5 keys to selling in sports during COVID times

by matt ritchie - Associate Director, Season Ticket & Inside Sales at THE Cincinnati Bengals
April 27, 2021

In our industry, we are thrown new objections and obstacles every season. These include objections like team performance, distance from the stadium, budget, too many games and many more. We hear less objections when the team is winning. I’ve worked full-time in the industry for eleven years and I’ve only had two winning seasons! I thought I had heard every objection in the book up until March 2020.

We are selling an emotional product during a pandemic. It’s not easy. If it were easy then everyone would do it. I’ve learned a lot in the past year and hope these 5 sales tips during difficult times can help you sport sellers out there.

1. Be different than every other salesperson reaching out to your client

Selling is harder than it was a year ago. To yield the same results we did before, we will need to make more contacts and more touchpoints. Now, this isn’t just calling and emailing your clients more frequently. Be different than every other salesperson reaching out. Calls and emails are good but try conducting virtual meetings, writing handwritten cards, dropping off a gift or engaging more on LinkedIn (liking their post or congratulating them on promotions and work anniversaries).

Find out if they are a part of a non-profit and see how you can get involved. Most teams have Community Relations departments that can send a donated item for a silent auction (always check with your direct report prior to any kind of offer) but we can also do other things as well. When I was with the Astros, I was in Group Sales and several of my new clients were non-profit organizations. I ran in their 5Ks to help promote awareness, I helped raise money outside of my job, I would visit them at games just to talk. Not because it helped me get a sale but because they were good people and I genuinely wanted to do it.

I have salespeople that call and email me often but recently… I got a fax! The first line was, “I bet you forgot you still had a fax machine!” They were right! I totally forgot we had a fax machine! That got my attention and I spent more time reviewing that fax than if it would have been an email.

Be different than the 100 salespeople your client encounters this year.

2. “Not Now” is an acceptable answer

There used to be 3 outcomes that I would have in a sales call or meeting: Yes, No or Maybe.

I love Yes’s. It means the client is ready and excited for the team!

I can handle No’s. In sales, we hear “no” a lot more than we hear “yes.” And that’s fine! That is part of the sales game and every “no” that we hear means we are one statistical step closer to hearing a “yes” on the next call.

Personally, I do not like hearing “maybe’s.” When I hear “maybe” it tells me I haven’t done my job of identifying needs, building rapport or asking the right questions. Sometimes the sales process can drag on if we fail to do any of these.

Today, “not now” is an outcome and acceptable answer. We need to put ourselves in other people’s shoes during COVID times. Maybe we have already been in their shoes or maybe we have no idea what they’ve been going through personally or professionally. If they aren’t ready to buy now then that’s alright! If the timing isn’t right then there are a couple things you can say depending on the flow of the conversation:

-I understand if my timing isn’t right. I would still like to learn more so I have a good idea of what kind of plan could work in the future.

-That’s okay and I appreciate you telling me <answer 1 and 2>. We have other packages that might be a good fit. Would you be open to hearing more about that?

Keep the “not now’s” in your funnel and touch base when appropriate.

3. Listen to understand

The product that we sell is not a need. People don’t need to go to games. We want to go to games because it’s fun! In those 3+ hours of a gameday experience, it can be the highlight of their week, month, year or life! In order to help someone experience that, we need to listen to understand their objections. New prospects  are going to have objections. If they didn’t then they would have already bought.

Two people might have the same COVID objection but for different reasoning. It is the clients right to object. Don’t adjust your behavior until you receive feedback and you can ask “tell me more” if you need more clarification.

Communicate honestly with your clients. People want to work with people that they like and trust.

4. Keep your goals in the front and back of your mind

We have all heard the quote: “Your future is created by what you do today.” Selling is different than it was a year ago. Life is even more different that it was a year ago. There were many unknowns in 2020 and some still linger today: working from home, uncertainty if a team can host fans or if they'll have limited seating inventory.

It was also hard, and still is, to adapt to many changes that we encountered this past year in our professional and personal lives. What helped me, and I had to remind myself more often than I care to admit, is to keep my goals in the front and back of my mind.

You could have all the talent in the world with the best resources around you to succeed but we need to remember our short-term and long-term goals in order to be on top of our game. Your motivation could be success, family, money, recognition, being #1 on the sales board, hitting your sales goal, getting a promotion, etc. Think about your goals for your daily motivation.

5. Get on someone’s bench now to get in the game later

You can apply this to sales but I’m going to apply it to job hunting. This tip is for those who have been furloughed or trying to find a job in sports because maybe the first 4 tips cannot necessarily apply at this time. Networking with sports business professionals is fun! Meeting and talking to people in the industry is one of my favorite parts about working in sports.

Don’t let the first time you connect with someone be because a job opened up. Instead, network now and more importantly… follow-up! After your networking call, write them handwritten cards, email personal/professional updates, send articles that you found useful or give an update on a sales book you recently finished.

When a job opens up, the hiring manager most likely already has a bench and someone on their mind for that position. Let that person be you! Network, follow-up and stay in contact.


Matt Ritchie is the Associate Director, Season Ticket & Inside Sales at the Cincinnati Bengals. In his role he is focused on recruiting, hiring, and training the Season Ticket Sales Team, Inside Sales Team and Mobile Ticket Ambassador Program. Going into his 6th season with the Bengals, Matt previously spent time with The Aspire Group, Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks. He graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in Sports Management. Matt is also a mentor in theClubhouse and you can set up a 1:1 call with him here.