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EPISODE 060: Washington Nats Sales Leader Ryan Bringger Strives to Engage Clients Year Round with Membership Programs that Offer Experiences, Rewards and Access
RYAN’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Find your strengths and be proud of those strengths. That’s what people want you for once you’re able to know exactly what those are.”
Ryan Bringger is the Vice President for Ticket Sales and Membership for the 2019 World-Champion Washington Nationals baseball team.
His well-rounded background includes experiences in ticket sales and service, premium seating and suite sales and service. He has significant experience in the sports industry and has managed and hired one of the largest sales teams in all of professional sports.
He’s also been heavily involved in the sales and servicing of multiple, all-inclusive premium seating clubs, branded areas, ticket programs, loyalty programs and luxury suites.
Find Ryan on LinkedIN!
Fred Diamond: Ryan, let’s talk about your career. Let’s go through your evolution and then we’ll get to some tips. What do you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Ryan Bringger: We have a lot of different items to sell but the biggest thing is our NATS PLUS memberships and that’s really our benefits platform that turns into our season plan, so no longer the days of having that hard ticket for 82 baseball games, we want to turn that relationship to a 365 day relationship with our clients into that membership field where they’re involved in experiences, rewards and access. Really big push right now on our membership platform and driving season plans to fill up this ball park.
Fred Diamond: Talk about the word “membership”, that’s kind of a term that people out there who don’t know your industry may not be familiar with, thinking of your customer as a member. What exactly does that mean and why do you say that?
Ryan Bringger: Membership’s really key right now, a lot of teams are starting to use that. Why it’s so important is that people want something different. They don’t want to just come to that baseball game, they want that relationship and we’re able to provide VIP experiences, events here that no one else has access to in the park or outside the park. Rewards or discounts in saving that are second to none that our NATS PLUS members receive and that our single game buyers do not. Then also our access, we’ve got a team that’s won the National League East four out of the last six years and then also you look at the All Star Game coming here in July. Access is so key and our NATS PLUS members get that VIP access.
Fred Diamond: Who do you sell to today? I’m guessing you’re selling to corporations, associations, I guess. Tell us who your customer is today and how does that differ from what we might think your customer would be looking for?
Ryan Bringger: We do sell B to B, then also B to C as well. That’s the nice thing about being in sports, you have such a large audience and demo to be able to reach out to. But I think that the buyer’s much more savvy today than it was in the past, I feel that overall they want that experience, they want that relationship with their service membership executive. That’s why we have one of the larger sales and service teams in the company because we want to make sure that each and every one of our members are being serviced with any questions or concerns that they have.
Fred Diamond: One thing that we hear frequently on the Sales Game Changers podcast is that the selling professional needs to bring more value to the customer. Help us clarify a couple of things about what you sell specifically. Are you selling sports? What exactly are you selling, what is it that motivates the customer to what to purchase a big ticket item like this?
Ryan Bringger: We’re selling the experience, we feel that from the minute you leave work or you leave your house until the minute that you get home, we want your experience to be world-class. We want it from the parking attendants who takes your parking ticket to the usher that lets you into the gates and down to your section to our service in sales representatives that are stopping by to drop a little gift off and say hello and shake your hand. The full game experience is so key for us.
Secondary, really, is how that team performs on the field, because you never can obviously dictate how that’s going to turn out year in and year out.
Fred Diamond: From the customer perspective, though, what is the customer looking for? Are they looking to treat their employees? Are they looking for something to bring customers to or their prospects to get a little more of quality time? What are they looking for with this acquisition?
Ryan Bringger: Most of our buyers on the business side are going to be looking to entertain their employees so we do a lot of group sales here on the baseball side, groups start at 13 tickets or more so they can go up as high as 1000 person theme nights that we have as well. But then also, yes, they’re also entertaining in some of our most prestigious clubs here in the ball park, they’re entertaining their top clients and people that are in town to make sure that they have that great experience as well.
Fred Diamond: Just curiously, before we start talking about your career, who do you compete with? Do you compete with other entertainment venues or do you compete with other marketing strategies that they might employ?
Ryan Bringger: There’s a lot of competition, obviously. Anywhere that somebody can spend their dollar out there in the market could potentially take away from our experience but we feel that our experience, if we can make it second to none, then people are going to want to be here over maybe a different sport or be out potentially boating during the summer here. We’ve got to make sure that our experience is top notch and therefore earning their business.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Tell us about yourself, how did you first get into sales as a career?
Ryan Bringger: I had the fortune to – when I went to John Carroll University and played football up there one of my really good friends that I met is Ben Milsom who’s the chief revenue officer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers now and Ben and I, great friends, stayed in touch. He got his first start with the Tampa Bay Lightning and him and I kept in touch and he said, “Listen, you’ve got to get down here to Tampa for an interview, I think you’d make a great fit on the sales team.” Next thing you know, I’m packing up my stuff from Cleveland and heading down to Tampa. Back into the home state but didn’t expect to be there.
Fred Diamond: Yeah, the other side of the state from where you grew up, I guess.
Ryan Bringger: That’s right.
Fred Diamond: So you’re the VP of ticket sales and memberships for the Nats. You’ve been in sports sales, sports ticket sales and membership sales your whole career. What are some of the things that you learned from some of those first few jobs you had over in Tampa that have taken you through today?
Ryan Bringger: I think #1, and it seems so easy, is just outwork the person right next to you. Try to outwork everybody in your department and get to know everybody in the company. You never know what person’s help or support you’re going to need so there’s no reason to ever burn any bridges, be that person that everybody wants to go to. Be a high energy individual that can really represent not only themselves but the company on a high level.
Then I also think, be a sponge. Never think that you know everything. Try to learn something new each and every day no matter if you’ve been in the business for one month or you’ve been in the business for 15 years. You’ve got to try to learn new things each and every day.
Fred Diamond: Speaking about that, I have a quick question for you about selling sports. Is it easier to sell when the team is doing well or is it easier to sell when the team’s struggling and there’s more things to sell?
Ryan Bringger: It’s definitely easier to sell when the team is doing well. Obviously it depends on inventory. If you’re in a place where there’s very little inventory, there’s not much left and then there’s some scarcity there which again makes it easier.
But I think when the team is not performing well and you’re working for a team that has a lot of inventory that really strengthens your skills and puts you on the right path for success.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Tell us a little more about yourself specifically. What exactly are you an expert in? Tell us a little more, Ryan Bringger, about your specific area of brilliance.
Ryan Bringger: I always wanted to be a football coach, so coming through even college I thought how could I be a coach and I’ve absolutely always loved sports but once I got into the sales and the sports field I realized that my strength was always going to be on the leadership side.
I always wanted to lead people, always wanted to be a manager of people and really creating and developing that world class culture that a lot of companies talk about what does culture mean. It’s really not an easy thing to put your finger on and I believe that it’s all about the people. You hire the right people, you treat them correctly and next thing you know, the culture really takes off and soars.
Fred Diamond: How would you describe the culture here? What type of culture are you trying to put into play with your sales team?
Ryan Bringger: I want a culture here that everybody’s excited to come in every day. There’s going to be ups, there’s going to be downs, there’s going to be some months that are going to be tough on sales but I want everybody to realize that everybody in the company and within the sales and service department has each other’s back.
They’re all valued, that we’re all working to get better, that we always train each and every day or week to get better and having people that see the bigger picture. Career growth, a lot of times once somebody knows what their next step is and more importantly when that manager knows what their employee’s next step is, that open dialogue is there and therefore the overall culture increases from there.
Fred Diamond: There’s a lot of people, Ryan, that are listening to today’s podcast that are early in their sales career and they’re competitive, they’re aggressive, they’ve thought about going into ticket sales for sports. Tell us a little bit about selling what you sell and what makes someone good at being successful in selling tickets and memberships.
Ryan Bringger: It’s definitely not easy. Everybody wants to be in sports, we get thousands of resumes every time we post a job. By no means do I think it’s rocket science either. I think it comes down to having the right mentality of seeing the big picture, understanding that you’re going to come in on an entry level position, the money is not going to be anything that’s going to be exciting to you at the start.
Things will be difficult in the beginning but it’s also realizing that there’s going to be ups and downs and having that competitive nature, usually those are the people we see that are going to be very successful as they hate to lose. It’s one of those kind of mentalities to make sure that you’re successful.
Fred Diamond: Let’s go back to your career. Who was an impactful sales career mentor for you and how did they impact your career?
Ryan Bringger: That one’s really easy for me even though I’ve had some great leaders in my career and I’ve been lucky enough to work for some amazing people. Chad Johnson who’s currently running all sales and service for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Chad is definitely my mentor. I got to start off with him in Tampa right out of college, he hired me as an inside sales representative, that’s how I got my start and I was fortunate enough to work with him for close to 10 years.
Brought me to the Florida Panthers with him, started off my management career and just taught me so much about how to break into the industry, what it took to be successful and really to just never give up and always continue to strive to be better.
Fred Diamond: Back to the question about selling ticket sales. Do you need to love sports to be successful in your industry?
Ryan Bringger: You don’t. I started off in hockey, and out of all the sports, being from Florida I knew very little about hockey, was not my favorite sport. So no, you don’t have to love the sport that you work for or even sports in general but again, wanting to be that sponge when you come in, definitely you want to learn the product knowledge and you want to learn as much as you can about it because in a short period of time you’ll realize that most of the members, they want to talk about that specific sport.
Fred Diamond: What are two of the biggest sales challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Ryan Bringger: I think just as long as I’ve been in the business is coming up with new ideas really each and every week, each and every day. Something sales people have maybe seen already in their career but it’s trying to keep things fresh. For example, we just rolled out on Monday a Super Bowl Squares contest, trying to leverage that time of the year, “Hey, Super Bowl’s coming up Sunday, let’s make sure we do a contest where every sale that comes in they’re filling out their squares and they’re going to have some great prizes that we’re going to be able to announce on Monday.”
Even with the Olympics coming up, we’re prepared to launch an Olympic competition starting on February 8th for our sales staff. Really just trying to come up with those fresh ideas to keep that culture striving.
Fred Diamond: When you’re selling to corporations, who is it that you’re selling to? Is it a marketing sale? Is it HR? Is it someone CEO, do you have to get there?
Ryan Bringger: It’s always different. Really it depends on what item you’re selling. If you’re going to sell arguably the big luxury item, maybe a suite or a premium seat, you’re usually either working with a vice president within the company or a C level executive. A lot of times when you’re trying to put a bit group night together potentially for employees, a lot of times you’re heading towards the vice president of HR, human resources, to be able to book those because that’s what their #1 job is, is how do they keep their employees happy. Usually a group night to National’s Park is a good way to do it.
Fred Diamond: Looking out here, we’re doing today’s podcast with Ryan Bringger. Ryan’s the VP of ticket sales and membership for the Washington Nationals. We’re doing today’s podcast live at Nationals Stadium. It really is a beautiful stadium, even in the middle of winter. It’s beautiful, it’s colorful, it’s just a great place and a great energy if you’re a sports fan. Do you get energized coming here every day?
Ryan Bringger: Absolutely, that’s what I love about this industry. I tell all of our sales representatives, we get to wake up every day and get to drive into Nat’s Park here and even having lunch today, we have a cafeteria here that overlooks the ball park and I’m sitting there having lunch today just looking out over the field, it’s tremendous.
Fred Diamond: So you get to talk to like Scherzer as he’s filing some papers and you know, Bryce Harper kind of walking around making copies. Has that ever happened or not really?
Ryan Bringger: No, that doesn’t really happen but we do have some great events that we put on, that the players have been amazing to help out with.
Fred Diamond: What’s the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of? Take us back to that moment.
Ryan Bringger: I think it’s probably not an exact moment, it’s more of the change that was made with the Tampa Bay Lightning. I started in Tampa on my second stint in 2009 under an older ownership group and there were struggles. Just like a lot of teams, we had half the building empty every night and within the next three years we were now on a pace of selling out close to 110 games consecutively.
Obviously, a lot of things went into there, a new owner that came in that was tremendous brought an all new front office. Really proud to turn that franchise around and when you look at hockey in Florida and a lot of people say that it just can’t happen, it did happen there. Obviously, they just had the All Star Game here last week and put on a great show. That was really one of those moments in my career when you got to look back and say, “Wow”. To sell that place out night in and night out was pretty special.
Fred Diamond: I’ve got a question for you. Speaking of the Tampa Bay Lightnings, this may be a little bit esoteric for some of the people listening around the globe. Where you there when the NHL went on strike?
Ryan Bringger: No, I was in South Florida. I was with the Florida Panthers, though, when the NHL went on strike for that full year.
Fred Diamond: How was that? You’re a sales guy and you’re trying to sell tickets for a sport that’s on strike. I hate to bring up some bad memories here, but what was that like? That’s what you’re trying to do, you don’t have a product.
Ryan Bringger: That’s interesting. I’m glad you brought that up because Florida Panthers, we actually received that year the NHL business award for all 30 teams because of what we did. Instead of sitting back and saying, “Wow, we’re going to have the whole year of down time and letting people off potentially out of the company” we decided what can we come up with, what new products could we sell.
We actually put together a personal seat license campaign that we were selling for all of our concerts and shows and we also then built out a Frank Sinatra Theater that we sold close to about 15 theater acts on a membership basis. It was interesting definitely selling different items than I ever have before but we did not sit back and wait for hockey at that time.
Fred Diamond: Ryan, you’ve had a great career in sales. Did you ever question being in sales? Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard. It’s just not for me”?
Ryan Bringger: I think the only moment was before I got that first job. When I was interviewing for the sales job I remember thinking to myself, “You wonder if you can do this. Is this what you were meant to do?” And my father was in sales and I always said I could talk to anybody on the street but until you’re actually in it, you’re not sure. I always say, “Dive right in” and once I was in it I never looked back. It’s always been something that I’ve absolutely loved.
Fred Diamond: Ryan, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals to help them improve their career?
Ryan Bringger: I think the biggest thing is listen to the prospect, especially when you first start off in sales and I was at fault on this as well, you usually want to talk about everything that you have, all of the products that your company provides. The problem is that you’re not listening to what it is that they want so #1 that we work on with all of our entry level staff is open ended questions.
You have to make sure that you’re asking those open ended questions so it will strengthen the dialogue and get the prospect talking a lot longer which is usually the great sign so you can give that recommendation at the end.
Fred Diamond: Very good. There’s the expression, “You have two ears and one mouth, and you should use them in that order.” What are some of the things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Ryan Bringger: Our team does a great job of doing a lot of our trainings on a weekly basis with our service team and our sales team and I like to jump right in there on the training so I’m usually in every one that I can make. I like to be able to role play with the staff and I’ll jump right in there as well as we do a great job here of putting on a lot of events.
We feel that by bringing people here to the ball park we’re able to have a much better close ratio once they’re here. When we have 50, 60, 100 people here at an event, I’m usually the person that does like to do the speaking at the event and put on the presentation which I think helps me keep my skills sharp.
Fred Diamond: Is that easy to do? Is it easy to get people to come here to experience the park?
Ryan Bringger: It is. We usually average anywhere from 60 to 100 people per event. We run events every two weeks, sometimes even more, but it’s something that we really focus on because a lot of times people want to get out here. They want to meet that representative that they’re going to be able to have that membership relationship with, but then more importantly, they want to look at their seats. They want to tangibly be able to sit in them, look out at the field and it really creates that moment where, “Hey, let’s do this.”
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Ryan Bringger: I think the biggest thing right now – and we’re going to be launching it here in the next 30 days – really important to me is career growth planning. Being able to have our entire staff put together their career growth plan so all of my management team knows exactly what each person on their team is striving for. We’re not the ones that are obviously driving or steering the ship, they’re the ones that are running point on that but we’re there to help wherever they need.
So coming up with ideas, if somebody wants to be in sponsorship sales for their next step. Are they meeting with our vice president of corporate partnership on a quarterly basis to get those questions answered that they might need? Career growth is going to be big for us moving forward.
Fred Diamond: Ryan, sales is hard. People don’t return your phone calls or your emails, they have a lot of options as customers. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Ryan Bringger: Personally, I love the competitive environment. I love that I can sit in a room of 20 individuals and know that if I outwork them and if I train harder, and sure things have to fall your way at times but I really can create my career. I can have the successes that I want to have and I’m really relying on myself so it’s one of those types of positions, that’s why I love sales. You can really dictate how well you’re going to do just on your own.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast?
Ryan Bringger: The final thought is find your strengths. I think it’s something that a lot of people don’t talk enough about is everybody’s worried about maybe what their weaknesses are. How can I make my weakness better? Sure, that is important and you want to make sure that those weaknesses are going to strengthen, but they will. They will over time if you put a little bit of focus on them but really what are your biggest strengths? That is what companies want you for. If you’re great at B to B sales, make sure that you’re putting all your focus into that because that’s where you can really take it to a whole other level.
Find find those strengths, be proud of those strengths and that’s what people want you for once you’re able to know exactly what those are.