Bobby Phelps is the Manager of Business Development for the Phoenix Suns. Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Bobby about what his role involves, how he got started working for the Phoenix Suns ticket sales team and how he strives to give Suns fans the best service possible while at the game. Along with Bobby Phelps’ focus with the Suns ⛹️♂️, he also does work for the Phoenix Mercury ⛹️♀️ and Arizona Rattlers 🏈. Bobby provides us with great insight into the ticket sales world and explains what it takes to make it in the business of sport. Enjoy!
Tell us about your role as the Manager of Business Development with the Phoenix Suns.
As the Manager of Business Development, I am able to have my hand in several parts of the ticket sales business. My main focus is on generating revenue for the ticket sales department at the Phoenix Suns and I do so by communicating with businesses and individuals in Arizona and creating opportunities for those groups to maximize our premium hospitality platforms (courtside and club seats, suites and theater boxes).
I would estimate that 85% of my focus is on the Suns product offerings, while the other 15% revolves around the concerts and other events hosted at Talking Stick Resort Arena. We are in a fortunate situation as employees of the arena. This allows us to sell a product for every demographic.
In addition to my new business efforts, I also oversee many of our courtside and club seat accounts to ensure they receive exceptional service throughout the year. Each year, I am responsible for renewing my accounts and creatively helping them achieve their goals throughout the season.
On the suite level, I am involved with the oversight of several multi-year suite lease accounts. These accounts have access to their suite for all events at the arena and my job is to help them with their utilization, VIP experiences, and to be an extension of their company while interacting with their guests.
Lastly, I oversee the strategy behind our single event suite rentals for all Suns games and Concerts. This is an important piece of our business as we introduce new clients to our suite level and help them become comfortable with using the suite on a more frequent basis.
What does a typical day look like for you as the Manager of Business Development?
Honestly, in sports sales, there is no such thing as a typical day. Our hours vary throughout the year, depending on when events are happening how urgent the business needs are at the time. On an event day, I will typically get to the office at 8 am and leave around 9:30 pm. Game days require quite a bit of preparation, especially when the focus is on both new businesses and retaining current client. For new business initiatives, a lot of thought is required for the presentation that will be given. First impressions are extremely crucial in a business that sells a “luxury” product that nobody actually needs. In regards to retention, it is very important that we plan for any clients who will have a “VIP” out to a game or event. Those moments when we are responsible for impressing and taking care of our clients’ top customers can be a game-changer when it’s time to get an account renewed. In an industry that depends on outreach from its sales reps, there always needs to be time set aside for new business outreach and getting meetings scheduled with prospective clients. In the end, my day (on average) is broken up in the following way: 40% focus on new business, 40% focus on current clients, 10% focus on processes (suite rental strategy), and a 10% focus on follow up.
Why did you want to work in sport? In other words, what motivated you to want to pursue a career in sport. Here it’d be helpful to look back to your decision to pursue a degree at the Southern Methodist University in Sport Management. Were you a fan of sports growing up?
I have long been a big sports fan coming from the City of Champions (Boston) but never knew that I would work for a professional sports team. Furthermore, I never imagine that I would be a salesperson. With a passion for connecting with people, solving problems, thinking logically and being extremely curious, I quickly realized that sales might be a good fit for me.
While a ticket sales rep for a professional sports team works in “sports”, our job is very similar to any other salesperson that isn’t in the industry. While we get to sell a great entertainment option, the sales process is still the same no matter what you are selling.
Being extremely process-oriented, I fell in love with understanding how businesses operate and make money and how the solutions that sports teams offer from an entertainment standpoint may be able to complement their current client acquisition and client entertainment strategies. In the end, a customer loves to be appreciated and valued, and when a company provides tickets to a sporting event, that goal is accomplished.
Would you say your path to your current position as Manager of Business Development was quite easy or rather challenging, and can you discuss why?
Selling in the sports industry is extremely competitive. Typically, an organization has an inside sales team where newcomers to sales or recent graduates get their career started. More often than not, the only way to get a spot on the inside sales team is to have an internship for another sports team during your time in college. Once a position in inside sales is secured, you are competing against 10-20 other talented, young and hungry salespeople. In my organizations, only the top 5-10 reps are getting promoted to the next level, where they become an account executive.
My success came early in inside sales and was due to my work ethic, business acumen and curiosity. By finding success selling to businesses early on, that gave me a leg up on my competition and allowed for promotions.
What would you say are four essential skills required for working in corporate partnerships for a professional sports team, even at entry-level?
1 Business Acumen
You have to know how a business makes money and how you can impact their business with the hospitality platform you are providing.
You have to be genuinely interesting in the person you are talking with. In the end, you are typically calling someone who wasn’t expecting your call, so you have a brief time to gain their attention.
3 Quick Thinking
Sales and negotiation conversations move at a rapid pace and you need to be able to keep up.
4 Hard Working
Cold calling is becoming more difficult by the year and you have to be willing to stick to the process and follow up.
Tell us about your top three sport business career achievements!
1 Promoted From Inside Sales to Account Executive
This showed that I had what it took to find success in the industry and gave me a lot of confidence as I took on the next challenge.
2 Joining A Sales Team For An NBA Franchise
I look at the NBA as the most progressive league of the “Big 4” and am very fond of the leadership in the NBA. The leadership of the NBA are consistently looking at ways to move the needle and are not afraid of trying different strategies to grow the business.
3 Renewing 80+% Of My Clients With The Suns
For a team that has won less than 30% of their games in my tenure, I’m very proud that we have been able to keep a client base as large as we have. This goes to show that we put the customer first and help our clients accomplish their goals.
Many aspiring sport professionals are skeptical to start off in sales when deciding where to specialize in sport management. Here’s your chance to tell them why they shouldn’t be!
The easy answer is that sales offers the most available positions within a sports organization and allows you to get your foot in the door. In life though, you will always need to sell something. Whether that be selling an idea to your manager, selling yourself to investors, selling your credibility in an interview, or negotiating a deal on a car or home, the skillset that sales teach you is incredibly necessary for life. In addition, the training that most sports team provide their sales teams is second to none.
You will be part of the team that is producing revenue and revenue-producing departments typically receive preferential treatment. So, if you are looking to challenge yourself and reach a level that you did not think was possible, sales are the route to go. If you are not ready to hustle and compete against others in a professional environment, sales are probably not the best choice for you.