In 2001, I led a small but scrappy group with an expansion Arena Football 2 team. A minor league team to a minor league sport but with a passionate fan base.
We came into a market that had a very successful AFL team there for 12+ years, which also relocated right after they won an AFL championship. We came in the following year after they left. Good luck with that one right?
Oh it gets better.
The welcoming press conference to the market announcing the coach, team name, logo, ticket information, website, TV and radio ad's ready to run was an interesting and horrific day. The press conference was at 10am September 11, 2001.
So it was an unbelievable time for us as a country, trying to launch an expansion team that no one wanted was so below anyones radar. We were all just trying to make sense of what happened let along sell a ticket.
Soon after we were told by the league to scrap our team name "War Birds". Understandable, but now we had to change logo's, collateral, websites, business cards, everything. And yea we had 6 months before the season started.
But we still could sell our revenue lifeline of season tickets as the previous team was kind enough to leave us a dusty box filled with twelve years of index cards with hand written season ticket holders information. Lucky for us we had somewhere to start and a focus.
Even without a team name, mascot, players, business cards we set off on a phone-a-thon to get those passionate fans to come back.
We practiced our elevator pitch, wrote up scripts and role played for a few days while we prioritized our prospects.
The big day came to start calling, we were armed with our sorted index cards, divided them up between 4 of us and we were all fired up.
We crowded around my office desk to make that FIRST call to one of the families that had 6 season tickets from day one of the original team.
Phone on speaker and I dialed the first number.
"Hello this is Rob Thompson from your brand New Arena Football Team, can I please speak with Sam?" A nice elderly lady replied "Hello, who is this"? "I am the General Manager from the new arena football team and calling to say hello, thank you for your continued support and tell you that we would love to have you and your family back to continue enjoying your local arena football team". Silence then crying on the other end.
I looked around my tiny office and the look of horror on everyones faces is burnt into my memory.
"Hello are you ok"? I asked "Sam loved that team, we watched every game together, our kids grew up going to those games". She bellowed.
"That's why I am calling you to let you know that we are back and we have Sam's same seats held for your family".
She stared crying again. "Sam died 2 months ago"!
The very first cold call to what we felt like was a lay up sale our most loyal fan past away. How much more can our scrappy team take besides Sam was in his 80's.
"Sam loved going to those games, he waited all year for the season, wore that damn game jersey everywhere. He was crushed when the team left." I took a deep breadth as there isn't a text book answer for this one. I looked around the room, forgot the script and went for it.
"Well then you should keep his legacy and attendance streak going, don't you think Sam would want you to keep his streak going? Silence. I tried again "So does that mean you will come back"?
"Call me tomorrow" then she hung up.
We called her that next morning and not only did she buy her original 6 season tickets but she also bought another 6 for her extended family and friends because she loved the idea of the streak and the legacy of Sam.
Her and her family turned out to be our favorite and most loyal season ticket holders. They were at every game and event we had over the next few seasons.
Regardless of the level of the sport or the circumstances that are beyond our control, this business teaching you one huge lesson. It's about people.
The people who work in the business, the people who passionately care about their teams.
That emotional attachment is much bigger than the players or the games. It's about creating and sharing memories for and with people.
Today you may not be able to get anyone to pick up the phone and take that cold call we made 17 years ago, but they are out there and waiting for someone to make their day a little brighter.