We sat down with John Durbin to talk marketing in sports and what it’s like to lead an organization with multiple properties. John is currently the Vice President of Sports Marketing with Pegula Sports and Entertainment. John oversees marketing functions across PSE’s broad ranging sports and entertainment portfolio, including the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, their home stadium, New Era Field, the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres and their venue, KeyBank Center, the National Lacrosse League Buffalo Bandits, among many others! As the leading sports and entertainment company in Western NY, John’s role is constantly evolving and SBS is glad to give you a peak behind the curtain of a sports marketer.
Q. Balancing the work across multiple properties, what are some of the first things you do when you come into the office every day?
JD - For me, I've found it more helpful to start the night before by looking at my calendar. It seems pretty simple, but with so many properties and initiatives within them, it helps to know what is going to be drawing my focus the next day. That way I can come in with that mindset. It also gives me an idea of how much time I am going to have to physically produce work as opposed to providing direction to others. When I get into the office, it is more a continuation of the thoughts from the night before so I can hit the ground running.
Q. How much of your workload is based on the calendar/time of year, and how important is it to stay proactive in your planning while still be able to react quickly to breaking/current happenings across the multiple properties?
JD - We're in a calendar-driven business. Whether we're ready or not, the games will be played on the days they're scheduled. Of course there's always something happening we can't plan for and that's where process becomes important. By minimizing how much time and energy is dedicated to what can be planned in advance, it frees us up to tackle the unexpected. You can also start to apply those processes to the unexpected to keep everyone marching in the same direction.
Q. How much importance is there in placing a larger emphasis towards local/regional partnerships to drive fan engagement over national marketing efforts? Or do you view these two as equal?
JD - With territory restrictions set by leagues and the revenue that comes with ticketing, local/regional will always be #1. That said, there is a lot of opportunity for us to expand our footprint. The key, for us, is that we have a lot of out-of-market fans. Our focus is on serving them regardless of where they live and trying to retain the connection to our properties. Rather than trying to convert someone into fandom in a market we really can't enter, we look for ways to engage with our dedicated fans that aren't in Western New York
Q. What amount of time is spent towards your teams social and digital strategy? How many people are solely focused on engagement over those various platforms and channels? Do you see this growing even more over time?
JD - We really can't parse digital/social out as a separate thing when we talk about strategy. It's way too ingrained in our consumer and our world now for it not the be top of mind for everyone. Most other media has reached a point of maturation so digital has become the place for innovation and affords us the opportunity to have the most impact. A little over half our team has digital/social specific roles, but there's not a person on our org chart who isn't tasked with maximizing what we do in the space.
Q. Are there any particular new technologies out there or in the works that you are truly excited about?
JD - I think Augmented Reality will have a massive impact on the live experience; similar to HD for the home viewing experience. There's already some companies showing how deep it can go and once the wearables aspect reaches its peak, I think it will fundamentally alter the in-venue experience.
Q. What are the biggest misconceptions people from the outside may not realize about your role?
JD - A couple years ago, in July, I was visiting my brother. He asked if I had anything to do at work since the teams weren't playing. I didn't know where to begin. So I guess you could say some people may not realize just how much there is to do year-round.
Q. How much emphasis do you place on new experiential initiatives to drive the fan experience?
JD - Fan experience and experiential initiatives have been a huge emphasis for us for the last few years, and I think we're just scratching the service. So much of consumer buying behavior is being driven by perceived value. We're always trying to find ways to maximize the fan experience and make attending our events a worthwhile experience. We started a project a few years ago to transform the fan experience which led to the creation of the My One Buffalo app and we're continuing to push further and further into the space.