Author - Megan Meisse

INTERVIEW: Randy Prasse – Senior Director of Operations – Churchill Downs

By: Brian Clapp, Director of Content,

When Randy Prasse became the Senior Director of Operations at Churchill Downs Race Track, he realized he’d have to balance his innate desire to innovate with a respect for tradition.51930be94498e.image

“The Kentucky Derby has run every year since 1875—142 years—without me,” humbly admits Prasse. “That said, I have been asked numerous times by the top leadership at the track to draw upon my experience to help develop an approach that incorporates industry best practices and creates an enjoyable and unforgettable experience for our guests.”

Prasse is comfortable running events both large and small, having been the CEO of the Wisconsin State Fair, an 11-day long event with over 1 million people attending, and the Gettysburg BrewFest, held in a city with just 6,000.

The Kentucky Derby sits somewhere in the middle, with an estimated 165,000 people attending the annual run for the roses.

“There is certainly a ton of history and tradition for this event and throughout the venue. That said, we are constantly building and renovating—and innovating—to ensure Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby are on the leading edge when you think of the leading venues and events in the world.”

Most see the Derby as a fast-paced two minute race highlighted by a bellowing “down the stretch” call, multiple mint juleps and astonishing hats, but for Prasse creating the ultimate fan experience takes much more than two minutes.

“I was brought aboard to support the Operations team—including the Vice President of Operations (Greg Bush) who has been here for over 25 years. There is so much institutional knowledge in his head—that he just instinctively knows—that my role is to extract that information and “put it on paper” in the form of updated and usable operations manuals, echurchilldowns-300x71tc.”


“I manage the temporary build-out of all suites, tents, and perimeter fencing. Additionally, I oversee the seasonal guest services and overall security functions. So, you could say, much of the interaction between staff and the guest is my responsibility—the all-important “guest experience”.

Planning and execution for an event of this size is a year round project, including the creation of a temporary city that is built for the two days of racing at Churchill Downs; the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, featuring 3-year old fillies (female horses), and the Derby on Saturday, featuring 3-year old thoroughbreds (male horses).


And even with an event so rich in tradition, nothing is ever as easy as it seems. For Prasse, even with months of preparation, there is no guarantee of a good night’s sleep in the weeks leading up to the big race.

“Weather is the thing that keeps everyone up at night, and the one thing we can’t manage,” says Prasse. “Of course, I am always concerned with venue security and guest safety. The end product must be a fun and unique experience  for our guests.”

Security also falls under the purview of Prasse, which bears the most importance of them all, especially after recent history has shown major events and locations to be vulnerable.

“Obviously, the world changed on 9/11/2001. It has changed again with each mass shooting or Boston Marathon-type bombing. We consider and plan for so many new and different threats these days. We limit what people can carry-in; what they can wear; where they can go once inside the venue.”

“Emergency Action Planning is paramount—you don’t plan to fail but you do fail to plan. The ‘see something / say something’ public awareness program is critical—it literally turns all 165,000 sets of eyes into an extension of our public safety team.”

This year, and in future years, as you watch the fastest 2 minutes in sports, think of Prasse and pray for sunny skies, respectful crowds and a perfect rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home”.


INTERVIEW: Jenna Camann- Director, Digital and Creative Services- TD Garden/ Boston Bruins

The Challenges of Working in Content Marketing for a Pro Sports Team 

By: Brian Clapp, Director of Content,

There are two phrases you hear often in the lexicon of content marketing specialists, “Content is King” and “Data Driven Decision Making”.

The former taps into the creative right brain, acknowledging the vast benefit of controlling a message through unique and imaginative content and distribution channels.

The latter is strictly left brain, optimizing logical, analytical, computational methods to determine and articulate the intrinsic value of the work being done.

Most who operate in the field of content marketing are strong in one side, but not the other. It is the rare combination of talent that can manage both the creation of educational, informative and entertaining content, while still being able to dive deep into a smoldering pile of data.

“My team and I take on a number of different responsibilities each and every day across our digital channels whether it’s website, social, email, app, etc.” says Jenna Camann, Director of Digital and Creative Services for the Boston Bruins/TD Garden. “At any given time I could be creating a digital channel strategy for a new program, advising on a targeting approach for digital media, making content recommendations, pouring over our website analytics, or working with the corporate partnership team on the digital extensions of a new deal.”

“We’re continuing to improve how we work with other internal teams to make our digital channels a better place for all of our fans and visitors.”

After five years working on social content for a global marketing and technology company, Jenna Camann jumped at the chance to work for the Boston Bruins directing their digital marketing efforts across multiple channels.

The Bucknell University grad is also one of those rare people who can tap into both sides of her brain, utilizing creative visions and data mining skills to drive the Boston Bruins to the next level.

Here’s more on developing a team, managing expectations, data mining and the future of content marketing for sports teams from Jenna Camann:

You oversee the social media efforts of the team – over the last few years we’ve seen some really terrible examples of social media gaffes coming oCamannut of team sites – how do you set up your team to know exactly what is expected of them and what is not acceptable?

Camann: Setting expectations is always a crucial part of being a manager, and when your team’s work is seen across public digital channels, it’s even more important.

A well thought-out onboarding process is key for new employees – our team covers both TD Garden and the Boston Bruins, so I ensure that new folks spend roughly 4 – 6 weeks getting to know the organization before they start creating anything, and then consistently work with me and other internal folks to understand our business. For current employees and as new opportunities come up, we’ve set up processes so the right people review the content at the right time before anything goes live.

More than anything, keeping our team motivated and passionate about our organization usually works best in setting ourselves up for success. Whether it’s our social PR team, our engagement specialist or other role, if they are committed to knowing the organization, our values, our personality, and our fans, our expectations align more easily.

In that vein, what is the overall strategy of your social media efforts – to inform, to sell, to entertain? 

We’re in the process of building out a new strategy for both TD Garden and the Boston Bruins.

Our channels, fans, and business have grown over the years, and what may have been a good approach in the past may need to change, and in some instances, stay the same. I spent my first few months creating a full audit of our digital channels, including social, and we’ve begun to implement a number of recommendations based on those findings, with new social strategies being a key component.

Ten years ago not many professional teams had their own content department, they relied on their media partners in TV and newspapers to share their message – how powerful is it now for teams to be able to control their own message and have their own outlet for team content?

Camann: It’s critical for teams to be able to create their own content.

Fans now have dozens and dozens of options at their disposal for content about teams – their friends, sports news outlets, leagues, other teams, partners, etc. As a result, it’s not just about creating content, but creating unique content they can’t get anywhere else.

It’s both a challenge and opportunity to our team to balance that evergreen content – practice, in-game, sales messaging, news, and more – with campaign and opportunistic content that really stands out among the other content creators.

It isn’t just controlling the message – content builds an audience that comes in looking for information, and then gets hit with a promotion or sales effort – the saying “Content is King” gets thrown around a lot – do you agree with the sentiment? 

Camann: I do agree content is king, but with a disclaimer! Content is king when and if you have a strategy that supports it.

If our voice on the Bruins Twitter channel is an informed fan, then it’s okay to post a practice quote from [Patrice] Bergeron at 11AM and a last minute ticket alert at Noon for that evening’s game. It’s the way we write those Tweets, maintaining a consistency for how we approach the content, and differentiate on various channels that matters.

Every piece of content does not need to live on every channel and that is often misunderstood when people talk about the importance of content. It’s very difficult for folks to look at a piece of content and say it should go on Twitter and Facebook, but not Instagram, and vice versa.

We’ve made a stronger effort over the last few months to ask ourselves what digital channels each piece of content belongs, and when to post.

Data-driven decision making is another phrase we hear bandied about often nowadays – what does that mean to you and how is that a departure from the way things used to be run? Boston_Bruins Updated

Camann: I’ve always been a big proponent of data.

My first attempt at digital marketing was in 2009 when Facebook was just taking off with sports teams. I launched a page for a NASCAR team sponsor and a few months after it launched one of their executives asked me how many door swings the Facebook posts were getting them. I told him I wasn’t sure, but that we went from less than 50 people talking about us on Facebook to over 4,000. I couldn’t prove they were going to the store to buy (yet), but I could prove they were talking about them.

There were no good social tools back then so I would manually count, cross checking names so there would be no duplicates, and provided weekly reports about our fan growth, engagement and comparison with other teams.

From that moment forward, I’ve been dedicated to consistent use of analytics.  Fast forward to 2016 and ‘data-driven decision making’ is something you hear at least once a day – it’s exciting, but still new to many folks.

We look at data weekly and monthly across all channels and I like to reiterate a few key messages when we think about a data-driven world:

One, don’t expect data to be there for every decision you make. Sometimes, we just need to try things, and see what happens. With the rate of new platforms being created, growth of our fan base, new metrics being created and increase in content, those data-driven decisions don’t always stand the test of time and we can’t be afraid to explore new ideas.

Two, the type of data we value can and should differ. We recently tried something new on Twitter and someone was worried that our replies and retweets decreased, but the point of the Tweet was to drive traffic to our site, and that was 3x higher than our normal link clicks.

The data definitions change too. Six years ago fan growth on Facebook was the only metric people cared about – now it’s engagement, engagement, engagement. We have to be nimble when we think about what data we’re using to make decisions.

And finally, don’t collect data just to collect data that sits on a dusty shelf. Results don’t mean much if we can’t learn from them, so sharing insights from the data we collect is a must in reports.

You have your hands deep into developing digital marketing campaigns – what are your methods to know if a campaign is successful? What type of metrics do you use to judge the success of an effort and how does that influence future endeavors?

Camann: It differs. As I said above, the type of data we value can and should differ depending on the type of content and the goal of that content.

Sometimes an email open rate will mean more to us than a website visit; it’s important to ask ourselves why we are creating the content and what we want to get out of it. There’s also a difference between metrics we consistently measure, and campaign KPIs [key performance indicators].

For an on-sale announcement of an upcoming concert, we’ll certainly look at unique visits, sharing, etc., but our KPI is ticket sales that come directly from that piece of content.

As digital marketing teams grow, it’s integral that both the team and internal stakeholders that want those data-driven decisions understand the various metrics and why we use certain ones to gauge the success of different campaigns.

Put on your future hat – the world of content, digital and social is always developing – what do you think is the next wave of content distribution and how do you evaluate new channels to decide if they are worth adopting?

Camann: Messaging apps have been at the forefront of conversation the last few years, but still have a ways to go to integrate with brands, and certainly teams / arenas. The ease of use and growing presence on them certainly seem like an opportunity we could eventually connect with our fans on, so we’ll be keeping our eye in that space.

I also think it’s not necessarily where we’ll put the content but how that will be important in the immediate future. The 360 camera is just one technology that won’t move us to a new platform but will certainly provide new ways to develop content on Facebook. When new platforms are developed, we look at technology, how users consume the content compared with popular existing channels, usage and partnerships with other platforms, tools, etc.


INTERVIEW: Kevin Duplaga- Director, Ticket Sales – Miami Heat

Finding a Job in Sports Sales: Advice From a Team Leader, Kevin Duplaga

By: Brian Clapp, Director of Content,

Sales is a skill that can be learned, but there are certain instincts, certain traits, that emerge from within a person and push them down this popular career path.

Kevin Duplaga, Director of Ticket Sales for the Miami HEAT is one such person, a Sports Management major in college who worked his way up from minor league baseball to the NBA, gaining career clarity along the way.

“After graduating college, I knew I wanted to work in sports but I was not sure which area of the business I wanted to explore. I learned at the minor league level that I realy enjoyed learning about customer needs. I also enjoyed the responsibility of creating new ticket sales programs to drive revenue to sell out our stadium.”

The minor leagues are unique in their ability to present a variety of professional experiences, exposing employees to all facets of the organization, as most teams employ minimalist staffs and have an all-hands-on-deck operational model.

“You have an opportunity to work with a variety of departments in the minors because the staff is much smaller. You really find out what areas of the business you enjoy the most,” adds Duplaga. “Then when you are presented with an opportunity to work for a pro team, when the expectations are higher, you know exactly what it will take to have success in that role.”

The jump from minor league baseball in Fort Wayne to the Portland Trailblazers isn’t the leap most people are able to make, but for Duplaga it all came down to displaying his instincts anKevin Duplagad relentless nature, and knowing what the Trailblazers wanted in their new hires.

“The Trailblazers were looking for someone that was competitive. I shared a story in my interview where I asked Subway what they were doing with the business cards in their fish bowl for their “Enter to Win” a free lunch. They told me they picked a winner and then threw the rest out. I stopped in the next day and made phone calls to every business card I received from Subway. I ended up selling four Fort Wayne Wizards season tickets behind home plate.”

Having a story that like that to tell leaves a lasting impression with employers and led to Duplaga’s jump to Portland. The Wilmington College graduate spent three years as a Group Sales Representative with the Trailblazers before leaving the Northwest and heading Southeast to Miami to act as their Group Sales Manager.

In just a few short years after graduating Duplaga not only rose quickly up the professional ranks, but also relocated numerous times. Relocation is an undeniable truth of working in the sports industry, you are often forced to move to improve your career standings, a willingness to do so matters.

Duplaga’s first year with the HEAT was 2008, otherwise known as the “Pre-LeBron” era, where the team finished 15th in the East and well out of the playoff race. In the game of high-stakes sales careers, working for a team that loses isn’t a rationale for decreased performance.

“I have learned in this business that you will never control team performance. However, you can control what we believe in, how we behave as a sales team, and you can control the outcome we all work to achieve.

“Ticket Sales is all about building strong relationships. When your team is winning, if you have strong relationships built, your results will grow quickly. When you are winning you attempt to maximize all revenue opportunities. When your team is not having the success that you would like it’s even more important that you are teaching a repeatable sales process to your sales team so each individual sales person gains confidence in their sales ability to close business. Winning or losing should not affect your sales process. You have to compete on daily basis to improve your sales results regardless of the demand situation.”

With the HEAT, Duplaga has entered “The Management Zone” where hiring, training and creating a culture is a large part of his personal success metrics. Hiring is the most important task for any manager, bringing in the right people comes down to knowing what you want, and what you expect.

“I look for people with relentless effort, competitiveness, and a real self-starter. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you have a group of people that share an uncommon commHeatitment with each other and also an uncommon commitment to the work it takes to reach the team goal.”

Sales teams comprise the largest singular department of any professional sports team, because these roles directly relate to operational revenue. Without a fully functioning sales team, the rest of the organization suffers.

But even with the vast opportunities sales career offer, finding the right people, those who are able to survive and thrive, is still a challenge to find and teach.

“Sales is a skill that you can learn,” believes Duplaga. “The people that choose to make the commitment to learn the sales process typically thrive. The people that love daily competition also thrive in sales. I think people entering the industry may not understand the commitment to the actual work it takes to be successful in sales. You are initially setting up face to face meetings and making outbound phone calls to prospects.

“People want success immediately. It takes work and you have to be skillful to build your customer base.”

But once you do, the sky is the limit.


INTERVIEW: Sam Cole- Fmr, Director, Corporate Partnerships – New Orleans Pelicans

Inside the World of Corporate Sponsorship in Sports

By: Brian Clapp, Director of Content,

In the world of sports sales, being a smooth-talking, charismatic speaker with glowing white teeth, isn’t enough to close the deal. Professional sales jobs, not the person coming to your door or trying to get your attention in the mall, is a highly skilled art form.

According to the Harvard Business Review, a good salesperson must hve two qualities: empathy and ego drive.

Empathy, the ability to feel as someone else does, allows a salesperson to change their approach as they learn more about client needs, staying agile and adjusting, instead of sticking with a singular approach which may or may not work.

Ego drive is a personal need, a deeply rooted feeling that the salesperson needs to make this transaction happen and the client is their conduit for doing so.

“Within the sports industry, I believe a lot of the failure for people to succeed in sales jobs, is attributed to the fact our jobs aren’t as easy as people think they are,” says Sam Cole, Director of Corporate Partnerships for the New Orleans Pelicans.

“Despite what people think, our phones are not ringing off the hook with companies begging us to take their money. Even the most successful teams and properties don’t see that.”

In the world of corporate partnerships, the qualities needed to be successful are even more specific and requires an even greater knowledge of business metrics, projections and educating the client – which takes time.SKC

“Sponsorship sales is not an easy concept to grasp,” concludes Cole. “The benefits of sponsorship are often ambiguous and intangible and not something that is always easily communicated, and I think a lot of sales people who don’t find success have trouble understanding that.

“The two attributes that I have found to be the most helpful to me are patience and persistence.  Sponsorship deals hardly ever come together on a property’s timeline.  Inevitably it takes way longer to pull it all together, and I have seen many deals fail when a salesperson became impatient and pushed for an answer, or decided to stop pursuing a prospect because they were dragging their feet.”


Contrary to popular belief, sales don’t necessarily get easier in sports based on how successful the team you represent is on the court or field. Relying on team success to achieve your own personal goals is not permissible.

“Having teams that are on the rise helps with the conversation and sometimes makes it easier to get someone to return your call, but it doesn’t always guarantee a sale. To a certain extent you have to be careful going down that road as we have no control on what happens on the field or court. It becomes more important to sell the value of partnering with a sports team regardless of the record.”

For example, a team like the Detroit Lions hasn’t made the NFL playoffs since 1957, they can’t sell sponsors on the concept of being aligned with a winner. Instead, they sell the experience of the NFL, the ability to reach a passionate audience whose loyalty isn’t swayed by the wins and losses and develop programs that benefit the client no matter the on-field results.

“Each deal has its own formula for success and you have to take in account so many factors to make it work, budget, timing, objectives. More often than not the budget isn’t big sam coleenough to fit the objectives and finding a program that will work is challenging, but very rewarding when you can develop something that works for everyone,” says the University of Florida grad.

No matter how challenging the sales world can be, even for a seasoned veteran like Cole who has worked in sales for teams in all four major sports leagues and Daytona International Speedway, at the end of the day, sales is sales.

“The process is essentially the same in our business, but what is more important is having to learn and understand the market you are selling and the product.  Every market is different and reacts to a sports property differently, and each sports property has its own target audience and it’s important to understand that audience so you know which companies will be the best prospects.”

It all starts with knowing your client’s needs and then helping solve their puzzle with them.


How to Develop Your Soft Skills For Sports Jobs

How to Develop Your Soft Skills For Sports Jobs

By: Brian Clapp, Director of Content,

If you have the drive to work in sports, that inner whisper that constantly reminds you where your true passion lies, make no mistake, the most important fact you need to reconcile is this:

Sports are a business.

The sports industry isn’t some happy, cloud cuckoo fantasy land where things like revenue and productivity don’t matter. Work days aren’t spent debating the best cold weather field goal kicker of all-time, or the fastest center fielder since Bo Jackson (well, at least not every work day).

Sports, like all businesses, depend on results. As a hopeful future employee, the question that you’ll need to be ready to answer is, “what can you do to help us reach our business goals?”soft-skills-for-sports-jobs-300x145

That is where your hard skills come into play. Can you dominate financial models on Excel? Can you edit like a champ on Final Cut Pro? Can you sell and move product?

As you craft your resume, using powerful action verbs to describe your skills and accomplishments, you will most likely focus on those hard skills you have acquired during your previous work or internships. That makes sense.

But if you talk to enough sports industry veterans, hiring managers and professors, what you learn is, it’s often the soft skills you possess that make the ultimate difference in whether you get hired or not.

To fully understand the importance of soft skills, how you can improve them and how they can make the difference between “hire” or “no hire”, check out this article on developing your soft skills from our friends at Work in Sports.


How To Ask Questions That Will Result in Meaningful Answers

How To Ask Questions That Will Result in Meaningful Answers

By: Brian Clapp, Director of Content,

If you’ve ever observed a press conference you quickly identify there is an art form, a true skill, to asking questions.

Some less savvy reporters ask questions that give a head coach or player an easy out, a simple “yes” or “no” path-of-least-resistance, response.

Reporter: “Coach, did you think about calling a timeout before the two-minute warning

Coach: “No

While others align their words in a manner as deftly as a bear trap hidden under brush, waiting to snap.teosmall

Coach, if you had called a timeout before the two minute warning you would have had roughly :38 extra seconds of time, why didn’t you call a timeout in that moment?”

Yes or no, not an option.

That question probes at their methodology and thought-process. It gets a real answer…at least unless Bill Belichick is the subject (he’s more defiant than most).

Before you dismiss this discussion as irrelevant to you, since you don’t want to become a reporter, realize everyone asks questions, all day, every day.

If you are an executive or hiring manager you ask questions in interviews and of your staff. Aren’t you looking for meaningful responses?

If you are interviewing for a job, you better be prepared to ask questions back to the interviewee or else you appear underwhelming.

Questioning is a part of the human condition, we all do it, we just don’t all do it well. To refine your questioning technique, and always insure you get the most out of your conversations here are five techniques you should master.


Six Sports Career Myths Worth Ignoring

Six Sports Career Myths Worth Ignoring

By: Brian Clapp, Director of Content,

In life we all have moments of clarity, wrinkles in time where things make perfect sense and unleash us from the burden we’ve been carrying.

Deciding on your perfect career path is one such moment. You’ve considered your options, debated the possible futures and come to a moment where you can see and understand the journey ahead.

Unfortunately, achieving clarity isn’t the end of the story.

Knowing what you are meant to do, and actually getting there are two very different things. To achieve success takes studying, learning, gaining experience and avoiding bad information.

Let’s focus on the last note there for a second; bad information.

We’ve all fallen victim to bad intel. A misinformed product review or a restaurant that serves up piping hot bowls of nausea, may represent short-term set backs, but bad information circulating about when it comes to careers and hiring staff, can result in bigger, longer-term, problems.Masters-degree-300x200

There are career myths that have been circulated for years, crutch sayings and dubious advice columns, propeling bad information to the forefront, repeated often enough that they’ve become accepted lore, rather than questioned for their outdated thinking.

These myths are a powerful concoction, swaying perception and leading you down a wrongful path. Read on to learn more about six outdated sports career myths that should be banished from your lexicon.


Harnessing the Power of Sports Twitter Chats

Harnessing the Power of Sports Twitter Chats

By: Brian Clapp, Director of Content,

What does social media provide you?

For many, it’s a break from work, while for others, it is work.

For many it’s a productivity tool, news aggregator and information finder, for others it’s just a way to stay entertained while on the toilet (don’t pretend you are the one person that doesn’t read their phone on the toilet).

I imagine the social playground plays different roles for just about everyone, so on a micro level, it really depends on your personal goals.

Are you killing time? Trying to move product? Trying to enhance your skill profile? Grow traffic to your site?

The role of social media probably changes throughout the day, depending on your goals in that moment.

But much like playing a video game, which essentially evaporates time without the benefit of achieving anything, spending time engrossed in the social conversation, can also be fb-artguilt-inducing.

You scour Facebook for an hour, and then realize, “oh my Gosh, I just wasted an hour doing nothing.” Raise your hand if you’ve been there.

So here’s the deal, we know how to turn social media into your own personal (and free) productivity tool, without taking the fun out of the medium.

Twitter chats. More specifically, sports twitter chats.

Think about it for a second, where else can you gather minds from across the world, talking about a specific subject, answering questions and pushing for thought-leadership, than in the social world?

That is the power of Twitter chats. Read on to learn more about how to maximize the impact of sports twitter chats and make them a part of your social media routine.