Creating The Right Strategies To Find The Right Talent With Spencer Ambrosius
Business is just like sports; you need the right strategies with the right people to succeed. In this episode of Against The Sales Odds, Lance sits down with Spencer Ambrosius, the SVP of Ticket Sales and Service for Ilitch Sports + Entertainment. Spencer walks us through his career and what has helped him succeed, from his time as a collegiate athlete to the business side of professional sports. Spencer has been through various roles in his career that have invoked many different qualities that have helped shape his leadership style. From mentors to creating his own style, Spencer is constantly looking for two things: hard work and coachability—two qualities that all leaders should take into account when searching for new talent.
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Creating The Right Strategies To Find The Right Talent With Spencer Ambrosius
Hiring The Right People With Spencer Ambrosius: SVP Of Ticket Sales & Service With Ilitch Sports + Entertainment.
I am excited about this episode. I have Spencer Ambrosius, who is the Senior VP of Ticket Sales for Ilitch Sports + Entertainment, if you don't know who Illitch is, that would be the Detroit Tigers and the Red Wings. Spencer, I love that you are on here. This is great.
We are going to talk about leadership, sales, and all kinds of things. I'm going to integrate the fact that I did some homework on Spencer, a Quarterback in college. I want to know how that ties into some things. We got talking about that. Spencer, big role, SVP. How many people report to you?
There are about 150 total between the 2 teams. There's also some ancillary private events business and some support functions there. We have a good crew here. It's good people all the way through. We will talk more about that.
That's important. Talent is the name of the game right now. How long in Detroit? How long have you been in this position?
I got here in 2019. I got a few months in before that pandemic shut down, and then we have been rebuilding since that 2020 period that everybody in this industry had to navigate through. We are back up and running. We have been back in the office full-time for a couple of years. It seems like it's been quicker than that, but it's been a great run so far.
I did some work up there, but 2 to 3 months into the pandemic before it started. Right at that last quarter is when you started.
At the time when I first came out, I was the Vice President of Ticket Sales for the Red Wing specifically. We had a couple of months run up until that first Red Wing season, and then everything changed. It was about half a year of thinking things were going to run the way a typical sports team or a sports business operates before everything changed. It could have been worse timing, but it was a blessing in disguise in a weird way. In 2020, the Red Wings were the worst team in hockey. The Tigers were the worst team in baseball. I say this half-jokingly.
If you are going to go through a true rebuild on the ice and the field, you might as well do it when fans can't watch you play. On the business side, it allowed us to rethink the way we are operating and hit the reset button without going through that awkward change cycle of adoption on the fly. True reset button, back up and running, and it's a little bit of a different operation now.
It sounds like what you are saying is in a little bit of a rebuild and reset. We will get to that. You are from where? How does Spencer get to SVP of two major brands? Where did you start? Where did you go to school? What was your first job coming out of school? What does that all look like?
I would call it a hometown team. I'm from four hours north in Traverse City, Michigan, the cherry capital of the world in the greater pinky region of the state of Michigan.
You can tell that you went to public schools because they teach everything about Michigan.
I did not. I went to a private school. The key part of the story, through that process, playing football growing up and getting exposed to some great people and great leaders through my youth, I went on to play football in college. I say that it was Division III football in Rhode Island, a small school called Salve Regina University. When I say I played football, I use that term loosely as well. I was a four-year varsity letter winner. Minimal action. A lot of great things that you can learn through playing sports as we know. Overcoming adversity, leadership, and a lot of the things that I learned through it.
Overcoming adversity and leadership are some of the things that you can learn as an athlete.
Through student-athletes, especially Division 3. Both my sons played Division 3. You are truly a student-athlete. It is a lot of work. You don't get all the perks that you get in other places.
You got that right. That's a big part of the discipline, the work ethic, and the teamwork. It could go on and on. As great of a school as that was. A lot of the things that I apply now are more from those days of grinding on a practice field for the chance to see action in a Division III football game. That was some real-life experience.
Yeah, because everybody plays D3. I'm not arguing it's a different level of commitment. It's a character thing because your crowds aren't huge. You are not getting media time. You are probably, scholarship-wise, if anything, maybe there's some academic stuff there, but it's not like you are getting a big scholarship. I love scholarship but it's not about that. It's a different commitment to it. I would say there are different loves of the game.
Zero regrets from that time. A lot of great people I'm still in contact with, but when you are half-joking. I'm serious about this. I was not a good athlete. I was not very athletically gifted to be on that field. I don't think I could have played another position besides quarterback realistically. I was usually the smallest, slowest, and weakest guy. My high school career was I was a game manager. At the college level, there are way better athletes, but if you can find a way to surround yourself with good people and put them in a good position to be successful and find a way to win as a team. I didn't know it at the time, but the reason I have been able to find a leadership career path in this industry is from that mentality. Approaching sales management like a quarterback to me is one of the best analogies. It comes a little more naturally because that's all I had in my playing days.
Find a way to surround yourself with good people and put them in a good position to be successful. Find a way to win as a team.
I love that because that's what sales management is. I was talking to an executive in the MLS and we were talking about the factors that dictate success and sales management. There are probably seven factors to think about. You will look at the talent. You got to look at how you lead, but then you got to look at how you manage because that's the accountability.
What process are we going to use? What offense are we going to run? What technology is going to help us win? There's a big argument right now like, "How is AI going to affect things?" You have to play it out because it is the technology, it's like using a new golf club, but how does that fit? Who asked the better question? It's about seeing the field, no pun intended. When you left school, what was your first job out of school? What did you do?
I think a very stereotypical approach in this industry. I wanted to work in sports. Sales was not a passion of mine growing up. It was not a dream job, but I quickly found out that that's where people are hiring and those of us with liberal arts educations.
I forgot to ask you that. What was the degree? I have the Liberal Arts too.
I have a Liberal Arts degree and Marketing.
Not a BS in marketing, but a BA in marketing.
BA in Marketing. I thought I wanted to do advertising and figure out who our fans are and how we get in front of them. Ultimately, that's what I'm doing now. I do think there was a little bit of a method to the madness. I didn't fully know how it worked at the time but it sure worked out to this point. I took an inside sales representative role with the Atlanta Hawks and joined that team surrounded by great people and great leaders.
Who was on that team at the time it seemed like a lot of you were together at that point. When I say a lot of you, a lot of our network, my network, and yours. Who are some of the people on inside sales then?
On the inside sales team. It was a team led by Corey Breton, Erik Platt, John Adler, and Chris Wettig I'm going to miss some people and I apologize for that.
Was Doss down there at the time?
Doss was there at the time. He was too big time for us.
I hope he's reading this.
A lot of good folks were all over the place now. I just had a wedding. They were all there. That's the best part about this industry. It was a giant networking event.
You and Corey Breton are like the Michigan mafia. There are a couple of you because he is a Michigan guy too.
Yeah, we all tried to get out, but I'm back.
There's nothing wrong with that. Was Baldwin at Atlanta then too?
I missed Baldwin. I missed Travis Apple. I ended up working with Dave here in Detroit. You could probably keep naming folks.
What was the biggest thing there? What was that big learning thing? Inside sales? Did you get promoted there? Did you move somewhere else? What was that?
It was full immersion. I'm humble enough to admit I did not know what I was getting myself into. I had no previous training. I had never sold anything. I leaned on the basics. Corey told me before I started, "Just attack every day like it's your interview." I know he tells that to everybody. I internalized that and I made sure I was going to win a job. Every day, I came into the office.
What the Hawks do a great job of, and I know they still do, something I have taken with me and implemented, is hardcore training and development. They make sure you have all the tools you need. It's that two-week onboarding before you ever start selling anything. Not just the product knowledge, but every situation you are going to encounter, you are briefed on it. Once you get started, there's on-the-fly training and coaching.
Even though I'd never sold anything, I knew I was a coachable person and I knew I was going to outwork anybody. If you tell me the measurable KPIs that I need to hit, I am going to crush those. Even if there weren't results, I would give you the most activity. I think that helped. It was not a natural process for me in any way, but I was savvy enough to know that if I do the things they are telling me, I'm going to find success.
There's no doubt. There are a couple of things unpacked. One person, Erik, for instance, has moved over to sponsorship and he's taken that same mentality, which is the right mentality even with his sponsorship team. Secondly, if you tune in to this, the biggest difference between playing sports, pro sports for instance, or college sports as opposed to being in sales is, that you spend 90% of your time in sports practicing and prepping and a limited amount of time playing when you put the ratio together. In sales, you spend 90% of your time playing the game, and then maybe 10% preparing. Any moment you can take to prep and prepare, you have to leverage that. If not, you are practicing in front of an opportunity. That's not a good spot.
That's exactly right. It's a good way to at least be aware of it as you are going through it. There's the initial training, the on-the-fly training, the self-training, and development, and then there's leaning on your peers and learning from their mistakes. That whole approach of, "I'm going to make mistakes. I better hurry up and make them, learn from them, and vow to never make the same mistake twice." Eventually, if you take enough reps, you will become more comfortable pretty quickly.
I got weird at that point. I thought everyone was doing this, but they weren't. I would reach out to the directors, like Erik's boss and Kyle Brunson, or whoever was part of the leadership group at that time. I would ask them, "If I came in early or if I came in at lunchtime, can I come to make phone calls in front of you and you give me on-the-spot feedback? We will put them on speakerphone, even though we are not allowed to call businesses yet. Let me start practicing my B2B calls and you coach me up." College athletes do those types of things. Nowadays, I feel like it would be easy to stand out. It's easier said than done. It's not an easy or comfortable thing to do. As an inside sales rep, you shouldn't be comfortable anyway.
No, you shouldn't be. Sales are not comfortable. Like I said, I was at Crypto.com with AEG. It's a tough market there. The market is annotated with hospitality options. What are you doing to stand out? There's a group of, I would call them mostly the five-percenters that are in any team. I would count leaders who expect a little bit more from themselves. I don't think it takes a ton to separate yourself from the average. It's a couple of extra steps. It's watching that film because, for pound per pound, I don't see much difference in talent. Very rarely, you see somebody that blows you away with talent. It's usually those little things. That's why I believe salespeople and leaders at some point can be built. I don't think it's always a born exercise. That's exactly what you are saying.
That was what I needed at least. There were people who were way more natural than me. Even now, kudos to them. I was never able to find success that way. To this day, if I'm going to be training somebody, I'm going to approach it as if they have no prior knowledge, and then get that baseline and build from there.
It's like mastering the little things. There are little things that we all do well. If you can facilitate a sales meeting, you can facilitate a meeting with ownership, you can facilitate a meeting with clients, you can facilitate a meeting with your peers or people that report to you. There are carryovers to everything. From there, how long are you at the Hawks? What does the transition look like from there?
It's been about three years. I took the new business sales route and immediately knew. I took more gratification in helping other people find success than my own sales number on the board. I was that rep who was helping the inside sales team. I went through their leadership training program a couple of times. It became pretty clear that that was the path I wanted to take. There was not an internal opportunity with the Atlanta Hawks to manage an inside sales team at the time. I had an opportunity in Cleveland with the Cavaliers. I jumped up to Cleveland and worked with some great people there.
Who were you reporting up to then? I'm trying to think when everyone's crossed paths.
Mitch Reed, Erik Cloud, and Deanna Windler were there, and Brandon Lawrence was there at the time.
I was just with Danny. He's with AEG now. That was the whole group there. How long were you in Cleveland?
I did that for a year. That was another one of those. I thought I would be there a lot longer. I managed an inside sales team by myself with sixteen people and this was the LeBron return year. There wasn't a lot of Cavs help needed. There was more focus on the Cleveland Gladiators, the Lake Erie Monsters, and the Cleveland State University men's basketball Canton Charge. It was an organizational approach for this inside sales team which taught me a lot about the balance and getting people to focus on the parts of the business that need the most help instead of just the easy inbound calls for the Cavs at the time. It was a fun situation to be in because you had that experience working for a good team. It was the last time worked for it.
It sounds like you were mission-oriented like, "You are sold." You said, "Leadership is for me. This game management that I did in high school." You knew early on that that's the trend you wanted to go. I understand sales have sold. I have done it for a few years. I take great pride in helping people get there. Early on, you realized your leadership style or your leadership signature was what? What was it?
I used the example of Alabama football. If I could be Nick Saban, that would be a much more fun team for me to coach than my football, the Salve Regina University Seahawks. There are a lot more gaps you have to cover there. If you can get the best people however you can go invest in the best people. That was my cheat code to success. That's the number one thing. We have to have the best people. What does that mean is it a whole other conversation?
Invest in the best people. That's a cheat code to success.
There are levels of that. You can be looking for attitude. It could be competency. It can be a blend. It could be something very specific skill you are looking for that fits into the system.
You need a little bit of everything. In football, you have eleven players on the field who can't all be running backs. You need each position to be the best. Alabama is known for having every position as the best player on the field. Once you have them, then you invest in them, make sure they know what to do on every play, and then put them in the best position to be successful while keeping them motivated and keeping them accountable. You will start stacking up wins that way.
Your selling then becomes about how well you recruit.
That's it. That's my biggest sale. The only thing I can brag about is being able to surround myself with great people, and then let them go to work. We had an awesome group in Cleveland. They did a great job of getting pulled in these different directions with the organizational approach there. That set them up for future success.
If you are going to use Alabama as an example, it is good because I have six Rs that I manage a company. It's revenue, managing core relationships, recognition of the organization, and refinement, and one of them is recruiting. I have to be the Chief Recruiting Officer. I have to sell that dream. On the flip side of that, I believe in decentralized leadership. If we are going to describe it, you take Seal teams or any special operators. It's all cover move. If you are going to cover a move, everybody has to know what their job is. Talk to that a little bit. It seems like you said to let them go three times.
You put in the guidelines and process. You manage very specific expectations, then you let them do their work. You let them do their jobs, and then your job is not to tell them what they are doing right or wrong. Your job is to be right there with them and help them change course when needed or to put the best leads in front of them. Whatever it may be, whatever the business is calling for, you are getting them going. Get them to be self-sufficient. You put fuel in the car but you still have to drive it.
With your style of leadership, you have to have a lot of trust. I find leaders trust two ways. It's either I hire somebody and they incrementally can build trust with me, or you are the type of leader that says, "I will give you all the trust and you can chip away at it." Which one are you?
It goes back to those characteristics you are looking for when you are hiring these people. They have to be people that you can trust. Until there's a reason not to trust someone, I trust them.
You are hiring a character or a person that fits onto the team. You are giving them the KPIs because you brought it up before. You said, "I'm going to give the key forum indicators. That would tell them automatically what they are doing. I stay out of their way until needed unless they need me situationally." It's what you are saying.
For the most part. There is continuous development, but it's not necessarily like, "Here's what you are doing. You will make this many calls by this time, and then we will talk about it." It's not necessarily that.
Not at all, because then you are going against the grain because most people that you would interview, I'm always coaching people all the time. You will appreciate this. You hired a good guy named SJ who we both know. If I'm managing him or anybody else, I'm sitting there or I'm having breakfast with him early and saying, "How do you want to be managed? How do you want to be led? How do you want to be communicated to?" I bet within three questions, somebody like that goes, "I don't want to be micromanaged." That's usually what it comes down to. It sounds like you air a little bit more not to micro-managing.
Yeah, but part of quarterbacking a team is you still have to keep a pulse on where everyone is at. It doesn't mean you need to micromanage them. Even back when I was playing quarterback, I trusted that everyone in the huddle knew the play. I would still tell them to play. For certain individuals, I would remind them to snap count several times on the way up to the line of scrimmage. Just to ensure that everything's going to go off without a hitch.
That's being a maestro or an orchestra leader. That's directing. I like what you said. The profound thing is that even though we are using sports analogies here, I trust everybody knows the play. I trust we all know the play because that's different than having to play. We are all on the same page there. That's well said. You go to the Cavs, you go to where, and then what's the involvement? Now, you are starting to probably get into some bigger roles.
I was very happy in Cleveland at the time. A lot of good things going on. I was a young kid. I was in what I thought was a good role I aspired to be in. The Cavs went all the way to the championship. They lost in the finals to the Warriors that year, but that was such a fun ride to be a part of. I was pretty locked in there, then I got this call and it was from Corey Breton again whom I had such immense trust in that I had to take that call. He told me, "There's this thing going on in LA. It's part of Legends. It's a startup MLS franchise."
If anybody else calls me with that, I will probably stop right there because I'm not a soccer guy. I'm not a West Coast guy. I have fair skin. I don't do well in the sun, but I trusted Corey. If he said, "You got to take a look at this." I owed him that. I will never forget. I flew out to Los Angeles and it was true startup mode. This was out of one of Peter Guber's closets from Mandalay Entertainment. There are eight people starting this thing. It was an opportunity for me. It's now known as Los Angeles Football Club, but this was 2015. This was years before the first-ever game. There was no stadium. There were no players, teams, colors, or announcements even that this was happening. The whole pitch was, "I got to help start that from scratch."
I was cocky enough at the time not to realize how daunting that is. I was like, "Sign me up for that." It was amazing. Looking back now, some of the things we had to do were crazy at the time. It was the most gratifying thing ever three years later when that building was sold out, rocking, and the whole vision came together. Still, the most gratifying thing I have been through.
What was the biggest thing leadership-wise? That's a whole different deal. That's launching a startup almost and then scaling up. Leadership-wise, what happens?
The exposure was incredible because up to that point, I'm an inside sales manager and I'm running someone else's play essentially. Here it was, I got exposure to the entire business because we were all in one room. Everything that went into building an initial marketing campaign, the design influences of the stadium, the venue operations. I was there the day we hired a first-ever HR person. That taught me so much about business.
Yeah, because you started getting this 360-degree view that you never got. You are not focused on the revenue piece. You are focused on total management at this point.
Designing a website. We all had to do more than our job title dictated because we were a lean entrepreneurial team with great visionaries and people like Rich Orosco and the marketing crew there with Corey and Kam Florence.
I can remember training there. We were in that closed room at that time. I remember the slide. Was it that time? It was that team.
The Legends Group. It was like the Rose Bowl. I remember that.
That was a while ago. We are getting old. You get this 360-degree view. When you did that and you got all this exposure, is there something you wanted more from there? Was it just like, "I got this experience? I'm going to put it back and fold it into how I think about things?"
That's the beautiful part of Legends. I met a lot of people and learned a lot about all the projects and the concept of a new stadium project. We did have a lot of success by implementing a lot of the best practices that work everywhere else and applying them there. The next thing coming down the line was SoFi Stadium. That was my next step. It was more so to the Legends dynamic. We were white-labeling as LAFC employees essentially. Let's do this again on a much bigger scale with SoFi Stadium.
My role at that time, here's where it gets complicated, I was the general manager of the Los Angeles Chargers. I was the public-facing title, which is a very confusing title in this industry. It was overseeing the transition from San Diego to Los Angeles with that step in between the temporary stadium at Dignity Health Sports Park, but then the premium inventory,
You ripped that one off. Dignity Health. Do you remember that one?
The Chargers team only premium inventory at SoFi Stadium.
Who were you reporting up to then?
You are reporting right to the team. That's what I thought.
Then it was Jim Rushton with the Chargers. There's a little bit of that sitting in the middle of that dynamic.
That was a day-to-day triage, I remember. Your whole crew with the transition, you were triaging priorities between Legends and Chargers.
Yeah, there was the Legends presence and Legends also was representing the Rams and dual team suites group. Greg Kish, Forrester, and then Kam Florence again. For some of these folks, I was in a different capacity while at the same time representing the best interest of the Chargers. It was very heavy, in those early days. We had to fill that temporary stadium while putting that plan in place for the bigger venue as messy as it was.
They may have just moved up from San Diego. Like a traffic cop, there are a lot of things flying. I'm not trying to say that's all it was, but I remember conversations with Fleming. That was tough all in for you guys.
The scope of the project and everyone would acknowledge this. It was as challenging as it gets. Fortunately, for me, I wasn't that far removed from those entrepreneurial days with LAFC. At least now we had access to significant resources. You have to make sure you are building a team of people who are versatile and can change on the fly because you are always getting pulled in different directions. I have nothing bad to say about that experience because when things get complicated now, it's still not as challenging as some of the things that we encountered in LA.
If I'm listening to what you are saying and have a familiarity with the project, also with my company and myself being involved. I heard General "Mad Dog" Mattis say, and it's the simplest thing I ever heard on strategy. He said, "Strategy is knowing your priorities." What a way to know priorities. For everybody reading if you don't understand this, I need to repeat what Spencer is saying. He's working for an organization that is part of the Shield, so the Chargers. On top of that, they are moving from one city to another, which is unprecedented because it doesn't happen all the time. It may have happened four times. He's then working for a big agency that is representing them, Legends. That's huge in and of itself.
On top of that, jockeying, negotiating, and positioning with another major sports brand. Not just one who is cranky that owns like the Nuggets, the Rockies, and the Rams. That's why I'm saying he's playing down what he did. What I'm telling you all, this is a major stuff. This is no joke. You have to know your priorities. Wouldn't you agree with this? Conflicting priorities at all times.
When you put it that way, you make it sound a lot more.
You were in the mix, but just knowing, watching it, and being involved with a lot of it myself, a lot of those groups did not agree.
That's where it comes down to what's important now. It's easy to get distracted by all of the complexities. Jim Rushton, I know he's still with the Chargers. He was very good about making it clear what the priorities are. Ultimately, as the agency representative, that's the client and what I would view as boss number one. Meanwhile, through Legends, I have another important boss, Todd Fleming, and the rest of that group. We have our priorities as an organization. It would come down to communication with my bosses. If I didn't help manage the right information, it could be very confusing.
Agreed. You just said the most critical thing, it's managing up. I know Jim and Todd. People get to that level, all of us have egos, and egos get away. Not in a negative way. I look at ego as a level of confidence in knowing who you are. Ego ties into EQ, but managing up is critical. Now, Spencer and I don't even know this, going into this, that makes so much sense to the role you are in now. I know there are a couple of steps in between, but let's get back to where you are here. You now also are at the spot where you have an organization. The Ilitch is a very successful business in restaurants. You can't argue.
I just bought a lake house in Southern Ohio and Little Caesars is down there. It's a mainstay. It's a major corporation. On top of that, how successful that family has been and to have major properties that built a brand new arena in Detroit. If you haven't been to Detroit, it's not what's in your head. Detroit has changed dramatically, and then another state.
Now, that makes sense as to how you can manage that because I didn't think about that experience to go into this. How did your level, I guess my specific question is, and I don't mean to over-commentary because I'm fascinated by the story. That job to here or whatever you want to mention in between there too because we have levels of leadership. How did that affect how you strategize things? Let's talk about people too, because there's a strategy around that.
It's changed so much over the years. The exposure to all these different things. You learn pretty quickly by being in a high-pressure situation what type of people you want to surround yourself with. That people components, keeps coming back to that because you need people that are coachable and hardworking, but that can handle some adversity and that can handle that stress management. What are they going to do? What's that fight-or-flight instinct?
Is that the number one thing you look for in somebody? Their critical problem-solving skills or can they handle stress in adversity?
It depends on the role, I would say, but it's certainly up there. I'm going to stick with the basics. Number one, are you coachable and are you hardworking?
I don't think you can coach unless you are coachable.
Those to me are the basic bare minimum. You have to check those boxes. Those other intrinsic characteristics are like, "Explain to me a time you have been through adversity and how you handled it." That will tell me more than some of your standard interview questions. When things do get complicated, especially if I'm hiring a vice president of ticket sales, I need to know how they are going to react when everything goes wrong. When an organizational priority contradicts their individual goal, how do they let that affect the team, and how does that message get protected from certain people? If you can keep your sales team distraction-free, motivated, and hungry and you are fending off all of the potential distractions. That's a big characteristic. That's going to set you up for success.
You and I are very similar in this way because the hardworking thing, you get people to describe. Everybody's dealt the hand they can deal with, and then the coachable thing is it's hard to lead or be led if you are not coachable. There's a big difference between being a good listener and being coachable. Can you take action?
The one thing you said that everybody should look for, in particular, and I'm not saying this is right or wrong, I look at stressful jobs. Air traffic controllers and servers are ranked the two most stressful jobs you can have multiple times. I look for people who are servers in their lives because I know if they could serve tables, they have a way to prioritize and things like that.
The other thing I think that's missed and you probably do this at some level is, that I like to ask people, "How do you critically problem solve? What's your process? Tell me your steps." People who are good at it have a frame at some level. Probably good at defining the problem, the causes, and finding possible solutions. It's something in that mix. You and I are a lot like that way. I love that.
For a few minutes, as we start bringing this down for a landing, there's a war for talent out there. You are in a major metro. You are looking for people who meet baseline characteristics. You are probably looking for a very good diverse workforce and things like that. Give your prognosis because every leader I hear is like, "I can't find good people." What's your answer to that? What's your process? Talk about that for a second.
It certainly was easier. It seemed to be a lot easier a few years ago. I don't think that means there aren't good people out there. I just think that they are highly coveted and their priorities are different than they used to be. Back when I worked in the NBA, the NBA did a great job of teaching us what the trends are and what the motivators are for the up-and-coming graduating class if you are hiring people. At the time, money was the number four biggest motivator.
One of the biggest things is being a part of something bigger than yourself. It's just like any other sales pitch, you need to know what's important to them, and then you need to spend your time talking about those things and making sure they understand those opportunities that we have access to. Detroit to me is the epitome of being a part of something bigger than yourself. There is a renaissance going on here in the city.
One of the biggest things is being a part of something bigger than yourself.
The Ilitch family, the Red Wings, the Tigers, Fox Theater, and our other amphitheaters, are at the heart of it. In the district Detroit, you do have an opportunity to make a big impact here. I believe that the people that are coming from all over the country to be a part of this thing, align on that as well and they get fired up for that.
Ilitch is very mission-oriented when it relates to that. You don't invest that in those properties without being mission-oriented to like I said, the Renaissance. I was with somebody in LA. I won't name the person but she's a manager. I was telling her, "We got going on in the marathon." She goes, "I'm from Michigan. There's an alliance and allegiance of Michigan and people from Detroit.”
We are a prideful bunch. We can work with that. We can channel that into selling sports tickets.
I like how you tie the way into that because as you and I are talking, it sounds like as a leader, recruiting is something you do. I believe you recruit people twice. Once to come there, and then the second time to stay.
I will call it what it is. I want everyone who works here to be well-known industry-wide. A lot of times what that means is they are going to get recruited externally regularly. That's okay. Ultimately, that means something right is going on here and that we have good people. I am aware of it. I welcome it. Hopefully, they realize that there is a vision here and they will end up staying here. Some of the great people that we have here make my job a lot easier, but they are empowering that next generation and there's a lot of good stuff happening.
I love our interview. As we bring this down to the landing, when I do these selfishly, I get to know people a lot better. The only thing that'd be better is if we were sitting at a bar getting to know each other like this. Wherever or having a cup of coffee somewhere. I love this mission-oriented. Number one, you said without a shadow of a doubt, "I had to get better at everything. I took jobs that maybe didn't always fit this, but I knew I wanted to be in leadership and leverage what I did."
The other thing is the evolution of all that and especially that crux. The crux of moving your career is, to go back to that part of the interview. Think about major brands that were conflicting and you are in the line of fire. As simple as that sounds, as simple as genius, managing up and knowing priorities, I think you said it in a very subtle way, "I got good at that." It immediately proposed to me like, "Now, I get why Spencer has moved up in another 2 major brands and 2 major leagues with a major owner that has other businesses all of a sudden.
I don't take that word, I said anybody lightly triage is your ability, like an emergency room. That nurse has to decide who is the priority. I love that. It's something that you can acquire too, but I think it's dealing with stress and pressure. The last couple of questions. I ask everybody this. Speed round. Besides my books, if you don't gift books, what book do you gift the most?
I do gift books. All of our up-and-coming leaders, I make them read Leadership and Self-Deception. If I'm giving one, it's that one. I don't know if I need to say any more about that.
Anybody should get that book. I have two copies here. Scotty O'Neill first exposed me to the book. It takes how to win friends and puts it on a level of steroids. With EQ in it, there are so many dimensions of it.
Self-realization. It's huge.
The second thing, if you had a song for sales or leadership for you that was a pump-up song, what's your jam? Just for yourself. What's on that playlist? What's your go-to?
Don't Stop Believing. That's our song here in Detroit.
It is. Little Journey. It's on mine too. I was growing up when it came out, so it still does it for me. Let's end with this. I didn't ask you. If you don't mind me to get personal. Do you have kids?
I do. I have two little ones.
Think of your kids or maybe nieces or nephews and you got to put them in an age bracket. Say they are 7, 8, or 9, so they are just starting to form this mentality. They said, "What does it need to be successful?" Remember, you have to speak to a 7, 8, or 9-year-old, so you can't give this great quote. It has to be a 7, 8, or, 9-year-old.
I'm trying to picture my kid as a seven-year-old. It's hard. He's only two.
That would be very hard. Think of a niece or nephew if you had one or remember when you are first or second grade.
What is success? It's being proud of your accomplishments. That's scalable.
No matter where you are.
If you can be proud of something you accomplished, then you are successful at that.
You are successful if you can be proud of something you accomplished.
It’s a great interview. I'm so excited to have you on. I hope we continue our friendship here. This is good. This is great to learn about you.
About Spencer Ambrosius
Spencer Ambrosius was promoted to Senior Vice President of Ticket Sales and Servicess for Ilitch Sports + Entertainment (IS+E) in September 2022.
Ambrosius leads all ticket and premium sales and retention efforts and private event sales and service across Ilitch Sports + Entertainment companies and properties, including the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers.
Ambrosius grew up in Traverse City, Mich., and previously held the title of Vice President of Ticket Sales and service with the Red Wings.
Ambrosius has more than 10 years of professional sports ticket sales and service experience. Before joining IS+E, he served as General Manager at Legends, managing the agency's work with the Los Angeles Chargers. He was also the Director of Ticket Sales and Service for Los Angeles FC (LAFC)/Legends and manager of Inside Sales and Organizational Recruiting for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He began his full-time career in ticket sales and service roles with the Atlanta Hawks.
Ambrosius earned his Bachelor of Arts in marketing from Salve Regina University in Newport, RI, where he was a four-year letterwinner and quarterback on the football team. Ambrosius and his wife, Melissa, reside in Metro Detroit with their two young children, Max and Madison.