The successful people in any field today are the hustlers and the storytellers; those who can articulate and execute ideas well in any field somehow always find their way through. In sports business, those folks are found in every vertical imaginable, and one who is doing extremely well in the services area is Russ Scibetti. At a relatively young age, Russ has found a thriving niche in the tech services space, now helping lead KORE Software as VP of Product Strategy after stops at places like Comcast-Spectacor (Philadelphia Flyers) and the New York Jets where he helped manage and implement CRM, database marketing, market research and other technology-based sales and marketing initiatives. He now helps lead KORE’s work with a huge client list of professional organizations, helping implement best in class practices with ticketing, sponsorship, suites & premium, and data warehouse software products. Perhaps even more impressive is his giving back work, whether it is in speaking, mentoring or helping organize a yearly international gathering of sports business professionals in individual cities around the world during one spring week, just to network and raise some money for charity. You can get a great feel for his work on his site, The Business of Sports.
We caught up with Russ to talk tech, his business, and giving back…
Even in the short time you have worked in the sports industry, how has the job changed?
In the last 5-10 years, sports has undergone a significant shift when it comes to how data and technology are used in the business. Many teams that were used to selling out without much effort have invested in more staff and systems to help drive sales. More time is spent on data analysis to make decisions rather than relying on past experience. There is also a massive new audience in social media that teams can engage with now that wasn’t available years ago. Ultimately there are more ways to connect with more fans in more strategic ways than ever before.
You had a nice stint in the front office with the New York Jets, what were some of the best parts of working in the NFL?
There is nothing like Sunday game days, even when you are working at the game. The fans, the energy and the experience at the stadium was a wonderful reminder every weekend of why I was excited about the idea of working in sports in the first place. Also, the thing that always impressed me most with the NFL specifically was that even when the season ended, the brand and sport was so prominent, that the offseason is as busy and engaging as the actual season.
What are the biggest challenges in working on the analytics side of sports business with so many teams today?
There is still a wide range of adoption across teams, and even within that adoption, the business goals can vary dramatically. In some markets, the challenge is still first and foremost about selling tickets, whereas other teams that maintain near sellout levels may focus on retention, upgrades and other incremental revenue streams. Analytics can be used across all of these areas, so the first and most important step is to prioritize the organization’s goals before diving into the data.
Who are some of the executives that you have learned most from over the years?
When I was getting my MBA at Arizona State, I got to work under Steve Hank (now at the University of Texas) and he ran that department more like a professional team than a college. Even as a student, I got to work on everything from CRM and email marketing to attendance models and media spending. He also helped with introductions that eventually led to my job under Mark DiMaurizio at Comcast-Spectacor where I learned how to leverage sales and marketing technologies across different business units at a team level. Those two had a tremendous impact on my education and career.
What teams have adapted best to the changing marketplace?
It’s hard to narrow this down to just a couple of teams, but I’d say that many of the California teams have really embraced change and technology. Teams like the Golden State Warriors, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Kings and San Francisco 49ers have all been progressive in different ways, from digital media and beacons to dynamic pricing and mobile ticketing. Also, they aren’t a team, but MLBAM continues to impress me with the way they’ve evolved from centralized support of MLB teams to a being their own massive business around streaming, mobile and more.
You run a yearly sports meetup for people in the business, how did that come about?
It was driven home to me early on that networking is critical in sports. It’s a very small industry so those relationships can be key to breaking in and advancing. I had started using social media (blogging and Twitter) to build digital relationships, but one day I decided to see if folks wanted to get together for drinks one night in NYC. We had 8 people attend, but the idea was well received, so I did it again and next time we had 40 people. From there it just kept growing, and friends in other cities wanted to do the same thing. Eventually we got to the point where last year we had events in 39 cities all on the same week with all proceeds going to charity. We’re shooting for 50 cities next year!
What advice do you give those entering the workforce?
Success in sports (and probably any industry) is about the combination of skills and opportunity. Skills should be developed not just in a classroom, but through any and all available channels – there is so much good content available for free online if you just look. Opportunity comes from building quality relationships – networking, asking questions, finding ways to provide value back to those you connect with. When you have a skill set and build relationships, you will find ways to succeed.