, feel free to give me a call at 702-493-2661 or email me at stevedelay@theultimatetoolkit.com

    NEXT COLUMN: Monday, February 3 “Who are your target audiences?”

  • 10 Jan 2020 10:31 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    I’m proud to not only call Jon Spoelstra my co-author of The Ultimate Toolkit but also a friend and mentor.  He has been a mentor to hundreds of sports executives throughout the industry and been a master innovator throughout his career.  Being chosen as a Sports Business Journal Champion of 2020 is well deserved.  We look forward to the big story in the coming weeks.

    The article below ran in the Sports Business Journal on January 6 in Abe Madkour’s column.

    Forum: Remembering Stern; and announcing our Champions of 2020

    JON SPOELSTRADavid Stern effectively advocated for Spoelstra, whose innovative style delivered at every stop, whether it was leading the Portland Trail Blazers to more than a decade of consecutive sellouts or transforming the former New Jersey Nets from a moribund franchise into one of the NBA’s sales leaders. He also flourished for more than a decade at Mandalay Baseball Properties. Over his career, he served as a mentor to a number of sports executives who sit in leadership positions today.

    To read the full article, click here.

  • 06 Jan 2020 8:01 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    Your bosses have grudgingly nodded. 

    They’ve agreed to forget about the crummy weeknight games and go for sellouts.  Eureka! 

    “Just tell us your plan,” they said.  You could cut the skepticism with a knife.

    You walk out of the meeting on Cloud 9.  But then, reality slaps you in the face.  “How do I put a plan together that will work?  A plan that everyone can grab on to?” you think to yourself in a momentary panic.

    That’s what this column is about.  The first step to selling out is to put together a plan.  That plan starts with what I call your “Sellout Matrix”.  Don’t worry.  It’s not scary, as long as you can do basic Excel.  We’ll even give you a sample Sellout Matrix to download and tweak to make your own.

    Here are the steps to take to build your team’s Sellout Matrix:

    1.      Determine your Sellout Capacity.  What I mean by this is at what number will you stop selling tickets?  Sounds crazy to ask you this, doesn’t it?  Not really.  I deal with a boatload of teams who will sell standing room only and jam people in – bathroom and concessions lines be damned!  Or, they’ll raise the curtain on the upper deck in their arena to sell a handful more seats.  “We’ll take their money,” may seem like a good strategy in the short-term.  But, in the long-term, it means nobody will ever have to buy in advance if there are always tickets available.

    2.      Review last year’s attendance.  How many games did you sell out last year?  How many did you have 80% capacity?  Add those two numbers together and that should be your sellout target for this season.  Didn’t sell out a game last year?  Shoot for just one to start with…or maybe two.  You’ll be shocked how the market and media will respond when you turn people away and announce a sellout.

    3.      Identify your big games.  This could be big-time stars coming in like LeBron or rivals like Red Sox vs. Yankees.  Or, if you’re in the minor leagues, it could be a big Friday or Saturday night, a special holiday like July 4th or the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

    4.      Plug in your best entertainment.  For baseball, this could be fireworks or zany guest mascots like the Zooperstars.  In hockey, it could be Marvel Comic Night, Nickelodeon Night or something unique like Teddy Bear Toss or Green Ice Night.  Put these big theme nights on the games you identified in #3 above.

    5.      Do the math to get a sellout.  This is where the Sellout Matrix spreadsheet comes in.  You’ll have to add up how many full season, partial plans, groups and single game tickets you think you can sell for each targeted sellout.  Download a Sellout Matrix by clicking here.

    A word of caution here.  When you’re predicting group and single game sales for your targeted sellouts, don’t be too crazy.  For example, if you need 5,000 group tickets to get a sellout and the best you’ve ever done in groups for a game is 2,500, you can’t just write down 5,000.  You may have to consolidate group initiatives and single game promotions to blow out one key game.

    Now, you have to stick your neck out.  Show your Sellout Matrix to your bosses.  You’re basically saying, “Here’s what I believe we’re gonna do to sell out.”  Have confidence.  As you read this column over the coming months, you’ll learn the steps to accomplish these numbers. 


    Building a Sellout Matrix isn’t just a ‘do it once’ and you’re done.  Once you set out your initial projections, you have to review them on a weekly basis with each salesperson on your team and your ticket operations person.  This way, you can gauge progress, adjust where needed and review again.  There should be no surprises about the crowd size when game day rolls around.

    Share your progress with your bosses.  They’ll become your biggest cheerleaders to help as long as you communicate with them.

    If you have questions or problems building your Sellout Matrix, feel free to send me an email at stevedelay@theultimatetoolkit.com.  I’ll be happy to answer them.

    NEXT COLUMN:  The Sellout Matrix is the first step to selling out. The next step is creating ticket products your fans actually want to buy to hit your targeted sellout numbers.  We’ll cover that on January 20th in our next column.

  • 16 Dec 2019 6:18 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    I heard them loud and clear.

    After my last column about only focusing on your biggest and best games to get sold out, the Naysayers came out of the woodwork.  It was as if they could smell blood.

    That’s okay.  I’ve heard them for years.  You’ll heard them also if you take my advice and focus on selling out your best games first.

    Naysayers are so boring; they always complain about the same thing and they’re always wrong. Your naysayer could be your boss or the administrative assistant or the team owner or your neighbor or almost anybody who hasn’t successfully marketed tickets before.  Here’s what you most likely are hearing:

    Naysayer:“We need to run some promotions for those crummy weekday games against no-name opponents just to make it look better.”

    My response: “There are several things wrong about promoting a crummy weekday game.  Number one, it takes you away from your mission of focusing on just increasing the number of sellouts.  Doing a promotion for a crummy game will get minimal results, will cost valuable marketing dollars, will take time and energy and, unfortunately, you’re always disappointed with the results.

    “Lastly, what promotion would you use?  2-for-1s?  50% off?  Free bobblehead to the first 1,000 fans?  Thirsty Thursdays?  Whatever you try, it will have a minimal effect.  200 seats sold?  Maybe 300 seats sold?  Heck, Thirsty Thursdays at most only bring in several hundred drunks.  Are three hundred drunks for one game worth it?  Of course not.”

    “Focus on the games where you have a chance of selling out if you put muscle and manpower behind it.”

    Naysayer:“It’ll look bad playing in front of a lot of empty seats.”

    My response: “Yeah, it will, but that’s just a temporary situation.  You will be selling out those crummy weekday games in about three years because you’re increasing your sellouts every year and eventually you reach those crummy weekday games. One consolation about those empty seats:  If nobody goes to the game, nobody knows that nobody went to the game.  Conversely, with a sellout, people talk about it the next day at work.”

    If nobody goes to the game, nobody knows that nobody went to the game.

    Naysayer: “Can’t we just dress up the stadium a bit by comping a thousand or more tickets to some charity?”

    My response: “Papering the house with free tickets really doesn’t work in your goal of creating more sellouts, and it proves to be counterproductive in reaching that goal but I’ll cover freebies in more depth in a future column.    This is what I told a group of owners of a team that had dismal attendance who hired me as a consultant.  ‘I’m going to give you a list of games that you can come to,’ I said. ‘You’ll feel great about the energy in the building.  It will please you that you own the team.’”

    “What about the games not on the list?’ one of the owners asked.  ‘I own the team, I can go to any game I want.”

    “I said, ‘For those games not on the list, it won’t be much fun.  There won’t be a lot of energy in the building.  You won’t feel good about owning the team.  You’ll think the community should provide more support. You’ll get depressed. You’ll want to gobble down a bunch of anti-depressants.  All that depression is temporary, but it is real for certain games this coming season.  It would be better if you scheduled a business trip when those games are played.”

    In case you’re wondering, I take some of my own medicine for my team in Macon, the Macon Bacon.  Even though we’ve sold out just about every Friday and Saturday games in our first two seasons, we still have some weak Monday and Tuesday night games.  I know going in the crowds aren’t going to be good.  My staff knows and I’m okay with that because I also know as we continue to build, those poor weekday games will eventually turn in to sellouts.

    Hang in there against the naysayers.  Send me an email or give me a call and I’ll act as your support group when the pressure mounts.


    One goal:  Increase the number of sold-out games.

    NEXT TOPIC:  How to build your Sellout Matrix – January 6

Call Steve at 702-493-2661


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Cornelius, NC 28031

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