Growing Sport’s Talent Tree: the 49ers Sales Academy

The robust training program includes a combination of ‘skill and will’ exercises, personal development sessions, leadership and personal brand coaching, industry best practice think tanks, and an internal and external speaker series.

The San Francisco 49ers are redefining the game in sports sales and talent development via 49ers

In August 2014, the San Francisco 49ers ushered in the next chapter of a franchise that already owns a storied past. After more than 40 years in Candlestick Park, the Bay Area team upgraded its home to the state-of-the-art Levi’s® Stadium in Santa Clara.

Leading up to the stadium’s grand opening, team performance was at a peak level, front office personnel had nearly tripled in size, and revenue performance across all major categories was fast approaching the league’s top ranks.

With such a strong performance throughout the organization, all seats and suites in Levi’s Stadium were swiftly sold through. A shift in market conditions, along with the conclusion of the “honeymoon” period of the new facility led to a pivotal change on the revenue side of the 49ers business.

The organization faced a monumental task: create a strategy to sell all remaining seat licenses while developing an optimal and sustainable sales structure going forward. Out of this necessity and opportunity, the 49ers Executive Team and Sales Leadership team emerged with an all-encompassing game plan to take sales to the next level.

The sales side of the business underwent a substantial re-org, including hiring new personnel, re-aligning management, and launching a Sales Academy intended to serve as a long-term talent incubator for the organization’s revenue departments.

An open work space ripe with inspiration from 49er greats keeps academy members motivated day in and day out via 49ers.

“Our re-organization required full buy-in and commitment from the organization to achieve measurable success in our new sales goals,” shared the Director of the Sales Academy, Paul Epstein. “Without the support of ownership and our President Al Guido, none of this would have been possible.”

The launch of the 49ers Sales Academy could not have come at a better time. The energy around the revamped business side was met in full with the excitement of a new regime on the football side.

“The hiring of General Manager John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan has infused an energy into the business-side of the organization that has already surpassed anything I’ve seen since being here,” said Epstein.

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In order to secure top-tier talent, the 49ers collaborated with Sports Business Solutions during the recruitment process to fill out their new sales team. Epstein promised all new recruits the ability to not only develop and grow their careers in sports, but to become better leaders and people overall.

To complement these efforts, the robust training program includes a combination of ‘skill and will’ exercises, personal development sessions, leadership and personal brand coaching, industry best practice think tanks, and an internal and external speaker series leveraging their cross-departmental executive team as well as the local market of Silicon Valley business leaders.

In addition, thanks to the organization’s partnership with Simon Sinek, each member of the academy undergoes a personalized “Why Discovery” led by Epstein to truly understand their individual purpose and how it aligns with the overarching “Why” of the 49ers.

To accent this portfolio of resources, Epstein has thoughtfully incorporated the final product throughout the academy. A dedicated 49ers-branded office space was built in a newly renovated wing of the 49ers headquarters, just steps away from the team’s training facilities.

Neighboring the Sales Academy is a private gym sponsored by ownership that provides multiple boot camp sessions a day for the staff to step away momentarily from the daily sales grind.

“Bringing football and athletics into the work environment on a daily basis helps remind you why you got in the business,” explained Epstein. “In sales, even if you’re great, you’re likely not making a sale every day. It’s a taxing job; it’s difficult to maintain a consistently high morale on a day-to-day basis. That’s why we made football an intentional integration into this program: to keep sight of why we joined the 49ers in the first place.”

To fully manifest this alignment with the business side, the Academy will often run the stadium stairs, engulfed by seats they’re tasked to sell while ensuring they always keep their eye on the prize.

49ers General Manager John Lynch stops by the Sales Academy to lend a hand in welcoming a new season ticket member via Greg Breiner.

All of these incredible resources are coupled with a culture that is grounded in a belief of a common purpose and a passion to challenge the status quo of sports sales operations throughout the country.

“All inaugural members of the Sales Academy came here to be a part of something special, new, and unique in the sports industry,” Epstein voiced. “Several members described it as a ‘game-changing and career-defining’ move.”

While all of the pieces are in place for success, Epstein realizes that the Sales Academy will only be as strong as the revenue performance of the team and the ability to grow and develop talent within the organization and sports industry overall.

The organization is fully committed to making this a mainstay in their sales operation, with a vision to establish this as the ideal destination for a sports sales executive to grow and accelerate their careers.

With the inaugural ticket sales class underway, Epstein has already grown the program to develop a group sales program and has plans to launch a hospitality sales arm and potential summer sales internships in the near future.

Epstein believes in a year-round recruiting model and welcomes any conversation with a rising star in the business that has a passion to do something special and earn their “gold jacket” in sales and leadership, a reference to the well-known attire of Hall of Famers in the NFL.

“We want the ‘who’s who’ of the sports industry to come from the 49ers Sales Academy,” Epstein said. “We want to be the foundation of the elite talent tree in sports and couldn’t be more excited for what’s to come.”

For more information on the 49ers Sales Academy or to apply for future considerations, please reach out to Paul Epstein at paul.epstein@49ers.com.


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