Why Are Sales Reps Leaving Sports Sales?


Working in sports definitely has it’s perks…working for something you are passionate about, experience of being part of the team, helping our venues get to a sold out status…

If that’s the case, then why are quality people leaving? Some sports teams are still clinging to a philosophy from the early to mid 80’s and their resulting turnover shows it.

Having worked with hundreds and hundreds of sports sales reps over the years, I take great pride in helping them grow their craft and progress in their career.  Over the past few years though, I have seen many excellent sales/service reps leave sports to go to other sales/service positions.  I started tracking reasons why, and find that it may be an eye opener to leadership as to how we view our sales staff.

I’ve categorized the reason I’ve collected reps leave into 5 areas:


  • Hiring reps that we feel are like us, and get frustrated if they are not. The key to success is not having a team of clones, but rather a team of varying strengths that can bring more to the table. Some reps have left because the pressure to be like their boss has thwarted their ability to be best at what they do…sell.
  • Panic selling vs strategic selling.  Although most reps have a strategic process to sales, oftentimes they end up with a team that produces ‘panic sales’; selling game to game vs a long range plan. Stopping everything and focusing on the upcoming game.
  • Lack of empowerment.  Too many reps have said that they have absolutely no say or ability to contribute to the ideas of the team; rather, they are told what and how to sell even though it’s clearly not what the customer wants.
  • Being told they spend too much time developing relationships instead of closing, closing, closing. These tend to be the teams that have difficulty renewing clients, as they are selling for the short term and not the long term.
  • Staff is hitting goals, but you don’t come in earlier than they do, even though the day may start at 8:30 and some may come at 7. I’ve heard from a number of people that ‘dedication’ to the position is measured by the hours put in, not the results of the team.
  • Hitting and exceeding goals, but being reprimanded because not making required number of 60-100 calls a day. I can’t even comment on this; it is beyond my comprehension. With that in mind, some are leaving as they are using social media along with sales, and being reprimanded for that…even though it is helping them hit their goals early on. Lastly, some are leaving because of being reprimanded for being ‘out of office’ too much on calls, yet they are leading their team in sales because of in person sales

Growth and Development:

  •  Promised continual training and development, only to find an initial 2 day training and once a year thereafter. No coaching, no mentoring, no development.
  • Promised that growth would come from within, yet when positions open, hire from without.
  • Put into a leadership role with no leadership training and told to hit goals then managed by intimidation


  • Imbalance in work/life. Many reps today grew up with us as parents…parents who were in the generation of working/working/working.  Oftentimes, their parents missed school activities or games as they had ‘to work.’ These reps want more of a life balance and don’t care to repeat the cycle. Can we blame them?
  • Didn’t matter if goals were hit…still expected to come in early and stay late as ‘that’s what you do in sports.’  Many felt there was no incentive to working smarter/harder in the allotted 8 hours as you still were expected to stay.
  • In an answer to a question posed by Marty Mulford, Jason Stern replied:  “…my two cents…exhausted people eventually quit for greener pastures…and often find them.  So many people out there use people and continue to use people.  If that’s their management and leadership style, it’s one I can never root for, believe in, or support.”  Amen! 

Diverse Disparity:

  • Disparity in pay.  This past year, 4  Female managers/directors with major league teams have shared with me that they have been hired in/promoted for roles, finding afterward that they were hired anywhere from $10k to $25k less than male counterparts.
  • Perception that a female will leave once married.  I’ve had 2 different leaders tell me they found a great candidate, only to find that they were newly married ‘so they probably won’t be staying so we didn’t hire her.’
  • I, myself, was told by a Major League team that the team had voted on me to do the training, but they felt it was owed to their male counterparts as ‘sports are a guys thing.’


  • Low base with commission.  Graduating college, these kids today have huge loans to pay back. Yet we start them out on less than minimum wage, telling them they can make up for it with commission. That’s true, they can, but a base above the poverty level upon graduating college is more apt to keep reps than to lose them.

So what do we do?  Leadership styles need to change. The mold needs to be broken.  Sports is ready for a new wave of thinking and leaders.

Share with us reasons why you have left or what you find most challenging.  Next week’s blog will include what it takes to lead in sports in the 2010’s and beyond.

Kathy Burrows, Sold Out Seating SOS

For training either in person or twice monthly online, contact: kathy@soldoutseating.com

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