Troy Kirby is a sports business consultant who builds relationships and revenue for sports organizations. He is the owner of Tao of Sports where he consults for B2B vendors, professional teams, and college athletic departments. He also hosts the Tao of Sports podcast.
We have a really interesting conversation on today’s show. Troy comes from the world of sports, and he is an expert in sports sales. He is going to share some of his great stories in the area of sales, education, where he came from, and what he was trained for. He is also going to share his sales experience from the perspective of focusing on engaging people and getting them to come to his events.
- When people give you time and opportunity it is a gift, and you need to give back.
- Stand up comedy and open mic night helped Troy become relatable.
- If you have a speaking opportunity. Go and screw up. The whole idea is to get practice relating to people.
- Listen to other people and be interested in what they do. Build a relationship that way.
- People want to do business with people who listen to them not talk at them.
- Change your mindset and have a yes mentality.
- Troy ended up having a great conversation interviewing the Octomom and allowing her to talk more and treating her with equity and respect.
- Qualifying people by how much money they have, yet they might be a great source of referrals.
- If someone tells you not to do something, they probably don’t know what they are talking about.
- Troy is known in the sports industry as the sales ticket guy.
- Take an active investment in other people, but also take a chance on yourself.
- Play the long game and really knock the cover off the ball. Plan for the long term.
- Do the work in advance and build your contact over time. Don’t use other people as an excuse for not achieving.
- How we are overly entertained. Put the time in your business, and it will yield out so much more.
- The importance of the daily commitment to the process. It takes time to build relationships and work and work that system.
- Thinking outside of the box and getting people to come to your events. Troy shares his red turf story where the turf could be seen from space.
- You have to be able to tell a story, sell a narrative, and believe in yourself. Take risks and don’t be threatened by what you are doing.
Marylou: Hi everyone, it’s Marylou Tyler. This week’s guest is a great guy. His name’s Troy Kirby. He is the solo entrepreneur, founder, CEO, [00:00:30]. He’s coming right now to us from a sports [00:00:36] and I thought it would be a really interesting conversation with Troy because I’ve spoken at one of his conferences and learned a lot about sales in the sports area and how it’s implemented. I really wanted Troy to share a lot of his stories. He’s got some great ones for us in the area of sales, in the area of education, where he came from, as far as what he was trained for versus what he’s doing now. This give us some idea of his experiences as it relates to sales but not actually really diving into process. It’s all about focusing on engaging people, getting people to come to events, what he does in his world in order to build his book of business. Welcome, Troy, to the podcast.
Troy: Well Marylou, first of all, thank you for coming on my podcast originally and also coming to my conference. If I didn’t have people like you that were invested in me enough to do that, I don’t think that I would be as successful. I think that’s something that as we start out this kind of conversation, it means to really talk about how other people, when they give you their time, they give you that opportunity, they’re really giving you a gift. You have to be respectful of that and you have to be ready to give back.
I think if there’s one thing in sales sometimes that’s infuriating is at networking events and other things. People just want to hand you business cards, “Give me money.” Well, that’s not how relationships work. That’s not how people view anybody else when they want to deal with them and when you do that, I thinking you shut down the idea of conversation and you shut down that idea that you’re ever going to actually make a sale form it.
Marylou: Let’s expand on that. We met probably through a cold interaction. It’s been a while. I can’t remember how we actually connected. But obviously, I’m coming from a whole different way of life than you but yet, there was a spark there. There was something that you did on your end to engage me. Is it science that you do? Is it just who you are as a person or you practice? Do you study everyday on how to start these conversations? What is it about you, Troy, that allows you to start and follow through conversations with people you don’t know on a regular basis?
Troy: What I would first of all say is I’ve always been outgoing as a child. But now as a grown up, one thing that actually did help me out of the blue to be able to be better at the stage and really working with people I don’t know was to do some stand up comedy. I was not very funny but it was that open mic night of getting up there a few times and actually having to make the audience care what I said and be relatable to them that I think helped.
I would always encourage that. If there is any type of speaking opportunity, go where you know you’re gonna screw up. It doesn’t matter. I didn’t care if I screwed up in front of a stand up comedy crowd or whatever because it was an open mic night. Everybody was horrible and you’re going to tell groaners. The whole idea is to get practiced in the idea of relating to people. Whether or not it’s digitally online, which is how initially we met, plus me reaching out to you. Because I was looking for people outside the box for my podcast that could talk about things like prospecting, that could talk about thing that were really not utilized as much as they could be in the sports industry because I have enough of an audience with my own podcast. I get about 15,000 listeners a month that are all in the sports industry and sometimes, I want to be able to feed them that spinach with the cookie.
Sometimes, I’m gonna interview their friends but I also want to interview the people that provoke them. I always see that in networking events where people will [shuttle 00:04:36] with their friends, the people that they already talk to anyway and then they go, “Well, networking didn’t work.” That’s because you only talk to the same people you’ve talked too all the time. Get away from your friends for about 30 minutes and own the room. That means going out and being fairly aggressive with everybody you talk with to make sure that you’re invested in what they care about, which means listening to other people.
A lot of people won’t do that. A lot of people will resist hearing anybody else’s story. One thing I’ve learned over my time is I’m pretty boring when it comes to being interested in myself. I know me. I’m kind of bored with me. I’m more interested in who you are. The amount of stuff that you do might be more fascinating to me because it’s like getting a new book, or getting a new movie. You’re entertaining me in a lot of ways with your stuff and we’re building a relationship that way. I want to give back to it, come and converse with you but I think it also matters that you feel that somebody is actually listening to you. Because people want to do business with people that listen to them, not people who talk at them.
Marylou: You know it’s funny I’m reminded of Robert Cialdini, who way back in the dark ages used to teach his own classes in persuasion that I was allowed to go to in Phoenix. I remember him standing up and saying, “You know the biggest mistake we make is we go into a room and we say to ourselves, who can help me? Who can help me in this room? Instead of saying, who can I help? Who can I truly add value.” Like you said, engage in conversation. Listen to what it their story is and play off of that.
Your open mic stand up really does train that muscle of listening and reacting and finishing a sentence of someone else. Would you say you honed that over time or if I were listening to this podcast, I’m just cringing, thinking I’m the one who’s standing on the corners or on the side of the wall not wanting to go to the center unless I really know the person or can anticipate how they’re gonna react to me. What do you say to that?
Troy: Number one, change your mindset. It should be a yes mentality. Anything that you can do that is not going to necessarily take your arm off, try it. By the way, I don’t know if anybody even remembers me doing stand up comedy. I don’t know if any of those people probably even glanced at it that were in the audience at that open mic, those few open mics that I did. I don’t care. This is actually where I will tell you actually get started with a podcast.
I did not get started with a podcast with own idea of saying, “Jeez, I’d like to do a sports business podcast that talks about sales.” What happened was I had a person that I met at one of those open mics who said, “Hey, I’ve got a podcast and I’m interviewing this woman and I need your help because you seem to ask good questions.” And I said, “Well who is this woman?” And they said, “The octo mom and yes, that’s the same one.” But the difference was instead of asking her questions that were I guess dismissive of her or derogatory, she was only gonna give us 15 minutes, I ended up getting 45 out of her because we asked her being a mother, things that she had done in her life that were totally side step. From that, I started going, “Wow, this is a great conversation.”
What’s funny about that is I had people that actually reached out to the comedian friend who were like, “That really changed my mind of her.” I don’t know. I’m not here to change anybody’s mind about anybody. But if you can take a person who has been annihilated by the press, change that mindset just by allowing to talk more, I think that that’s a powerful thing because it means that you invested in the conversation with them and you also treated them with equity and respect.
I have nothing for or against that lady. I don’t know her very well but I do think that I have the right to treat her as a person. Too often, I think that’s one of the other things sales does incorrectly. We qualify people based on how much money they have. The thing I would say is there are plenty of times that I have met people, especially in college athletics, to where they didn’t have much more than a dollar to their name but they happen to know about 10 people that had about a $100,000 to their name. That, to me, is one of the things that really a lot people make mistakes on, is they don’t want to take investment because they see your wallet instead of maybe the fact that you might have a referral that might help them, etc.
Coming to that, that’s where I started going, “Wow, I really want to build the conversation. I’m going to do my own podcast on sports business.” Here’s what ended up happening. I did one podcast with my friend, Matt Harper, who has a yes mentality. In everything that I do he says, yes, he’ll be a part of it. Much to his detriment. We recorded a 60 minute conversation. It was just about sports, sales, etc. I threw it up on LinkedIn. I had an associate [00:09:55] at West Virginia who reached out to me. I’ve never known him a day in my life. He goes, “Wow, that was great,” blah, blah, blah.
I also had a colleague that I knew for many years, who worked in Seattle, called me up and said, “You need to take that down. The sports industry doesn’t do that. You’ll get black balled, this synonymous thing. You’re going to get black balled. That’s just bad for your career.” A year and a half later, he’s asking me how to do his own podcast and how to be a guest on mine.
That kind of tells me as well people don’t see what they need to see until after it’s already done sometimes. When you have those moments of doubt, just remember, a lot of people who are speaking to you are speaking from their own inexperience. If they tell you not to do something and it really doesn’t change the fact of the world, they probably don’t know what they’re talking about. I would be reticent to say don’t just not take chances because somebody else might not agree with you. So what? Do it. Try it. If it doesn’t hurt anybody, go for it.
What’s funny is about that podcast has over 150 episodes but it’s really built over the past 5 ½ years to where now I’m known in the sports industry as the sales guy, the ticket sales guy. People place things on you because they hear your voice often. They hear who you are. They kind of invest in you and there’s other things like an email blast that I put out that has its own kind of readership because it’s a news paper. It’s not just me trying to sell you on me. I think that that’s important as you move forward. Whatever the sales initiatives are, you need to take an active investment in other people. But once you take a chance on yourself and project those things, you have the opportunity to make so many more contacts and so much more money.
Marylou: Yeah. With all the tools that are out today, the social tools that allow us to become our own mini CEO of our own company, which means we’re commenting on group discussions where you’re creating a blog post maybe, talking about the benefits of some feature of a product or just reaching out to your second level connections and asking how you can be of service, all those things, just mini types of tasks that you do everyday will start to build. Like you said, you’re now known as the guy in sales for sports.
That was built over time but you were consistent in it. You were courageous in giving your word out there. We all make mistakes along the way. It’s just the way it is. The more you put yourself out there, the more authenticity you actually portray, the more people get to know you and they feel comfortable with you. That’s one of the biggest issues I have with email and texting, is that we kind of hide behind these levers of technology and we don’t necessarily communicate one to one anymore. It’s one to many, which doesn’t work.
Troy: I think it’s even beyond that. I think we have a lot of people that like to use convenient excuses. I always feel sorry for the spouses or children of some of these people that will tell you that that’s why they don’t do something to their spouse, they have kids or whatever. I was thinking that’s not their fault that you cannot find that 5 minute to 10 minute time commitment just for whatever you are doing. Using that as an excuse almost sounds like you‘re kind of resenting them for the fact that you would have done this stuff had they not been around and we know that’s bogus. We know that’s not true. That’s you being complacent that you can find the extra five minutes. That means you wake up five minutes early.
I always find it really kind of disparaging that somebody would think their spouse or their children would prevent them from having that 5-10 minutes to do those things. That’s part of the issue, is a lot of people aren’t playing the long game. They play the short game. They always want a pot and that’s why they miss. Instead, they need to play the long game of being able to really knock the cover out of the ball long before it’s due. Let’s say you decide you’re going to do XYZ, you need to plan it out. You need to do it long term.
I have a person that I’ve helped. He has a wife and two kids. He didn’t know where he’d find the time but he really loves this game called Floorball. I said to him, “Okay, if you really want to set this up, here’s how you set it up. You write all of the blog posts for a year before you even launch one. Every time that you launch one, you replace it with an extra five minutes of your time.” He griped and groaned about it for about two months but he got it done and that was in May of last year, in 2017.
He is now already in January, the end of January, has the NHL talking to him. He already has other folks talking to him because this game of Floorballs, adaptive to injury recovery but also national hockey league and their efforts of going over to China in 2022. He didn’t even know that he had the potential audience. A lot of it became because he refused to do the time management beforehand or just didn’t know it existed.
But the difference was once he got on the ball, he did not use his children. He did not use his spouse as an excuse for why he wasn’t doing anything. What’s amazing is he goes, “Yeah, I write a blog post once a week now for five minutes.” It’s easy once you get started. But I think it affects your relationship to also your spouse or your children because of the fact that you’re making these excuses. I think it rubs off that eventually you do start blaming them for things that really have nothing to do with them.
If you are actually in sales and you’re like, “I can’t get it together,” and blah, blah, blah, you’re not putting not only the time in, but you’re not putting the time in ahead of time. If that means that you are going to invest in relationships, if that means you’re going to invest in contacts, don’t do it the day its due. Don’t do it two days before it’s due. Do it five months before it’s due. Build that contact overtime. Do it in a way that actually allows you to have more time, not less time with your family or whatever.
I’m a big family first guy. I’m not married or have kids myself but I don’t really subscribe to that idea of leveraging an excuse. That really ends up hurting your relationship with other people simply because you didn’t achieve.
Marylou: Yeah, but it’s also about sustaining your work. You mentioned your friend who sought you out. Was it for advisory? Was it for coaching? Was it for accountability? What was it that kept him going? Did you need to prod him on that or did he, as he started to get momentum, just naturally stepped up and kept going on his own?
Troy: To use an analogy, I’m the guy that puts the gun on the counter. I tell you exactly what you can do and then if you don’t achieve it, that’s not on me. I give you the really hard lesson upfront and say, “If you really want to achieve this, this is what you have to do.” I’m always giving other people when they want to do this. Some people have taken me up on. Some people have not. When they have not taken me up on it, they’ve used that coffee session, they end up seeing the results from other people achieving what they don’t. That does not mean that you have to charge them for that knowledge, that’s not what my deal is.
I’d look at it as success shows success and once you start to see it and you start to have the reaction from people that were now subscribing to his automatic newsletter that always came out that he had set a year ago, he had set that like March or April for 2017, for now. That those blog posts, that stuff is being released. Now, it makes it just absolutely easy when you just update once in awhile and you’re not scrambling.
He had an issue to where one of his pets died. He had the entire two weeks where he was just out of commission. He didn’t worry about it because the thing was automatic. He has a full time job. He’s a [00:18:48]. But here’s the thing, he’s now getting enough calls. He’s now getting enough interest. He’s starting to look and go, “Wow, two years down the line I might be able to take this the full breadth.” The problem is that people aren’t willing to take those first few steps. Whether that’s even as a sales business development director or not, just because they want to have that extra time to themselves. I always question what people are doing. I think we’re overly entertained.
If you look at Netflix. Netflix is putting out a ton of awesome stuff every single week. You’ll see people, even your friends talking about how they just binged watched for 10 hours The Crown or Orange Is The New Black. My thought is if you put that 10 hours into something else, that 10 hours that you put into your business will actually yield out probably about 20 times. Whereas that Orange Is The New Black once it’s done, you’re not gonna watch it again or maybe you will but you just wasted time and you stayed up all night and whatever.
I’m not against entertainment. I just think that we are being way too soothed with the entertainment options that we have and we are not willing to do the little things. I’ll give you an example of something that bugged me in the industry. As a college ticket director at UC Davis back in I think it was 2013, 2014, we didn’t really have a ticket association. If you go to NACDA, which is the Athletic Directors Association Conference, they will house every association under it.
Tickets was always thrown into marketing and not viewed as different. I would go to some of the meetings to where they would have these breakout sessions for ticket people. There will be about 100 people there and I was like, “Why don’t we have our own track, our own sessions that talk about tickets or the things that we’re doing.” Everyone just kind of looked at me kind of odd, whatever. I finally asked the question of the organizers, “What does it take to get a ticket association?” And I said, “You know, you got to fill out a form. It’s like $30.” They made it sound so arduous.
I filled up the form. I paid the $30 and then I went around and I called as many people as I knew within the industry and a lot that I didn’t know. We got it founded. They said, “Nobody’s gonna come. You’ll probably get 25 people. Nobody is gonna sponsor.” You know what? I found the sponsors. I found the relationships. I had a good two, three people helping me. I don’t mean to suggest like I did it all on my own but you’ve got to be that aggressive person.
The fist conference that we had, we had over 100 people and by the way, they’re now in year four. They have now more money as an association from sponsorship by far than any of the other ones that are established, even though they have only like a twelfth of the attendees. The reason why is putting that aggressive thing forward to where I’m no longer part of that organization because I’m not in college athletics. But once you start momentum and you start that snowball, other people see it and other people want to be a part of it. Once you do that, it allows people to get energized and do it and then they’re just a part of it.
Same with the conference that I had you at, Sports Sales Bootcamp was one that didn’t exist a few year ago. All I did was ask the organizers for a room. They said, “Sure.” I sold the sponsorship to it and then I set out to make the conference that I wanted with risk mitigation of not having to pay any kind of conference hotel fees or anything else. I made it really applicable to what I thought young account reps or young professionals might want. I got rid of the majority of the powerpoints which to some people was to a chagrin that they didn’t have 30 PowerPoint slides and they didn’t have 70 minutes or 700 minutes. Some of these people want to take 30 minutes or less. Give it to me and then guess what? There’s video on the back end.
Troy: Once you start doing that, all of a sudden, I start to have people like yourself that were willing to invest in it, but other people even in the industry that were vying to be a part of it simply because they could see it at that point. If I have not put the time in a year and a half prior to the first one launching, it wouldn’t have filled up, it wouldn’t have been something. You’ve got to do it a long time ahead. Once you do that, you’re gonna win.
Marylou: It’s the daily commitment to the process. I think a lot of what I’m seeing now is immediate ratification is the order of the day. A lot of times, we don’t have that luxury, especially in prospecting into cold accounts or people we don’t know. We’re not going to have this instant rapport. It takes time to build relationships. It takes time to work the system so that by the time we do have that first conversation, they know a little bit about you. They know what you stand for. And yes, it’s still a cold conversation but you’re warming them up with information, with content, with things that matter to them along the way. A lot of people think you just pick up the phone and get an appointment and that’s it. That’s all you got to do.
Troy: A lot of people think that you can hit a baseball out of the park. Kevin [00:24:19] who’s assistant basketball coach at UC Davis said something so poignant to me once and I repeat it all the time. He goes, “Talent without drive is just another word for underachiever.” He goes, “I met plenty of talented people, they just never really accomplished much because they didn’t have the drive on that behalf.” Once I heard that, I was like you know, that does have some kind of merit.
What I’ll say is with my podcast if I died today, Like drop dead right now, people, unless they knew who I was, they would not know that I was dead via the podcast for at least 10 episodes. That’s three weeks. Because I’ve loaded up that many episodes, I always stack the amount of episodes I have because you never know when somebody’s gonna drop out from a commitment. Somebody has some type of issue, whether I have an issue. It’s all that preparation and it makes it so much easier to be able to do stuff because often, there are so many people that are challenged with time because they’re seeing it from what they are doing immediately, not what they’re doing 5 weeks, 70 weeks from now.
I’m launching my own conference in Seattle–we talked about off-air–I talked to Amazon’s PR actually today about them bringing out some stuff. They we’re like, “You’re ahead of the game. You are this far ahead, nine months ahead.” I said, “Actually, it’s only 257 days.” They went, “Wow.” I said, “We’ve been looking at this since July last year.” Getting everything else. You have to look at it as when you walk into that facility, if you’re selling something that that other person that’s walking in doesn’t know how much time it took, they only see what they see, you have to be as ready as possible. That comes to everything. You cannot wait to the last minute and when you do, that’s when screw ups happen.
Screw ups are gonna happen. I’m not saying that everything is gonna be perfect but you can mitigate the amount of screw ups if you actually avoid certain things. I had screw ups. Everything I’ve ever done has had screw ups. It doesn’t mean that they’re not gonna happen. “I can’t do it 100% perfect.” So then it’s 0% perfect if you don’t launch it.
I just rather to be 85% and try to short up that last 15% that’s gonna happen. Plus, people don’t see your mistakes as much as you think they do.
Marylou: Right, my motto isn’t continuous to be from my friend, Aaron Ross. “Don’t worry, be crappy.” Get it out there because your crappy is probably is someone’s wow. Because you’re always further along than somebody else on the path of success. What you know right at this moment is a lot more than people coming onto the path. You have to keep that in mind, especially when you’re developing intellectual property and do a blog post or whatever it is. Just get out there with heart. Put yourself out there. People are gonna comment, people are gonna comment negatively, but it’s all about starting the conversation. Our whole being for prospecting is to be able to start conversations with people we don’t know or people that are warming up that chill. We’re in that world of not everybody’s gonna love us, it’s just that’s the way it is.
I think the more we can embrace that and go with it and get stuff out there and be real, the more fun we’re gonna have at our job, first of all, and the more successful we are going to be. You overlay that with what Troy has been talking about. It’s not a today task, it’s planning over the long haul. It’s the one, three, five year trajectory that we’re looking towards. We’re just chugging away, chunking away at that goal every single day and we’ll get there.
Everybody knows I’m turning 60 in May and I have a goal to do, a 60 second handstand halt. I did my first one last night and I held it for one second, which means I have 59 seconds more to go. But it’s the journey. It’s getting there. I’m excited that I can even hold it for that length of time. That’s the thing. That’s what keeps us going. It’s that we know we’re gonna get there but it’s enjoying the journey of getting there too, that’s a big point.
Troy: I would also say, Marylou, that you also do not act like somebody that’s nearing maybe what I would call retirement. When you came to my conference, you were heavily active in everything. You were participating. You were sitting in the back. You were doing things with other people. That was beyond what a lot of people do. You were cultivating relationships that long term may yield out, I think way too many people act like they’re about to bud to retirement. They just show up to anything.
I’ve had social media folks who are speakers. They show up to their speaking thing and then they walk right out to get to the airport. I’m like, “Woah, you just cost yourself.” They don’t understand that. They think that that should be enough. I always think that’s the entry point to somebody seeing you as a peer, somebody seeing you as somebody they want to talk to. When you don’t make yourself available, it’s really killing you long game.
I think that some people get it, some people don’t, but it comes to also how you cultivate. I’ll give you another example of something that was outside the box thinking. At Seattle University, when I started there in 2006, we had 16 fans come into our men’s basketball games. Our last basketball game of the year was 16 fans. Meaning parents didn’t even show up to support their kids. That’s how bad it was. It was D2. We only had one guy that was buying the season ticket, he was buying it for both men’s and women’s. Nobody else cared. There were free tickets all over the place.
We took over. I was really young at this but I just decided I’m not going to focus on sports fans at all. That really bothered some people to hear that. I said just hold off. Seattle University, at one time, was one of the major division ones in college basketball. In 65, had more players, had more alumni who had been in the NBA at that time than any other college. It was renowned for having African-Americans play when a lot of colleges especially in the south and on the east coast wouldn’t.
It was really well known. It played Kentucky for the national title in 58 and lost. Here’s the thing. It dropped down to division two in 1980. All of that stuff was gone by 2006. Nobody cared and everyone thought that this was so ridiculous especially when we told everyone we’re going Division 1. They said, “What are you talking about? There’s nobody coming to your games. There’s no way you’re going to be at the same level as some of the other big, top teams of the country.”
What we did was I focused especially by calling our alumni folks on campus. I said, “Who’s coming to our campus?” They go, “What do you mean? For sports?” I go, “No, anything but sports.” They have the crab feet. They had all these other things that were happening. I said, “Okay, these people do not have a problem with us. These people like us. These people are going to the Costco breakfast every fall.” Guess what? We started targeting those folks. You know what a lot of folks said? “That sounds like fun.” They’re buying season tickets. You know what’s funny about that? Once we packed the house, all of those other people that were the die hard sports fans that wouldn’t show up because we weren’t the best or whatever, all of a sudden, they were angry that they couldn’t get in.
We transitioned that to two and a half years later, we are at a capacity situation to where we had a standing room behind both benches. Literally, they’re hovering over the players as they’re playing. We have a coach call a timeout halfway through the game. We hear this moaning sound and we’re like, “What the heck is that?” Here’s the bleachers starting to buckle because they were old wooden bleachers that have been carted in in 1980 from a 1940s Jesuit high school. It’s probably dangerous. We have probably about 1,500 to 1,600 people in the gym. The capacity was about 1,000. We had the fire marshall that had been threatening to shut us down over it.
We loose on the last second shot to our archrival, Seattle Pacific. In the back, our basketball coach gets all [00:33:19]. He says, “You know, the problem with this is our players aren’t used to this type of crowd. This was just too much pandemonium.” We went out and got shirts that said, “Quiet please so our team can concentrate.” The point is that you can build it and it surprises people. It surprises the basketball coaches. It surprises everybody.
We even did that at Eastern Washington University. Nobody cared about my alma mater, Eastern Washington University, when I was a student there back in 2003. We went into tailgate. Tailgating wise, the cops would show up if we were there two hours beforehand and go, “Come back 15 minutes before the game.” We don’t do that here. When I went back there in 2008 as their ticket manager, we said, “Let’s change the culture.” We started selling tailgate passes. Everyone said, “Why would somebody buy a tailgate pass for $30 when you can buy a regular pass just for $5.” “Well, they get to stay overnight.” “Who’s gonna do that?” You know what’s funny? We had a lot of people that suddenly wanted to do that.
Everyone was worried that they were gonna cause all this pandemonium and havoc. They treated it like a campground. They respected it. The argument was some of these people have these RVs that are even bigger and more expensive than your house. They’re not gonna mistreat it. They’re adults. We get to the point where we put red turf down and we announce it. Everybody has a problem with it. Everyone suddenly becomes an interior decorator that says, “It’s gonna mismatch our track. It’s gonna look ugly.”
Here’s the thing, nobody gave a crap about Eastern Washington University football even though we had won before that time. We were in the ESPN, we were in the New York Times, we had Japanese TV stations coming out to cover us because we dared put red turf down, the only turn that you could see from space. We’d always make these jokes that birds would see it from the sky and not land on it because it was like a lake of fire.
We had fun with it. Here’s the thing. Before that period, we did not have the bookstore even carry jerseys. They didn’t really even like render that we were the Eagles, we were anything. After that point, it galvanized us. It galvanized us to the idea that we had imagery that if somebody else didn’t like it, “Hey, that’s my school. You don’t say that.” Compounded with that, our first game on red turf in 2010 was gonna be against our archrival, Montana. Montana would usually buy out our stadium. We would usually consign them tickets and they would hold up signs that said, “Washington’s Grizzly Stadium.” Because we were in Washington state, and they were Grizzly stadium. They basically owned our turf. We didn’t allow them to do it in 2010.
We held back. Even though I had the city manager upset at me, calling, threatening my job which she couldn’t get, she was upset because her Montana friends couldn’t get in and this was going to cost us. We had it to where all of these Montana fans thought that somehow I as the classified staff member who was a ticket person, person of one, was somehow responsible for this looking around the room. I remember that we had several deans and the university president that were on board with this idea of restricting tickets. We restricted these tickets to season ticket holders and donors until the last 15 days before the game was played.
You know what’s funny? We had more donors invest in us, more donors actually buy tickets because of the fact that they didn’t want Motana fans there. But also, we had people that bought season tickets before. Before that period, we only had about 200 season tickets sold. During that season, we had 5,000 sold. The reason why was because people have never gotten to experience our product. We never cared about what what we were selling and whether or not it was to the right people. Sometimes, you can sell to the wrong people simply because it’s sold, but it’s empty calories because it sells to people that aren’t going to buy it again or they’re only gonna buy every two years. You want that person that’s gonna invest in you.
What was amazing was that when Montana actually did have the ability, all their fans, to call for tickets when that on sale came public, they flooded the Montana ticket office, they flooded the NCAA offers with complaints, even the conference office and they shut down TicketsWest in general. Now, before that period, we only had about the average of 3,000 people in our stadium for a 10,000 seat stadium. Once you think about that for a moment, we caused to where people became so furious that they couldn’t get in to a place that nobody wanted to be into.
I actually won a contest from the Missoulian. They had the newspaper and they called me the most hated man of Montana. They asked me what I thought of it because I actually beat out one of their despised head coaches who had left, [Bobby Haut 00:38:35]. I said, “Well, every time you make a Grizz fan angry, an angel gets its wings.” The thing is that you have to be able to tell a story, you have to be able to sell a narrative but you also have to believe in yourself. I even had a few death threats, which is silly. We had a guy on campus who is our detective who said, “I’m tired of having conversations about you with people that are taking this way too far.”
Those thing are gonna happen but you cannot feel threatened by what you’re doing. You have to take those risks. You have to be that gambler. You know what, sometimes you’re going to fail. I failed tons of times. I have not always been the best at winning but the thing is that I will pick myself up and I will keep going. All of these sales people out here who may be listening to this think about it from that angle. Do you have an entire state that hates you? Actually they still talk about me. I feel kind of blessed that they care. The thing is that perpetuated a sellout streak to a place that had never sold out their venue before on a consistent basis to where they have now the sellout streak over, I want to say about 10 years or 8 years, something like that. That’s not just me. That’s other people. I don’t want that to sound like as me, me, me. But if that continues with a goal, continues with what you’re doing, that’s how you’re gonna win.
Troy: People don’t win by just doing it immediately. They do by playing that long game and you’ve got to play that long game, otherwise you’re not gonna win.
Marylou: Be memorable, it sounds like for you, Troy.
Troy: We hate it. Yes. Here’s the thing. At Seattle U, I had the reputation over the nickname Captain Controversy because I was willing to go into the mix and I didn’t care. People are like, “This person might now think blah, blah, blah about you.” I said, “This person is not really thinking about me.” That’s the other thing that’s so biopic. It’s like people that think they’re gonna survive the apocalypse. How myopic that you think you’re gonna be the 1% of the people that actually survive. People do not think about you long term. In that sense of, “Wow, you really did this.” A lot of times, they have a variation of it. Some of them may have had an interaction with you but if they had a great experience, who cares?
We’re launching here in my hometown [00:41:17]. We’re launching a soccer team. It’s an elite men’s soccer team. There is a controversial thing around here called the pocket gopher issue which the EPA [00:41:27] has closed off to where you can’t build on certain parts without getting a fine because it’s an endangered species. It’s become a device of issue that everyone knows about. Of course, we called ourselves the lazy pocket gophers. As we’re launching, people are like, “Jeez, that’s a controversial issue.”
You know what’s funny? I’m having two mascots built right now and every time people see them, they laugh. We’re gonna hand out a $42,000 fine to one of our lucky persons that comes to the gate. We’ll have a county commissioner that’s agreed to relieve it. We’re just gonna have fun. The thing is that way too often, people forget that fun matters in that experience with you.
Let’s say you’re insurance, and I realized that insurance salespeople have to talk about death or car accidents or whatever. If you talk about that stuff or you talk about that kind of disenjoyment, people are gonna go away from you. They’re not going to buy from you. Talk about fun things, talk about interesting things that make them want to buy from you because it is a lot more fun to talk about the ways that you can sell insurance.
I think insurance could be a lot more fun than people actually make it out to be, but instead, they make it like this Gregorian chant and that’s why people don’t want to invest in it. Whether it’s lazy pocket gophers or whatever, affiliate your brand with fun. Nobody has a problem with fun. Everybody wants more fun, as we talked about with entertainment. They want more fun. The last thing they want is really to think about those horrible things that might happen to them.
Marylou: Exactly. Troy, this has been such a great conversation. I really appreciate you taking the time to share these stories and hopefully, give someone that incentive to have a great time doing what you’re doing, think outside the box, try to find alternative solutions. Don’t always stick with the status quo. Just the stories we’ve heard from you over the last few minutes talk about all the different things you did. Just going around, and through, solving problems and having fun while doing it. I hope people take this conversation to heart thinking, “You know? I’m gonna change some things out. I’m gonna do some things differently.”
Also, the other message, very, very strong message is that planning for the long term. It’s not an immediate gratification. We’ve really gotta work towards what can I do today to meet those goals that I have set for six months a year plus out.
Thank you so much, Troy, for being a guest on the podcast today.
Troy: Thank you very much, Marylou. My lesson is stop giving a crap what people think because a lot of times they’re not thinking about you. Just go do it. Try it. See what happens. I appreciate both your friendship and the professionalism that you bring to stuff. I’ve really started to become a big admirer of yours, of how you carry yourself and I learned things from you and just how you kind of do things that make me better. I think that that’s the lesson from that is we’re learning from each other and I appreciate your time as well.
Marylou: Thank you. For those of you listening, I’ll put Troy’s contact information, his podcast, all of those links will be on his page if you want to get a hold of him and listen to him. It’s a really great podcast. It’s very enjoyable and you’ll learn something every time you listen, for sure. Thanks again, Troy.