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Major League Soccer turns to training clubs’ ticket sales staff

August 31, 2010

mls1With new teams on the way and attendance rising, Major League Soccer has turned to a league-funded program to train its clubs’ new sales staffers¬†to help drive ticket demand.

The new 45-day training program, dubbed the MLS National Sales Center, got its start last month with the graduation of 10 trainees to jobs with seven clubs. MLS calls it the first ticket sales school owned by a pro sports league.

A second session is underway with plans to run a third this year and another six or seven in 2011. The idea is to offer clubs more seasoned entry-level sales agents at a time when all forms of entertainment are fighting for their share of the consumer wallet.

“This is really a play around league expansion,” Bryant Pfeiffer, MLS vice president of club operations, said in a telephone interview. “There’s a need for sales people in this league.”

The MLS is in its 15th season with 16 teams and plans to add three more, including a franchise in Montreal, by 2012. Attendance is up 5 percent this year, and MLS officials expect the final average will be the second highest in league history after the initial year.

To continue that kind of growth, MLS is making an annual investment in the low six figures to help teams sell tickets by training new hires.

Trainees, selected from an applicant pool of more than 100, are taught the sales process by industry executives and also work on sales campaigns for various teams, Pfeiffer said.

Under the program, based outside of Minneapolis, students — mostly 20-somethings out of school — are paid a stipend by the league during the 45-day program compared with minimal training often given by clubs.

“We believe this is a great farm system with a talent pool that’s sitting here ready to rock and roll when a spot comes open at a club level,” said Pfeiffer, who joined MLS three years ago after 14 years with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves sales department.

Most MLS teams have sales forces ranging in size from 15 to 20 people, with entry-level employees earning $24,000 to $25,000 a year, he said.

MLS still encourages clubs to recruit locally, but past experience has shown it takes up to 50 days to fill such spots and 85 percent of those hires have fewer than three years of sales experience, Pfeiffer said.

As the league grows, the program could expand to include existing sales staffers, and the new hires can always look at Pfeiffer and dream. He started as an intern in an NBA ticket sales department before his rise.

(Reuters photo)

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