There is a door that swings wide for college graduates seeking jobs with professional sports teams, and Central Michigan University's Steve Adler knows how to put his sport management majors at the front of the line.
The physical education and sport faculty member created the Sport Sales and Marketing class a few years ago and dedicated a large portion of it to learning the art of ticket selling.
"Ticket sales are the life blood of revenue generation for sports organizations, and selling is the most common way in the door," Adler said.
Now he can click off the names of dozens of CMU graduates who are working in pro sports as a result of the course.
Kristin Thomas is one of them.
The 2016 CMU graduate is ticket operations manager for the NBA's Washington Wizards, and she agrees with Adler.
Many who have risen to corporate partnerships and suite sales at the Wizards began their careers in inside sales – an entry-level ticket-selling job, she said.
"It wasn't the easiest, but it got them in the door so they could build relationships and seek opportunities within the organization."
Taking the first step
Learning how to sell is the first step, and Adler has for years enlisted professional assistance from the Detroit Pistons.
Rachel Maki, account executive in group sales, and David Felt, inside sales manager, recently came to The Herbert H. & Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions to teach Adler's PES 360 students the art of selling tickets for the Pistons.
Once they learn how to deliver the sales pitch, deflect resistance, and nail the sale, each student is given the task of selling tickets to the Pistons' home games.
"This gives the kids firsthand experience to help them know if sales is what they really want to do," Maki said. It also can put them on track for a job.
The top three sellers earn an interview for an internship with the Pistons.
Workshops lead to internships, jobs
Adler hand-picks students who do well in class and/or during the Pistons' challenge to attend larger workshops, where they learn more sales techniques and can interview for more internships and jobs.
One of the more well-known workshops is the Mount Union Sports Sales Workshop and Job Fair in Cleveland, Ohio, where 35-40 professional sports teams gather to teach sales methods and conduct interviews. Adler also holds a workshop with the Red Wings in Detroit.
"We've had a tremendous amount of success getting those students into internships or even right into full-time jobs," Adler said.
Entry-level jobs start at $25,000-$30,000 base and usually have increases based on revenue generated. A seller could earn $50,000-$60,000 the first year, he said.
Ready to fly with the Hawks
Sport management senior Seth Henderson from Newaygo, Michigan, is set to graduate in May and begin a sales position with the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, a job he landed at the Cleveland workshop.
Henderson chose to come to CMU because of the opportunity to have supportive leaders such as Adler, he said.
"Here, you get professors who care, give you guidance and become long-time mentors," he said. "You don't get that opportunity at other universities."
Growing the program
Adler is pleased with the program thus far, but he is not satisfied.
"We are getting noticed in the industry because of the sales training and the projects we are doing in this department. More teams are reaching out to us.
"For example, the Detroit Tigers contacted me the other day to say they want to do a project with us on selling tickets."
They are working on it.