On this Bring It In podcast episode, 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder Sam Caucci sat down with Brendan Long, Vice President of Sales at “The World’s Most Famous Arena,“ Madison Square Garden. MSG features some of the most recognized teams in professional sports, like The New York Knicks and The New York Rangers.
On this episode of Bring It In season two, Brendan sat down with Sam and discussed feedback, coaching, engagement in the workforce, and helping your employees achieve their goals.
Audio available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.
Below are some of the insights Brendan shared during our chat, edited for length and clarity. You can find more Bring It In podcast episodes here.
Sam: And what do you do with the garden now?
Brendan: So with the garden now, my title, I’m VP of sales for MSG Sports. And so our sales team really focuses on seasoned memberships and any membership product for the Knicks and the Rangers and some of our premium products for single events, suites for concerts, and everything else that comes into the building. So we have our hands full.
Sam: What’s the coolest thing about working at the world’s most famous arena?
Brendan: There are so many things. I think to me, the thing that I love most about the garden is the scale of everything that we do. We always get the best shows. We have an amazing crowd every night, regardless of what’s happening on the court or the ice.
And the networking that happens, the interactions with top-tier businesses that go on in the building, and the excitement that we see on the fans on a day-to-day basis, there’s nothing like the garden.
Sam: What have you learned about your own coaching philosophy?
Brendan: Yeah, so I think, if we take a step back and look at the staff that we have, most of our staff, it’s either their first job out of school or they’re relatively young in their careers. And so coaching to us really is a critical component to it. Like any sports team, good coaching matters. It plays a big difference in the performance of the group.
So we think about coaching as an ongoing thing. So it’s not just I’m coaching you sometimes. There are teachable moments all the time throughout the day. So being in a specific moment, a scenario comes up and it’s like, Hey, okay, what would you do in this situation? What do you think is going to be the best approach? And really collaborating with our staff on how they can see a situation, read it, interpret it, and then the next time they face that situation, they’re better prepared for it.
So when we think about coaching as essential, and it’s something that you constantly do and there’s so many scenarios day in and day out that come up, that can be coachable moments that we try to focus on skill development all around and coaching is a huge, huge part of that.
Sam: With Covid, have there been any skills you feel have, maybe the order of importance has changed a little bit? I’m sure that you’re just starting to get back to even what you’re going to be expecting more and more staff back in your group I assume over time, what are you thinking about when it comes down to the skills that make the most sense to succeed today?
Brendan: That’s a good question. And it’s something that we constantly evaluate in terms of what’s the most prevalent skill that somebody needs to be successful. And that changes. A year ago, I would’ve told you something very different than what we’re telling you right now.
At the moment, one of the things that we really key in on is active listening, right? So it’s like what was said, what we heard, and what’s the next step from there? So a lot of times with younger reps in particular, they may not have seen scenarios over and over again. It may be their first time coming across something. So we really try to teach what are your internal filters that you’re receiving the information from? And then how does that affect your response? And when we’re in a conversation, are you listening to understand? Or are you just listening to respond to something? So I think active listening to really put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and understand where they’re coming from is a really, really important process of the reps as they interact with anyone really.
Sam: And by active listening, you don’t mean texting while being on a zoom while slacking, while doing like six other things. That’s not active listening, right?
Brendan: Traditionally, no, no, no.
Sam: The person’s eyes you see are like going to every corner of the screen while you’re in a conversation with them.
Brendan: Yeah. We are bombarded with different things happening in our world, so how can we simplify, slow down a little bit and just put our attention on one task at hand? I think there’s a lot to that.
Sam: Are you concerned about how many young people the sports industry is, you must get 4 trillion resumes looking to work in sports sales at the Garden. Do you have any concerns about what the last year has done to, essentially sideline so many maybe seniors or potential interns or young people kind of coming out of the sports management program into the sports industry, are you concerned about that?
Brendan: Well, I think when you look at the industry as a whole, overall, the industry will come back, it will be very strong again. And so I put myself in my own shoes, actually, when I graduated college, it was right during the last recession. And so I went through this myself and the way to think about it is if you want to work in sports, there’s a reason for that.
There’s some connection that you have, either you played sports or for me personally, I think sports is one of the few things where it encourages bringing everyone together, no matter where you’re from, what your background is, you can all be a fan of the same team and that live experience and the unpredictability of the outcomes, that stuff isn’t going away.
So I think while the last year has been very challenging in a lot of ways, I think the future’s really bright and there’s going to be more passionate people that want to be part of how the industry comes back.
Sam: Does it change any part of your re-onboarding or your retraining, and if not, is there anything about that that you’re thinking differently about?
Brendan: Well, yeah, there are definitely things that we’re re-imagining and I think holistically, one of the things that have really shifted even just in the last few years are buying preferences, right? Like you want something, you go online, you go to Amazon, you go to wherever and you’re two clicks away and you have it.
So the consumer side of knowing the research in advance, being able to get to the point where you’re ready to make a decision on something before you interact with a human, I think as an industry, when I first started, it was you’re picking up the phone, making a hundred cold calls and that’s how we sold.
Now it’s much more nuanced. It has to be a more personalized approach, a more bespoke approach through the sales process. So really teaching our team to be subject matter experts, to have a consultative approach so that we’re actually listening and then making a good recommendation and not just trying to sell something, just to sell something.
Sam: Selling in New York right now, is it hard?
Brendan: You know, I think there are challenges in every market and what we’ve focused on is looking at, okay, what are we seeing at the macro level? What are we seeing holistically? And then what are the trends that we see locally? And so we’ve seen locally that there’s a lot of support. A lot of people want to come to games.
There may be certain restrictions on corporations on what they can do entertainment-wise and things like that. But overarchingly, we feel like there’s a positive response to getting people back into somewhat of a normalcy, and live sports is one of those things that brings people back. And we’re really excited about that.
Sam: What advice do you have for sales managers specifically for keeping your team together, motivated, excited, are there any best practices that have become a habit for you over the last year that you’re going to continue?
Brendan: I think there’s a number of different things that we can talk through. As we think about it, to me, like engagement of the workforce, whether we are hybrid, remote, with each other in the office, engagement is a critical piece for any sales team in any team in general. So if we can actively foster an environment where people have clear expectations, they know what they need to do, and they can have a little more autonomy with how to get it done and how to get to that end goal. I think that creates more engagement in the team, in meetings, and bringing new ideas to the table. And one of the things that we try to work on is really giving people ownership of their results and how they’re going to get to those results.
So if I’m giving someone more freedom and more autonomy and more ownership of it, we see that they tend to be more engaged and take that on with a greater sense of purpose. So that’s really where we try to steer to, is how are we continuing to engage our staff in meaningful ways and give them a little autonomy to do it in a way that utilizes their skills in the best way.
Sam: Are you tough as a manager? Do you feel like toughness works? Do you feel like compassion works? What is the right balance for feedback when you can’t take your team out to lunch, you can’t take them out for a drink anymore? I know you’re a guy who would probably be out for happy hours with your team and your Salesforce and those moments are so important.
Brendan: So when we look at, when I think about feedback, to me, it starts with setting the right expectations. So if my team knows that I genuinely care about their success and when they first joined the team, we’re going to sit down and I mean, as you know, through sports there are career opportunities all over the place, right? Like it may be you work with one team and then you work with another team. And I’m an example of that myself, where you may have aspirations to be in a different role in a different market.
So when we first sit down and understand what your career goals are, we start from that place of how can I help you achieve what you want out of your career, and then we set the expectation that the feedback that I’m going to give you is to help you develop your skills, to get you to where you want to go.
So if we have a good expectation and then go into, well, how do you like to receive feedback? Because each person is different. Not everybody receives feedback the same way. Not everybody wants to receive feedback the same way. So I think it really is important to start with setting the expectation the right way with each person and how they best respond to feedback and then carry that in the lens of how is this going to help you with where you want to go in your career?
Sam: I have one final question for you and it comes down to not so much how you’re selling inventory at the Garden, but how you’re selling a candidate to come play for you at MSG on your team. How do you sell someone to come work with you with the garden?
Brendan: So I think there’s a lot of great things that the garden has that attracts people naturally to us. So thankfully we don’t have to do a lot of selling in that regard, but I think in terms of how we differentiate against other teams, we have The Knicks, The Rangers, the concerts, the events, radio city, all of these different things that are under our umbrella, that a younger rep gets exposed to so many different things then just working for one specific team selling one or two products.
So I think that naturally lends people to say, oh wow, that’s interesting. It’s more than just, I’m selling a season ticket for one team. So I think that’s, that’s really where we talked to, the breadth of experiences that you get working at the garden and so many different areas of the business that you get exposed to.
Sam: Totally. Brendan, thanks for taking the time, man.
Brendan: Yeah, I appreciate it, Sam. It’s been great.
Topics Discussed: Feedback, Coaching, Improving Skills, Sports Sales Industry, Entering the Workforce, Active Listening
Dana Safa, Manager of Digital Marketing at 1Huddle
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