Finding a Job in Sports Sales: Advice From a Team Leader, Kevin Duplaga
By: Brian Clapp, Director of Content, WorkInSports.com
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 and 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 commitment 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.