We’re off to America and the National Hockey League as we sit down with Michael Ciolek, the Sr. Manager of Memberships for the newest franchise in the NHL, the Seattle Kraken!
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
Hello, I’m Michael Ciolek and I’m fortunate to be the Sr. Manager of Memberships for the Seattle Kraken! We are the newest addition to the National Hockey League (NHL) and look forward to starting our inaugural season later this year. Before the NHL I spent time in the NFL with both the Seattle Seahawks and Miami Dolphins. I also worked for the Seattle Sounders FC in MLS. As you can probably tell, I am from the Seattle area, so it has been a true honor to have worked for multiple Seattle teams as I really believe we have the best fans in the world!
Most of my time in sports has been on the hospitality side of the business with a focus on developing relationships with the business community through premium experiences. I am currently transitioning from a role like this to a management position with the Kraken. The role will focus on developing an internal pipeline of talented professionals that care about the communities they serve, brand they represent, and of course, our amazing fans.
What do you do in your current role?
My focus is to sell our suites and other premium seating products to local businesses and as well as people that desire these assets for personal use. Until I got in the industry, my perspective was that people probably call teams to get seats like this and that they can’t be that hard to sell. I mean…who wouldn’t want the best seats in the house, right? What I’ve learned is that while some teams have a waiting list for these products, by and large most have to use a sales team to sell the assets. One of the best parts about a sales role is that you truly have your own business. You reap what you sow so those that prospect the right people, book meetings with the right people, and genuinely develop relationships with those groups, tend to perform better.
What does a normal week look like for you?
It’s a little different now since we haven’t started playing any hockey games or hosting other events but typically my week consists of the following:
- 3 or 4 Zoom calls each day.
- Revenue & strategy meetings
- Weekly service meeting as we build out a plan on how we will provide the best customer service to our fans.
- Sales meetings to perspective clients
- I like to spend one of my lunch breaks during the week to just think about our business and how we can improve it. One of my mentors growing up taught me to think when nobody else is thinking. It can be easy to get caught up in our day-to-day because we all have so much to get done but it can prevent us from thinking big picture.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
In high school it finally occurred to me that I did not win the genetic lottery so becoming a professional athlete was off the table but since I was 12 years old, I knew I was meant to work in sports in some capacity. After a few years of not getting any responses from local Seattle teams, I decided to start calling them. I figured why not ask the people who already work in sports how they got in and just learn as much as I could from them. This led me to start growing my network within the industry as many of the people I spoke with had worked at other teams so my chances at being referred for a role instead of applying for one, grew exponentially. It was the Seahawks who gave me my first opportunity and I can honestly say, I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for their great leadership. I started at the VERY bottom of the ladder in their community relations department, but I LOVED it! They taught me that it doesn’t matter how great your role is in terms of corporate hierarchy. What matters is the leaders and people you work with. As I’ve moved on from teams, this remains to be true as what I typically miss the most are the people I worked with.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
Developing people, driving revenue, and taking care of our fans.
What’s been your favourite moment while working in sports?
When I was in Miami with the Dolphins, they had an annual event called the Dolphins Challenge Cancer (DCC). It is one of the largest fundraisers in all of sports and it is a true example of how a community can come together for something bigger than itself. Sports has this unbelievable ability to connect people, Countries, and causes. With the DCC, it was never about football even though a football team was conducting it. We had annual participants who didn’t even know who our top players where because that didn’t matter. Seeing thousands of people come together for a day and unify around an incredible cause was incredible and so inspiring.
What do you think is next for your industry?
I’m sure my answer would be different if this was before 2020 but honestly, I just want to see full capacity venues. It seems like we are trending in that direction and I personally can’t wait to see fans again! Until we can figure that out, it doesn’t really matter what else our industry solves in my opinion.
In your area of work, what is something you feel most people don’t talk about enough or focus on enough?
Quantifying how we impact the business of our customers. Some teams do a great job at it, but many leave it up to the customer themselves who try to do it on their own anyways. Business owners are smart, and they don’t waste resources so if their ticketing investment with a team isn’t working, they don’t renew. The challenge in all of this is that it is extremely hard to quantify an experience. Sitting in VIP seats for a game will mean more to some than others. If a company is hosting a prospect and ends up closing a deal with them at the game, was it really the game or was it all of the work done ahead of time? I think teams need to challenge themselves on really understanding the goals of their ticket holders so they can better understand how they want to utilize tickets & experiences. From there, they can offer whatever flexibility the ticket holder desires so they can match the product(s) to fit the goal(s).
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Your net worth is your network. When I was trying to break into the industry, that was all people told me too and it can get frustrating. That said, you must be intentional, genuine, and bold. There are many ways to reach out to someone at a team like email, LinkedIn, and if you have any friends with season tickets, ask if they can introduce you to their representative. A lot of people don’t reach out and if they do, it’s typically just once. If you can develop some level of professional persistence, you can grow your network.
How to follow Michael Ciolek on social media…
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