Portland, M.E. – The spring of 2014 held many promises for hockey fans in Portland, Maine, as their beloved Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League would be returning home to the Cross Insurance Arena after spending the 2013-14 season playing in Lewiston, ME.
There were also many promises for newly-hired employees, including myself and former Vice President of Sales, Steve Torrisi, that we would be a part of the strongest Portland Pirates front office to ever exist in the city and had the opportunity to grow our careers for years within the organization.
It’s now been two months since the startling news broke about the sudden sale of the Pirates and the relocation of Maine’s only pro team to Springfield, Massachusetts, leaving hockey fans in Portland feeling empty as the rest of the world looks ahead with excitement to the 2016-17 season.
“When we were there, we had a great team and great momentum,” said Torrisi, who motivated the sales team with the goal of taking home awards at the yearly American Hockey League Meetings.
The pressure was certainly high in the Pirates sales office, and the tension was even higher. Upper management held weekly meetings which threatened the job security of the sales reps for not hitting their projected goals, which were absolutely absurd if you know anything about ticket sales in the American Hockey League.
We were EACH expected to sell $250,000 in ticket revenue alone, and if you do some quick math, it takes A LOT of $12 group tickets to even come close to hitting that goal. My counterparts in other AHL cities were only expected to hit an average of $50,000 ticket revenue goal in their first season with the team – not five times that.
“We were all new, and everyone knows it takes at least a full year for a sales rep to build a book of business and relationships with the fans,” recalled Torrisi, who had nothing to do with setting the actual sales goals for his staff.
I remember an instance a week before our 2014-15 season was about to begin when I was called into our EVP’s office. My group sales categories were youth hockey groups and school bands/choirs, and only a handful of my groups had put down deposits and officially reserved a night early that October.
“If you don’t sell $10,000 by the end of next week, you’re fired,” the EVP said.
I obviously defended myself and told him everything he clearly didn’t know about ticket sales, but it still didn’t affect his opinion. Youth hockey teams were still being formed and schedules were not yet finalized. School bands and choirs were waiting to see how many kids they would wind up having sign up for their music programs and wanted a few weeks to actually practice as a group before having a public performance. None of my prospects were ready to pick a date yet, but their promise of booking didn’t mean anything to Torrisi’s superiors if there wasn’t money put down on their account.
“From the beginning, I thought the sales goals were unreasonable and impossible for a rep to achieve. I stressed this to upper management and was told it was based off the numbers that were promised to ownership that the sales staff would hit,” said Torrisi, who also agreed that the threat to fire me was complete BS.
“I was told to push it as much as I could with the knowledge that no one was going to reach their goals,” Torrisi continued. “Those were the biggest goals I had ever seen for a rep at that level.”
For the record, I was luckily able to round up $10,000 in ticket deposits the week after that threat, and followed up the next week with another $14,000 on the board. In fact, I finished the 2014-15 season as one of the Top 40 Ticket Sales Representatives in the American Hockey League and also ranked as one of the Top 10 Female Sellers in the entire league. So there, EVP.
But my accomplishments still didn’t make much of a difference in my bottom line. I was simply not invested in enough financially for me to stick around for the 2015-16 season, which is unfortunately too much of a trend right now in the industry.
“Ticket sales and staffing seems to be a big issue right now all across sports. It is very hard to build relationships with a fan base when they are talking to someone new every two years,” Torrisi said. “There needs to be more emphasis on keeping good staff and paying better so the relationships being built can foster more ticket sales.”
With the Pirates now fading into a the memories of Portland hockey fans and former employees alike, all that can be done now is to learn from every business mistake and prevent them from happening when the next team moves to Portland and brings the world’s greatest sport back home.
“You need to spend money to make money,” concluded Torrisi. “If a team is too concerned with cutting budgets and trying to do marketing on the cheap, it usually never works.”