The Off Season….That’s When You Take a Break, Right?

The off season is hardly an extended vacation in professional soccer. That is when the important work is done to prepare for the following season.

The off season is hardly an extended vacation in professional soccer. That is when the important work is done to prepare for the following season.

It surprises me how many people think that working for a professional sports team is like being a teacher and allows for a months-long vacation in the off season.  While the season is certainly hectic and requires many hours each week, ideally the season is merely the execution of all the planning, selling and promoting that went into the off season.  It’s that off season work that will actually determine success or failure of the following year.

The close of the Milwaukee Wave’s 2009-10 professional indoor soccer season last week means we’ve now transitioned into the advance work for 2010-11.  That work actually started a couple months ago with the creation of the organization’s business plan.  Last month, while the season was winding down, we made important decisions on pricing of individual, season and group tickets for next year and put season tickets on sale - the earliest in team history.

Last week we put together the following outline of our off season activities over the next eight months – and in some cases, 12 months – to prepare the Milwaukee Wave for an improved 2010-11:

I.  General

A.  Business plan review – April

B.  Budget finalization – April/May

C.  Staff Retreat – May

i.   Business plan review

ii.  Marketing Plan

iii. Sales plan

a. Tickets

b.  Sponsorship

c.  Camps

iv. Promotions

v. In Game Entertainment

vi. Other topics listed below

a.  Media

b.  Merchandise

c.  Schedule

d.  World Cup

e.  Special Events

f.  Team

II.  Staff

A.  Organizational structure review – April

B.  Employee reviews – April

C.  Personnel Changes – April/May

III.  Ticket sales

A.  Season tickets – April through December

i.  Renewal of Season Tickets

a.  Through April 30 early bird: Kory

b.  May 1st to October 31st:  Divide with players and ticket sales staff

c.  November 1st to December 1st:  Jim and peter

ii.  New Season Tickets

a.  Individual seasons to data base

b.  Bulk to sponsors and youth soccer clubs

c.  Referrals from existing season ticket holders

B.  Group tickets – April through March

i.  Youth soccer

ii.  District meetings – April/May

iii.  Club meetings – April through August all clubs

iv.  Bars and Restaurants – August through March

v.  Scouts, Indian Guides, YMCAs, Chambers, Service Clubs and other organizations – June – March

C.  Promotions – Discuss at retreat and implement afterwards.

i.  Giveaways

ii.  Concerts

iii.  Charitable tie-ins

iv. Creative/fun: Beach Nights, retro celebrities etc.

IV.  Sponsorship sales plan

A.  Renewal

i.  Proof of performance – April

ii.  Negotiate renewal terms – April through June

B.  New  – April through March

i.  Team Marketing Report Sponsor Report fact Book

ii.  Other local sports teams

iii.  Other local events

iv.  Leverage relationships

a.  Keith, Jim, Peter, staff and players

b.  Season ticket holders, existing sponsors and partners

V.  Game Schedule

A.  Secure Dates From WCD – May/June

B.  Secure local sports team schedules – May/June

C.  Cross reference holidays and other major events – May/June

D.  Plug in key dates firmly (Home opener, Scout Day, Parade of Champions) – May/June

E.  Plug in rest of dates tentatively – June/July

F.  Finalize schedule with MISL – June/July

VI.  Camps

A.  Follow through on existing plan – April through August

B.  Finalize Dance Camps – April

VII.  Merchandise – May through November

A.  Renew with current vendor and suppliers

B.  In arena selection

C.  Soccer retailers

D.  Mass retailers

E.  Online shop

VIII.  Marketing Plan

A.  Agency review – May

B.  Social media – May through March

i.  Increased player, coach and staff blogs

ii. Improved Twitter, FaceBook and YouTube usage

iii. Review/renewal of MKE Live and Shoutlet partnerships

iv. Website review and upgrades

v.  Database and contact management system improvements

C.  Advertising plan – August through October

D.  Design & printing of collateral (ticket brochure, program, posters, schedules, promotional materials etc.) – April through November

IX.  Media

A.  Webcasts – August

i.  Company selection

ii. Determine fee schedule

B.  Television – July/August

C.  News release schedule – April through March

D.  Soccer Saturday Presented by the Milwaukee Wave – April through March

X.  In Game Entertainment – Discuss at retreat and implement afterwards

A.  Lobby

B.  Concourse

C.  VIP Room

D.  Lower Concourse (Interactive area)

E.  On field

i.   Pre-game

ii.  During game

iii. Halftime

iv. Breaks

v.  Post-game

XI.  Player/Mascot Appearances

A.  Summerfest – June/July

B.  State Fair – August

C.  Soccer tournaments – May through March

D.  Youth club picnics/events – May through March

E.  Parades – May through August

F.  Schools – April/May and September through March

G.  Charity events – April through March

H.  Ethnic festivals – June through August

I.  Street festivals – June through August

J.  Other – April through March

XII.  World Cup

A.  Viewing Parties – April through July

B.  Expert analysis for local media – May/July

C.  Web site blogs – June/July

D.  Fan Contest/Pool

XIII.  Special Events

A.  School Day Games – April through March

B.  Beach Games (2) – April through July

C.  Summer Games (2) – April through July

D.  Madison exhibition – June

XIV.  Team

A.  Roster decisions

B.   Re-sign out of contract players – April through September

C.   Sign new players – August through November

D.   Tryouts – November

The outline above leaves out the detail behind it as much of the information is proprietary, but it should give you an idea of the scope and importance of the work that’s required in the off season to prepare a team for the season itself.  In the MISL, the off season is twice as long (eight months) as the season (four months).  This past year the Wave was challenged by a transition of Leagues, ownership and leadership.  The Wave’s previous League, the XSL, folded following the 2008-09 season, the Wave’s owner announced he was not returning regardless of League after the season, the staff was released in the off season and turmoil and doubt followed the organization for almost half of the off season.

New owners Jim and Nancy Lindenberg took over in mid-summer as the team joined the MISL, then I was hired in mid-October, just six weeks prior to opening day.  The shortened and difficult off season made preparation challenging, but thanks in large part to a successful Save the Wave season ticket campaign and relationship sponsor sales, the Wave managed to increase ticket revenue 30% and sponsor revenue 35% this season over the previous year.

We expect that the relative stability of this off season, along with the game plan above will allow us to have another year of significant revenue growth.  Though it will require eight months of diligent work and not an eight month vacation.

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