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How NBA Bubbles Burst the Status-Quo For Industry Pros in the Wake of COVID

Guest Feature: Sam Raymond

Sam Raymond has been an Account Executive with the Brooklyn Nets for more than three years. With a focus on new sales and b2b event planning, he has consistently exceeded goals, while delivering high-quality event experiences to clients. After a tumultuous year in sports, he sat down and explained the mindset of a professional in a sports sales position.

Sam Raymond

March 10th 2020, and we’re shuffling about in our downtown Brooklyn office managing through another Monday. The front office overlooks the Statue of Liberty and pulses with the Brooklyn Nets practice court one floor above us. With a home game two nights’ prior, these office hours pass by drudgingly. We are in for another week of late nights at the arena entertaining prospective ticket membership buyers in suits we most likely spent our entire day in, feet aching from running around a 17,000 seat arena. Game night step counts are counted like points on a scoreboard, shared among each other with pride. Days without games are brief vacations, where the monotony of routine is welcomed with remaining excitement. We look forward to being able to decompress somewhere away from basketball, but this idea never actualizes. This is regular season basketball, and as ticket sellers, we are immersed in everything to do with the sport. Even on off-nights, we are tuned in to basketball news on ESPN and Twitter; news can make or break our season. High paying ticket holders are here for the stars on court, so injuries and/or trades can cost just the same off the court than on it. It’s on this March afternoon when we settle back in from another coffee run, fueling the final stretch before the commute back home to the couch. Attention shifts as a segment from the Utah Jazz’s press conference plays from overhead TV monitors. A video clip would show Utah Jazz star basketball player Rudy Gobert playfully wiping his enormous hands on microphones used for all other NBA players speaking to reporters. This was in response to questions raised over the growing fear of a new virus that was spreading fast. While at the time, this moment was minor, one that none of us figured would be given a second thought, it was a minute of video that would be heavily scrutinized by those both inside and outside the league. Two days later, this video would be shared world-wide as Gobert became the first North American professional athlete to publicly test positive for COVID-19.

Changes to NBA protocol after that moment were just the beginning of the shake-up.

Coworkers and colleagues provide mixed reviews. While most do not understand the tidal wave of impact that is now in place, some caution this could be a force not to underestimate. It would be naive to think anyone could have precisely understood the seismic shift that just occurred. Sports and entertainment had just taken a back seat to one of the most impactful events in recorded history. The true sense of the moment settles in when the NBA becomes the first professional sports league to postpone their season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly the planning and routine that we had become accustomed to grinds to a halt. We contact clients and assure we will find the best solution given the current situation. Sales reps have whole companies coming out to conduct their own business during upcoming games. Other reps have performers on court prepared to dance and sing in front of thousands of fans. Our team cannot play games, which means fans cannot buy tickets to our games. We just became expendable employees, serving no immediate purpose for the indefinite future. Following the NBA postponement, we are given short notice to gather everything needed from the office and to begin working from home. The weeks pass by with mounting ticket refunds and client inquiries about updates. At this time, we have the same amount of insight as our fans. This is unprecedented and we are working on the fly to establish best practices moving forward. This, summed up, sucks.

With no clarity to provide assurance of a stable future, this was the most unsettling time during the COVID-19 pandemic. Months later, we have since commenced the season inside a bubble, allowed teams to play through the playoffs and crowned a 2019-2020 champion. Working through protocols that affect both the athletes and front office is the new norm for now. There is restricted access to the arena for all employees that do not directly affect the play on court. Each arena will work with the league and their state to determine the safest way to approach opening their doors for fans. While we measure the impact on the health and safety of fans, there are certainly other factors to weigh. The sports and entertainment industry is financially decimated, which impacts employment. Outside of work, we are mindful of our health and the well-being of our families. Stress has also been consistently high during these times. There is, however, much more to be grateful for. We are working safely and our employers are keeping our health paramount. We have resources available to help guide us through these times until we can get back into our office space. We are thankful for another day.

Our climate and day-to-day roles are both presently altered. We are providing real-time updates to fans to ensure communication as we look to opening our venue doors. Arenas around the country are building out comprehensive testing protocols to allow for fans to enter arenas safely, and to provide arena staff with the most-up-to date technology allowing for efficient entry. Teams are also adding extreme cleaning measures to prevent the spread of close-contact germs. With these measures in place, teams can begin selling ticket packages to fans, which is a welcomed sight to any ticket sales rep. This pandemic has shaken the sports and entertainment industry, but certainly there are lessons to be gained. Just like an injury to a player, our lives can be shaken at a moment’s notice. Fans always deserve to be kept at the forefront. While some may see clients as revenue, this time has shown the human element to each transaction. We are refocusing from commission to compassion. We’ve come a long way from that March press conference, and it is through those trials that sports will grow and adapt to a new future.

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