NEW YORK — Ticketing is the life force behind any professional team, yet very little training is offered for this trade. Major League Soccer, however, went about changing this.
Earlier this spring, MLS announced the launch of a ticket sales academy, the MLS National Sales Center, and carefully selected 10 applicants from across the country to relocate to Blaine, Minn., this summer for the inaugural class.
Among hand-picked was Zeeshan Hussain, a diehard soccer fanatic and accounting graduate from Central Connecticut State University, who applied for the program by submitting a traditional resume in addition to a required YouTube video.
“I wanted to learn from the best-of-the-best directly,” Hussain told MLSsoccer.com. “I wanted to get focused training and a foot in the door.”
Hussain, alongside the nine other students, spent every waking moment during their training together. Living accommodations were provided at the National Sports Center in Blaine and participants were provided a stipend to offset living costs.
According to Hussain, becoming co-workers and roommates bonds a group quickly.
“We were beyond a team, we became a family,” he said. “We pushed each other in competitive but always supportive ways. It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to listen to one another make a sales call or get together in our free time and share best practices.”
One of the unique – and fun – aspects of the program is a partnership with the Brave New Workshop Theater, the longest running original sketch comedy and improvisational theater in the United States.
The students attended improv classes and theater owner, motivational speaker and author John Sweeney regularly contributed to their classes. The improv element provided a skill set that can’t be learned in a classroom, helping students hone their speaking skills, learn to be creative, think fast and, most importantly, build confidence.
“Incorporating the improv element to class was a turning point for the group,” said Hussain. “Things just started to click. It was such a unique challenge that just inspired everyone to take it to the next level.”
The aspect of the improv partnership was the brainchild of Bryant Pfeiffer, MLS Vice President of Club Services, who is overseeing the NSC.
Originally from Minnesota, Pfeiffer spent 14 years in tickets sales with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves before joining MLS. A veteran in the industry, Pfeiffer knew what skills to best develop and how to efficiently condition the class for success.
“We did some research and noticed that revenue generated per year for a sales representative after four or five years was significantly higher than that of a first-year rep,” said Pfeiffer. “It all comes down to training and experience.
“It’s something you can’t learn in college or a traditional classroom,” he added. “Our goal is to accelerate the learning curve.”
Despite the sales-specific goal set that the program participants obtain through their experience, it’s no secret that the job market is competitive and not one of the program graduates is guaranteed employment upon completion.
“Make no mistake, we work hard and earn our positions,” said Hussain. “Going through this program doesn’t guarantee anyone a job at a club. We apply and interview just like everyone else. The difference is that we have focused training and experience to speak to, and that gives us a big advantage.”
Fortunately for Hussain and fellow program memeber Jeff Turner, their hard work and dedication impressed FC Dallas, earning them a position as part of the FCD sales team.
With one goal down, Hussain turns to higher aspirations: to develop into one of the best sales employees in MLS and be recognized as a top performer for MLS clubs in the annual end-of-the-season ticket sales award ceremony.
“It would be a thrill of mine, as well as a goal, to … walk across the stage at MLS Cup and shake Commissioner [Don] Garber’s hand,” said Hussain.
To apply to the MLS National Sales Center, click here. Applications are currently being accepted for Session Three, which begins in October 2010.