Structuring Projects Efficiently And Effectively With Jason Gonella: The SVP Of Ticket Sales
Success in sales is about more than closing deals; it's about creating opportunities where none exist and empowering your team to shine. In this exciting episode, Lance Tyson sits down with Jason Gonella, the Senior Vice President of Ticket Sales at the XFL, for a deep dive into the world of project structuring and successful sales leadership. With a career spanning top sports organizations from the Eagles to the XFL, he walks us through the various models he has worked with and for creating success at all these different projects. From building a strong foundation and adapting to diverse markets to creating opportunities and defining success, Jason covers secrets and strategies in the world of ticket sales. Tune in now!
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Structuring Projects Efficiently And Effectively With Jason Gonella: The SVP Of Ticket Sales At The XFL
I'm excited about this episode. I have Jason Gonella, the Senior Vice President of ticketing for the XFL, which is on the upstart here again. Jason and Len Komoroski are my two oldest relationships in pro sports and business. Jason, I'm so excited to have you on. Fellow Philly guy, you and I. It's been a long time coming.
I'm excited to be here. It's a great program. I'm so excited for you and all your success. Going back to those early days, it's hard to believe I'm on with an Amazon and New York Times Bestselling Author. I'm proud of your success and to still be very close to you. I'm excited to continue to do some work with you.
No doubt. It's funny. I'm thinking back to the work we did. I started being a trainer. You were starting in leadership but still selling with your team too. At that point, I was with Dale Carnegie Training. The whole crew, Len Komoroski included, everybody that was at the Eagles was going through a public Dale Carnegie sales training class with me in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. That's where we were.
Things moved up neighborhood-wise. I was in Bensalem at a Holiday Inn.
That's exactly where we were. We're Bucks County.
In the end, we sent Phil Matalucci who went kicking and screaming through the program. In the end, it was like, "That was powerful. I enjoyed it. It was good."
Phil might be one of the best salespeople in history.
He was such a good club seat guy. They made a can for him, filled it with sawdust, and said it was magic pixie dust. He sold 2,000 club seats for us in Philadelphia and we only had 8,000. He was an unreal guy.
Part of the audience is interesting. We have a lot of leaders and salespeople who read this. About 40% of the audience isn't even in pro sports. A lot of my guests are pro sports execs. Describe what you do, to begin with. You're with the XFL. Describe your role, how many people work with you, and maybe some challenges that you're up against with that brand.
We're going into our second season. When we started up, it's unbelievable when you think about it. The Tuesday after Labor Day 2024 will be my one-year anniversary. I feel like in terms of all the stuff that we've done, I've been here for several years but it hasn't even been a year yet.
This is like the second iteration of XFL.
It’s the third iteration. There was the WWE in both times. Vince McMahon's company started with NBC back in 2001 or 2002. That was the He Hates Me version. That was launched as, "This is not your dad or your parent's football league. Different ball, different rules. We're not the NFL." It was an early '80s USFL. They replaced the Donald Trump character with Vince McMahon. They relaunched in 2019 to start to play in 2020. The league was off to some fairly substantial success in a few markets and then COVID hit. There were some other things going on with the WWE at that time. They bankrupted it.
The group that then owns it is Redbird. Dwayne Johnson "The Rock" ironically has a tremendous amount of history and has a lot to thank Vince McMahon and his group for his fame. Dwayne's business partner is our chairwoman, Dany Garcia, who also is someone who's been with Dwayne his entire career. They met back at college at the University of Miami. Unlike the first two versions of this, we're attempting to make it as much of a collaboration with the NFL as possible. In addition, we'll talk about ticket sales.
One of the things I'm proud of being a football guy and having worked in the NFL, someone who played football growing up, and is super passionate about the sport is we've got 60-some guys in NFL camps. We've got some tremendous former NFL executive guys I worked with at the Eagles. Marc Ross runs our football group. Doug Whaley is a former Bills. Russ Brandon is our CEO, who is someone that I was running around at NFL meetings with back in the late '90s and early 2000s. Our relationship and his understanding of my career are why I'm here.
Would you categorize the brand as a disruptor brand almost? Is it viewed as that? Secondly, how hard has it been to go to market and sell over 2022 because you're coming out of COVID? It was the third iteration of this. I'm not saying it is a disruptor brand.
When you asked that, my immediate reaction internally was, "No, we're not a disruptor. We're an alternative." The way we reference ourselves is we're a little bit in much of the success. We've got teams in their first year. I saw a tweet that the San Antonio Brahmas, one of our franchises, has ten guys. We only have 48 active roster guys and 10 of them are in NFL camps. This is all about being a league of opportunity on multiple fronts. It's for the players, coaches, and referees. It's a platform for people to get into what is the most glorious North American, if not the world of sports leagues. The NFL is it.
The shields at the end.
It's nothing like it. It's ironic. I sent somebody a note and was like, "Enjoy the start of college and the other pro leagues football season." That's not how we are though. The things we're excited about are the NFL. Ironically, back to our heritage, the Eagles, I learned, were one of the groups that presented at the NFL rules meetings that our overtime and kickoff rule was interesting, which made me proud because I've got a tremendous heritage from the Eagles. I love the Eagles, Jeff, and everybody.
My point here is that we're trying to be collaborative and alternative. We're all about player safety and opportunity. Frankly, from a business perspective, both on the customer and the internal customer side, it's about opportunity too. We're giving people an opportunity and a platform to sell things. From a true customer standpoint, accessing things at a less expensive price would cost you to go to a normal sporting event.
I'm used to selling high-end premium stuff and that's where I've made my name in driving contractually obligated income. I'm selling season tickets for 5 games that average $50 a game. At the Nets back in 1997, I was selling center-court seats for $55. There were $45 upper deck seats in '98 when I got to the Eagles. This is different but we're building brands. For me, the biggest challenge is we're operating 8 different businesses in 8 different markets so our model is unique.
Let's talk about that for a second. You have a sales team that's coming across eight different teams. Each team suffers from the disease of uniqueness in each of their markets but some of it is the same. How many salespeople are reporting to you? What are you expecting from them? Is it situational awareness? Is it moving quickly? What does that look like from a coaching management standpoint?
From a structural standpoint, we started with the idea that we would have a director in each market and then a fairly balanced approach of six reps underneath the director in each of the markets. We would have seven people from a sales perspective that would drive the individual businesses in the market. For a variety of reasons, we staffed differently. We went a bit unbalanced. At our highest level, we had about 48 people. We went through a bit of a re-org around Memorial Day. Coming out of that, we went with what we call a centralized unbalanced approach.
I'm fortunate that I've got a guy who's worked for me in the past, Matt Cords. He's my right hand on the sales side. We were challenged to figure out how we could go forward with 50% of our headcount. We went with a fairly simple approach. We took our best people across the board. Our best people are the ones that can sell across all the platforms. We did a great job selling groups on a fairly tight window with a great job selling premium, which was ironic.
Seasons were a strong part of our business as well. We hit our ticket number for 2022 in those three categories. That was what we were in charge of. We took our best folks. We've got an unbalanced approach. I've got six people in San Antonio, which is a middle-market team for us. In our best market in DC, I only have two, a director and one seller.
We're a remote organization generally but from a technology standpoint, we plug and play. St. Louis is our best market. When we need something done in St. Louis, we break up the days for the reps. Half the day, they're in St. Louis calling and working. It's funny. If you look at a commission report, it's fairly balanced. Most of the activity in a heavy month where we've got renewals, which was what we did in July, is almost 50-50 by market, their home market, and then St. Louis.
It sounds like you're at the bridge of the ship here and you're saying, "We need to deploy resources here." Every week, resources are based on where the need is. If you have to put labor in one place like San Antonio, which is one of your newer teams as opposed to the other, you're deploying that way.
That's exactly what it is. In sales, you tend to get into these military analogies but you go fight where the fight is and you move your troops accordingly.
You go fight where the fight is, and you move your troops accordingly.
That's how you win. A full surge is a cover and move. At some level, everybody should know this because it's decentralized leadership also. You have a remote organization so everybody needs to know what their role is. Everybody has to have their orders and get it done. You don't have the time or space not to.
To that point, strategically, we hired people with the idea that we were going to have a fairly balanced approach. We may have over-hired experientially on some of these directors and we're in this nimble gorilla warfare or whatever you want to call it. Some folks aren't adapting well to that. "How do you expect me to do this? I only have two people." We're going to have to get adaptive and creative. This is reality.
You have to figure it out.
The Ukrainians haven't asked the Russians how they want to fight the war or the Russians haven't asked the Ukrainians how they want to fight. It's like, "This is what we've been dealt with. We got to go deal with it."
You've got to take the battlefield at a time.
Strategic can win.
No doubt. I bring that up because when I look at your career, and we were talking about this in the pregame a little bit, there are certain things you've been asked to do in your career. Let's operate off that flexible and nimble. The first major project you get asked to be on, and you've referenced a couple of times is, for everybody to know, there are generations of stadiums. This new generation of stadiums, hospitality, and suites was launched through the Philadelphia Eagles when they built the link.
It went from a very multipurpose stadium to this brand new state-of-the-art and still at some level is with all this hospitality and these suites. You were brought on to that project as a person who was going to move arguably probably some of the most profitable revenue sources, which is the premium. Let's talk about that experience a little bit. That's where we enter Lance and Jason. In the late '90s and early 2000s, that's where we were.
I'm extremely biased but Lincoln Financial Field is private Camden yards of football. It's the stadium that set the trend. I haven't looked at my resume in a while but we still talk about things like at the time, it was the highest-grossing building in the league. We set standards for things like cost per seat. We had some extra time because of delays in construction and worked with arguably one of the best revenue maximization people in our business in history. If there was a hall of fame for revenue maximization, Len Komoroski would be in the first class of it.
Remember telling Jeffrey and Joe Banner like, "This is a better deal than selling this real estate for more on a unit basis because you're getting more per seat." One of the proudest moments in my career, and I tell this story all the time, was he had me walk the owner of one of the other teams that were getting more per unit on a 50-yard line. He let me say to the owner, "We got a better deal than you did because we're only twelve suites." That's how you evaluate this stuff. That's changed the model of the industry for a lot of people over time. That was a fun one.
It wouldn't shortchange yourself. One thing that everybody has to realize is you're going from the vet to this concept nobody ever saw before. You have these loyal fans. It's not like you had to ask for prices. You had to create a sales system there with salespeople to do something that hadn't been done at that point. In a marketplace like that, I wouldn't criticize Philly but if you're selling at Philly, you better prove what you have. There's one thing to tell the truth and another thing to show the truth. Talk about that one.
We've talked about it a little bit. They're living it in another building. You have to bring it and be ready in Philly. You're not sneaking up on anybody. Philly is a different place. I remember when I first got there. I had worked at the New Jersey Nets before. My job there was to try to get senior-level people with the big companies in New Jersey to buy into this NBA franchise. It was hard to get meetings. The biggest thing was the chase.
Once we got a meeting, the selling was easy because it was the NBA, Michael Jordan, and the whole nine yards. You had a good franchise in New Jersey. In Philadelphia, I could get a meeting with anybody. I was the guy at the Eagles. "Sure. Come talk to me about your penthouse suite." They knew exactly why I was coming and what I was going to do and pitch them. All they wanted to talk to me about was moving four seats that had been in their family the entire time.
When we got this opportunity that we had something new to sell and we were the game in town, the vet was interesting because you had the Phillies and the Eagles. The Phillies had the master position. It sounds odd but in these dual stadiums, baseball led the day because they had more games. It was ten games of football.
When we had our platform, we maximized it. With the way it was structured and I ran the PSL program as well, we had a very pedestrian number that we had to raise in PSLs but that was mandated by Mayor Ed Rendell, the famous populist mayor down there who used to have a sports radio show where you could treat the teams. I've never seen anything like it.
Long story short, we were capped. We could only raise so much money there but in premium, we could do whatever we wanted. Joe and Jeffrey, to their credit, didn't want to be embarrassed by not selling everything. That is the right model. I've worked for some folks who want to maximize everything, have open inventory, churn, and all that stuff. I've done 2 projects and they're the only 2 projects in NFL history that have sold every single PSL and premium unit. That was Minnesota and Philadelphia. To me, that's what you do.
If you look at Philadelphia, they're going into year 21 in the stadium. I have a friend here at the XFL who was looking for a suite. The guy selling the suites is a kid who used to work for me at the Home Depot Center. He's like, "I've got one suite for $35,000 on New Year's Eve." That's the only suite he has. Granted, the team is biased and great but that's the right way to run your business. You're taking orders at that point. That's not what we were doing when I got to the vet.
At the vet, we were trying to keep our renewal rate so whatever we sold was additive. Not 100% but we were churning through. With that experience, we didn't want to be in that business long-term. We wanted to be in a business where this thing was sold and it was continuing to grow with escalators and all that stuff. The Eagles are still in the top 8 or 7 in the league in revenue and their stadium is relatively old. You look at the team in Washington. Their stadium was built maybe 3 or 4 years earlier. They need a new stadium. The Eagles probably never need a new stadium in this ownership group.
Not with the way they run it. What's coming out with your leadership is a lot of analysis. You always have known your numbers. That's the way you're even operating at the XFL. The decision is made on some of that analytics. How did you start to define your leadership and sales philosophy? What started to come out? In a nutshell, leadership learned about X sales there.
From a leadership perspective, what I like as a seller and a leader is depending on what we're doing. We do this a little bit at the XFL but we don't have that high-level premium that I've been responsible with my whole career but we do have reps. The ones that I feel are most successful are the ones that can identify opportunities but also know when they need to bring in the heavy guns to get the deals done.
In premium, our friend Phil was a great example. He could get into any office because he had sold all the floor seats for the Sixers but didn't understand how to use our technology in our Prudential Center. He couldn't turn the TV on or do anything but he would get the right people in the room and then make sure that he had the right people from our side. His closing rate was 100%. Every time he brought somebody in, they bought. These were people that we couldn't talk to when we were at the vet.
From an overarching perspective, I want people to come up. From our perspective at the XFL, and this is very true, we want people who want the opportunity to grow their career, make a name for themselves in our business, and have a body of work that they can then leverage either to grow within our organization or somewhere else.
We want people to really want the opportunity to grow their careers, make a name for themselves in our business, and have a body of work that they can leverage either to grow within our organization or somewhere else.
Back to this league of opportunity, everywhere I've been, we've given people a window and an opportunity to make a name for themselves. The thing I've been proudest of and I look back on that I'm getting older is I've got guys that work for me at the Vikings that are running Michigan State properties and Virginia Tech properties. I brought Matt Cords back to run this with me. The other guy on the PSL side is running the Viking.
It's that opportunity piece.
Yeah. We do things the right way.
You're tapped shoulder then because of your success at the Eagles. You mentioned in the pre-game a controversial project to build the new stadium up in Hudson Yards. You're there for two years. It didn't get off the ground but talk about that for a second. At your point in your career, I remember you were in such a strategic place because there was nothing to sell. It was all strategy and positioning. What'd you learn there? That was an interesting turning point probably for you because you lifted everything.
We're at the Jets. We were going to build what was going to be the Olympic stadium for the 2012 Olympics that ended up going to London. I've always been a kid who likes commanded work in the Olympics. To justify the expense, these stadiums cost $2, $3, $4 billion, or something like that to build the deck that the stadium was going to sit on. It's pretty cool to go there. They built the center city of a major city on the Westside of Manhattan which was an empty train yard. Jay Cross and a couple of guys I work with have been involved in that with Steve Ross. It's cool to see. I go there every once in a while to work and hang out because we're mobile.
That project was incredible. From a revenue maximization perspective, it took what we did at the Eagles to try to do a cost-per-seat model. I was working with MBAs. We had a Chicago Bears model and a Philadelphia Eagles model. We had all these different things from a pricing perspective. We had run all sorts of charts and then the political process of it. That went on for a year. From there, we went into the planning process for what became the partnership that's MetLife Stadium. That was also a very interesting process of sitting in these meetings with NFL ownership from two different teams, doing all sorts of study work and all that stuff. It was a pretty awesome process.
I didn't realize that dovetailed in the MetLife.
I never sold anything there, frankly. I sold some stuff at the old Meadowlands at their Giant Stadium but I got an opportunity from there to go open Prudential Center with a small group. I took it and was able to get involved in naming rights and some other things. It was the right move for me.
In two spots though, arguably with what you did at Lincoln Financial and then with the Jets, not everybody gets to see the birth of this or the whole chessboard as opposed to just part of the chessboard. You're looking and coming in through your career. You start getting the strategy around costs, profit, and structuring things the right way. You get a look into things that not a lot of people do. They usually get that information passed down. You're looking at the whole dashboard at some level.
It was a lot of product building, frankly. "If we sell it this way, here's what we can get. If we tweak it and sell it that way, here's what we could get." The PSL process at MetLife was intriguing. The two teams had very different mindsets on how to go about that. It's an interesting marriage and they've tried it in LA with two teams. It's interesting. It's not easy. Things don't always go like this.
No, especially when sometimes two missions are different too. No doubt.
That's why single ownership works. I'm working in a single ownership model with eight teams. If you can figure it out, single ownership is the way to go.
It seems what you're doing is closely related to MLS but not exactly.
Yeah, very much.
From there, that was your tribute. You then went West Coast after that.
It was a very quick dance. I was at the Prudential Center for fourteen months. The stadium was 2/3 built when I got there and all that stuff. I got the opportunity to meet Tim Leiweke through the guys I was working for at the Prudential Center, Gary Stevenson and Dean Jordan. Tim needed somebody to go run his premium business out at AEG. They were coming up on their renewals. Through a connection with Gary and a validation from Len, Tim was like, "This is the right guy." We went out, had dinner, and had a couple of meetings.
At that point, that's Staples Center. Now, it’s Crypto.com. This is L.A. Live even getting built.
It was a multi-venue. Technically, at the time, I had the purview of being their expert internally for AEG. Eventually, I ended up moving over to Todd Goldstein's group and Global Partnerships. I was doing everything. I got there in early '08. In September of '08, the world ended financially with the market crash and everything, and then the job became interesting.
We had to resell 2/3 of the building. We had 115 suites that were up for renewal in a 150-suite building. We were looking down at the economy crashing. One of the proudest projects in my career was that time. I still have pictures of something we had docked up that we put No Vacancy under the Staples Center sign. We sold everything. We sold 40-some suites in 60 days when the rubber met the road at the end.
You had Home Depot Center where the Galaxy played too. You had both.
It was a weird year. In 2009, we sold 7 or 8 suites as the Galaxy were taking off. AEG is the most incredible sales company I've ever been involved with. It's an unbelievable group. Todd Goldstein is one of the greatest sales leaders in the history of sales leadership. He can sell anything.
Arguably, in terms of sales company, they are unbelievable. It's unreal.
If you need something sold, you call them. They can get it done.
There, you start honing and taking this. Like at XFL, you're asked to do something quick. You're able to move it. You see the strategy and you get involved in it. How does your leadership change being experienced with them that you're West Coast? What changes with your sales philosophy?
Over time, it was a bit more of a transactional product. I also think the market was way different. You needed a different type of salesperson and better presenters or folks that if you didn't have the opportunity there, you would have on the East Coast. It’s the "We'll line it up and I'll knock it down" approach. If you’re a rep in Los Angeles or Southern California and they can't carry their water, you're never going to get to that.
The person is done before you get there. Even transactionally, coming to visit is unbelievable. You needed "closers" that were a little better at it. The chase was a little less important about the front-end activity, I feel like. It was more about making sure your presentations were together. Not in so much like flipping a deck but someone was a little bit more advanced, which is probably the better way to say it.
It's interesting you say that. It's more about the presentation, the front end, and more in Philadelphia.
LA for sure. New York is a little bit this way but I've never seen anything like LA. You have to know your stuff and be able to have a short attention span. These are folks who take lunches all the time and talk about multi-gazillion-dollar movie deals and TV deals. Everybody's a movie star.
Know your audience and area. Where do you go from there? What are the next couple of moves?
After AEG, I started the Rose Bowl project which was an opportunity to get back into football. I did that for about a year plus.
Rose Bowl was going through a renovation. Also, you had to move a bunch of suites there.
We started that project and I'm proud of what we put together. I was very involved in the ideation. I met with the Rose Bowl three different times about helping them sell it with AEG. I got a call from a friend. We worked out and I was involved from a credibility perspective. I helped a young company get that work, which was neat. I went out on my own for a little while, started consulting for a company called Van Wagner, and was able to secure what became the U.S. Bank Stadium Project for Van Wagner Sports Entertainment. That was an incredible project where we hired 35 people to go into Minnesota. It’s never been anywhere like Minnesota.
It's a different field. For everybody who's reading, you are taking somebody in sales leadership and sales that have gone from arguably the most blue-collar city, Philly, up into New York. It goes cross country to two trips in LA and then goes flat straight up Midwest. You talk about the diversity of markets. Let's face it. The presentation style and how you coach people is different. I remember in Minnesota, you had to torque it down a little bit. Meaning, we couldn't be heavy elbow. If you have this Minnesota nice going on, everybody will meet with you.
I remember being in that sales center. Two guys were looking at a club and they worked for this company but they would use the tickets for the company themselves. They go, "We want the seats where they are." I was with one of your sales guys and I finally said to them, "It sounds like you're buying these seats for yourself. Don't you get them through the company?" They said, "Yes." I said, "You got to do what's best for the whole company, not just your preferences." It was one of those fire and ice clubs. I remember debating with them but you couldn't go into it heavy-handed because they wouldn't even buy from me if you were. It was weird.
All the LA slickness and presentation have to be way off. I brought a guy that worked for me of all things. John Bartley was with me in Philly. He was an amazing young kid. He went to the Rose Bowl because he had joined the Rose Bowl with the idea this other company was going to get to work. I knew he wanted to go back home. I gave him the keys and let him run the suite program.
Early on, I said to him, "John, we're not selling Cadillacs here. Even though the suites are nice, we got to let people get comfortable and let them buy." John got so good at it because he was from Iowa. I never closed more suites on a project. I told him, "You can do everything." We closed so many suites in person that our folks with the client came over and said, "What's going on?" I was like, "I don't know."
This is out of character so I sat in on two presentations. I was like, "There's nothing illegitimate happening here. We built a good Prudential Center and we let that do the work. We then guide them to a decision they're comfortable with and people love it. It was great. There was nothing. You came out and saw us a few times. There's no better place to go to work for a great brand like The Vikings." We ran the town. We were there for two years. It was unbelievable.
I had some of my best steak dinners there with you. I had good sushi when you were in LA at Takami, which I still go to. It's still my spot. You, Molner, and I. It was Manny's or something where you and I had some good stake there. I go back to this theme that I see arriving. In Philly, It's the strategy, design, and developing product or the product strategy that manifests itself into how you sell it in this Prudential Center. You probably started to get done that in Minnesota. When you get to the Rose Bowl, you're involved with designing that Prudential Center and walkthrough. In Minnesota, the same thing has to come to life.
For everybody reading not in pro sports, you're looking at $500,000 to $1 million commitments over a period, maybe 5, 6, 8, or 9 years. With these seats or even the club seats, it’s the same thing. It’s your long-term commitment. They're all sold B2B. The things people don't have to have, they want to have. It's not a need to. It's nice to have. This whole design and strategy piece, and then getting salespeople to be able to do it, is what's arriving for me. That's what happened in Minnesota. In that project, you also were able to get involved and ended up doing the same thing with the Atlanta Braves.
We were able to secure some work. There's also a common theme. A kid who telemarketed for me in Philadelphia ended up running that project for us and Evan Gitomer did an amazing job.
You have done a good job with raw talent or younger talent, and then bringing them up through in accord.
The deal there is all we did with Derek and the guys at the Braves, which is an amazing project. I probably went down there half a dozen times and was involved in the initial phases of it but I went to a game back in '18. I was astonished with how much it was exactly what they created. It's a whole little city in Cobb County, which is famous for everything going on with the 2020 presidential election. They made a little city in this pseudo rural. It's in the middle of Atlanta but it's not.
It's an impressive project. We went in there and did the whole sales execution. Van Wagner Sports Entertainment got involved with the Rangers and in some other projects and stuff. We built a little business there that was cool to be a part of. It was a great group. They've gotten out of the space because it is competitive. Outsourcing selling is a weird thing. You have to stack your projects.
You got to know your cost. You've done that. You've built these SEAL teams or Delta force teams that go in it short-term. You got to get everybody committed to the mission. You have to be very mission-focused, which means you have to know your numbers and the strategy but you have to have the situational awareness or sensory acuity to change on the dime because you're go-to-market. There might be some things you wouldn't know. I challenge everybody. What worked in Philly, just because it's an hour South doesn't mean it's going to work in New York, which doesn't mean it's going to work in LA, Atlanta, or Minnesota.
I always admire that about you. You're digging and parachuting in. These are 24-month projects. You have had other roles that are long-term. Let's say for the sake of time, you're at the XFL maybe not selling the same thing but you are having to design. You have to understand XFL's numbers and what ownership wants. You have to understand your competition but you have 8 markets instead of 1. For everybody reading, if you had to summarize your leadership and management in a nutshell, what would be the one-liner there? What would be the sentence that describes it?
Let people do their jobs but on the front end, one of our coaches in DC said, "Good culture is created by good people." You have to have mission-focused people. We were talking about this before, how the sales determine who they bring in. I would rather bring in a high character, less-skilled person that we can adapt with some of the thinking and thought that has upside. Put good people in a position where they can do good things.
Do you believe salespeople are built or born?
It's like athletes. You can't teach speed.
We know that from our sons.
Unfortunately, my son broke his foot. He's going to be even slower.
That sucks. I'm sorry.
My point there is there are certain intangibles that you can't do so you have to come to the table with something and desire or want that you're going to sacrifice. On top of that, you can teach. This is what I've been best at, taking good intended character people and putting them on a path to do great things. That's the thing that makes me proud. We had a kid who used our LinkedIn sales navigator tool and get a sponsorship meeting.
Take good intended, high-character people and put them on a path to do great things.
I'm like, "This is what you should be doing for the company. I don't even run sponsorship but this is great. We could use this in other markets." It's those kinds of moments. You know when you've got a good one that's going to take you to the next point. That's the key. Regarding the adaptability piece, what we were doing in 2022 is a little different than in 2023. With an unbalanced approach, we've got to have different folks with different skills. You have to be stronger in different areas.
One of the things that I think about when I think about you is sales is creating an opportunity where one did not exist. I'm going to bring this down for a landing here. If you had a sales song in your head, what song do you play all the time?
Fool in the Rain. That's my favorite Led Zeppelin song. Although, I did become an immigrant song guy in Minnesota. I've heard that song about 6,000 times while walking through that Prudential Center.
I can think of that. I know exactly what you're talking about. The second thing is if you had to gift a book besides mine, what would you gift?
Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard. He walks through three scenarios of how you create customers. One's Nordstrom's and one's Trader Joe's. He doesn't call them out by name but it's a one-minute manager. It's 110 pages. You could probably read it in a night.
I have Raving Fans. It's a great book. I haven't thought about that.
I probably gave it to you.
Last thing. If you had to define success, what would it be?
At my stage in my life, having your family that wants you around.
I can appreciate that. Jason, as always, big hug even if we're not having a beer or wings.
Sushi. Let's go.
Thanks for being on. I love it. I can't wait to get this episode out. I appreciate you.
I love you too. See you later.
About Jason Gonella
Jason Gonella has over 30 years of experience in ticketing, premium seating, suites, and sponsorship sales, driving successful Contractually Obligated Income (COI) everywhere he has been. He has expertise in concept design, product innovation and creation, building renovation, planning, staff construction, management, and marketing and sales implementation, all with an eye for revenue maximization and sell-through.
Gonella is an industry leader and subject matter expert in these areas. He has a long and diverse track record of success in opening new buildings and reimagining existing properties and their product mix to sustain and generate new revenue streams across the United States. He also is the Senior Vice President of Ticketing at the XFL, the Spring Football currently heading into its second season in 2024. The XFL is a Red Bird Capital, Seven Bucks Productions, and Dany Garcia-owned entity. Jason manages the entire ticket sales and operational components with a staff of 40 people spread across the eight markets and leagues.
The league had a successful first season with record Season Tickets, Premium Seating, and Group ticket sales for a Spring Football League in North America. Gonella, prior to the XFL, started the consulting firm Quickstrike Partners (QSP), based in Bedminster, New Jersey. He was most recently the Vice President, of Premium Partnerships at Prudential Center and New Jersey Devils; a member of the HBSE family of companies prior to QuickStrike. He was the organization &'s lead for all Premium Seating sales. Prudential Centers Premium business grew by 30% YOY revenue and sold more inventory (new sales) in the two years Gonella was there than in the 4 years prior that HBSE owned the building combined. The building also embarked on an ambitious reimagination and renovation of its Premium Seating options called The Lofts in 2018 at Jason's ideation and direction.
The Lofts project created 264 new seats in three distinct product categories - Loge Boxes, Loft Tables, and Loft Seats and both the Loge Boxes and Tables have sold out, generating multiple years of COI. Prior to joining Prudential Center, Gonella was Executive Vice President of Premium Sales and was a founding member of Oak View Group (OVG), working on revenue generation related to Premium Seats at the Forum in Los Angeles, the creation of the Arena Alliance, and the advent of the Stadium Concert series at Dodgers Stadium and Target Field. Prior to OVG, Gonella was also instrumental in the creation of the Premium Ticketing division at Van Wagner Sports and Entertainment (VWSE) in 2013.
He ran the group for the firm. There, he led the firm &'s acquisition of the Atlanta Braves Premium Ticketing project for SunTrust Park and the Personal Seat License (PSLs) and Premium/Suite Sales project for the Minnesota Vikings and U.S. Bank Stadium. His work there led to successful sales executions on both projects. At the time of his departure, the Vikings project was at 90% of Premium/Suite and 85% of PSL revenue and one year ahead of schedule related to the budget. US Bank Stadium is one of two; the other is Lincoln Financial The field sold out every PSL that was offered for sale.
The Braves had eclipsed a full year of budgeted seats and revenue in the first three months of sales. U.S. Bank Stadium opened completely sold-out in time for the 2016 NFL season and exceeded revenue goals in all areas Gonella managed, while the Braves moved into SunTrust Park for the 2017 season and have grown their revenue and yearly financial performance every year since it was opened. Previously, he held leadership roles at both Legends and AEG, where he served as the VP of Premium Seating sales at both firms, leading the effort to acquire the Rose Bowl Stadium assignment, and managing the project for Legends. While at AEG, he managed the STAPLES Center, Home Depot Center, and Nokia Theatre to record levels of success at each property. Including the sale and renewal of 98 Suites at STAPLES Center in the 2009-10 years following the economic collapse in the fall of 2008. Prior to his time at AEG, Gonella led the planning efforts for the New York Sports and Convention Center and the New Meadowlands Stadium (now MetLife Stadium) for the New York Jets.
He later managed the Prudential Center project in Newark for Wasserman Media Group (WMG) and OnSport on behalf of the ownership of the New Jersey Devils, leading efforts for a record-breaking naming rights sale and standards for NHL-only buildings in Suite revenue generation. From 1998-2004, Gonella managed the Stadium Builders License (SBLs), Suite, and Club Seat sales Campaigns for the successful opening of Lincoln Financial Field. As Vice President of Premium Sales, his team set NFL standards for cost per seat revenue in the Suite and Club Seats at the time of the opening of the venue in 2003.