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Indiana Pacers launch combine to scout for top salespeople

October 16, 2010

The Indiana Pacers are preparing to tip off an event fashioned after the National Football League Scouting Combine. But the event set for Jan. 6 and 7 at Conseco Fieldhouse isn’t aimed at finding up-and-coming star athletes.

Jake Vernon Vernon

Instead, organizers of the first Midwest Sports Business Combine are intent on finding talented salespeople. Pacers officials expect about 250 people to register for the combine, and they’re opening it up to other major- and minor-league teams looking to bolster their sales forces.

Already, 17 teams—including NFL, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League franchises—have committed to participate. Pacers officials expect that number to grow.

The combine is more than a career fair, said Jake Vernon, Pacers vice president of ticket sales and service, who developed the idea.

Midwest Sports Business Combine facts“It’s a lot like a sports combine,” Vernon said. “These men and women will be rated on how well and how hard they are willing to work at the job.”
Instead of the 40-yard dash and bench press, participants will be tested on things like cold calling, ability to develop and deliver a sales pitch, and effectiveness in closing a deal.

“We will test them in sales techniques across the board,” Vernon said.

The Pacers hired Lushin & Associates, an Indianapolis-based sales training and consulting firm, to work with attendees to improve their skills.

“I think there’s a trailblazing aspect to this combine,” said Paul Lushin, owner of Lushin & Associates. “[Attendees] get to immerse themselves into the whole sports sales and marketing world.”

Lushin thinks it makes sense to launch such an event in Indianapolis.

“Indianapolis has positioned itself as a world-class sporting capital,” Lushin said. “Why wouldn’t it be a place where world class sales talent with an interest in working in sports be cultivated?”

While the first day will be devoted largely to training and measuring participants’ skills, the second day will include a career fair and interview opportunities for job openings. Vernon expects at least 10 percent of participants to leave the event with job offers.

Attendees will pay $199 if they register to attend before Dec. 1 and $250 after that date, but Vernon said the combine will not be a profit center for the Pacers.

“We expect this to be a really big recruiting tool,” Vernon said. “And we think you get the best people when you provide more of an opportunity for them. That opportunity comes in the form of the unique training we offer, and also the opportunity to meet and talk with a number of executives from a variety of professional sports franchises.”

Vernon, who thinks the size of the event could quadruple in a few years, said he is confident the Pacers will be able to compete with any other professional teams present for top talent.

Larry DeGaris, director of the University of Indianapolis’ academic sports marketing program, thinks the event will have a broad appeal to recent and soon-to-be college graduates.

“An economy and tough job market like the one we’re in will certainly accentuate demand,” DeGaris said.

Less than two weeks after the event was announced, registrations had come in from as far away as Texas, New York and Florida, Vernon said.

DeGaris isn’t surprised that the Pacers have been able to lure so many major-league teams to participate.

“Why wouldn’t they want to participate in this combine?” DeGaris said. “They don’t have to do much work, the Pacers are doing all of that, and they can come and cull some of the best young sales talent in the Midwest. Every professional sports league really should be doing something like this on a league-wide basis.”

Luke Burket, group sales manager for the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets, said sports franchises are willing to travel to seek out strong sales talent.

“In sports, it’s sell or die, so having people who can take off in an entry-level position is critical,” Burket said.

A combine-style event like the one in Indianapolis also helps provide a much better screening tool, he said, than placing a classified ad and reviewing resumes.

“An event like this also paints a clear picture for people of what they’re going to get into with a career in sports marketing and sales,” Burket said.•

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