• Loading stock data...
Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Register Now for Future of Sports: Cybersecurity

Joel Zawacki: The Anatomy of a Great Sale

This interview is presented to you by the University of Nebraska — Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration.

By: D.J. Podgorny, @DJPodgorny

Joel Zawacki - Assistant General Manager of Corporate Sales & Marketing for the Indianapolis Indians Photo via Joel Zawacki

The path to a career in sports for Joel Zawacki, Assistant General Manager of Corporate Sales & Marketing for the Indianapolis Indians, started on the baseball diamond. Having had a passion for sports throughout his life, Zawacki was thrilled to continue his playing career as a pitcher at the University of Indianapolis (UIndy) while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in sports administration.

Although sports were always among Zawacki’s favorite hobbies, he still was “naive” about the various career paths within the industry. Upon enrolling at UIndy, he still had not settled on a formal major of study.

“I had considered law school, accounting, business or something along those lines. I just really focused in on taking prerequisite classes that first year and stumbled into a sports business class that really outlined a lot of the countless opportunities that there are in sports and entertainment. It connected my passion for sports with career opportunities. That’s where it started.”

Inspired by the many prospective ways to earn a living in sports, Zawacki elected to pursue a degree in sports administration.

As his studies progressed, Zawacki was able to gain real-world experience through internships with the Brevard County Manatees, a Single-A baseball in the Milwaukee Brewers farm system, and the Indiana Pacers. During his role with the Pacers, Zawacki first experienced corporate sales, something that ignited his fascination for sales and advertising.

Utilizing the relationships he was able to build during his internships, Zawacki landed his first full-time job with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians after graduating in just three and a half years. He entered the Indians as a sponsorship sales coordinator, working primarily in market activation and in a support role for account representatives.

From day one, Zawacki has brought fresh ideas to the table. With innovative thinking and results to back it up, it didn’t take long for him to climb the corporate ladder within the franchise. In only his second year at the Indians, Zawacki jumped into leadership, becoming the Director of Corporate Partnerships for the Indians. For three and a half years, Zawacki operated in this role until it expanded and he was named Director of Corporate Sales & Marketing in 2012.

Since Zawacki joined the Indians, sponsorship revenue has almost quadrupled. Such unprecedented growth would not have been possible without the leadership and vision of Zawacki.

“A lot has changed and evolved in the 10 years that I have been here. It took a lot of creativity and persistence to get leadership to invest in what we’re doing. I think the first thing was a shift in philosophy. I had a lot of great mentors in my time at the Pacers and my first year here at the Indians that attributed to that. The tactic of slapping a proposal or a menu of inventory in front of prospective partners just didn’t work and that’s what we were doing here.”

“The change in mindset was to build partnerships that are win-win and focus on retaining partners and growing renewal rate, which as at 95 percent today. Previously, everything was year-to-year and we didn’t really have any long-term partners. There’s just not enough time in the day to go back every year and redo the same partners over and over again. So, instituting multi-year partnerships allowed our sales team to go out and solicit new partners.”

With a sound strategy and a talented sales team, sponsorships skyrocketed in the last decade for the Indians. But, what does a great sell look like to Zawacki?

“I personally don’t view what my team does as sales, it’s more consulting. It’s not about just creating a win-win, it’s about creating a win-win-win. It should be a win for the Indians, our partners and our fans. If you can structure partnerships and deals where all three groups benefit, I think you’re onto something.”

“It’s all about finding that idea that aligns with your team’s brand, your image, your strategies and that also meets the goals and objectives of your partners in a unique way that engages the fans that are coming out to your games.”

“To me, it’s about being creative, not about trying to sell a partner on something or slap a logo on something. I think when you truly listen and get to understand what a partner is trying to accomplish, you can come up with some creative ways to integrate the two brands together.”

This mentality has clearly led to success and many long-term relationships for the Indians. Such methodologies and successes were drivers for Zawacki’s promotion to Assistant General Manager last month.

In addition to his role within the Indians, Zawacki is also active in his community. In his spare time, he serves on the Board of Trustees for Indian Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a charity near and dear to his family. Zawacki’s mother is a survivor and was diagnosed when he was a teenager.

Zawacki also maintains involvement with his alma mater, UIndy. Today he serves as an Advisory Board Member for their Kinesiology department, as well as on the Board of Directors for the Greyhound Club.

For young professionals interested in sports, Zawacki had the following advice:

“At the surface level, the best employees work hard and ask a lot of questions. They have a desire to learn and make things better. It’s not about checking a box to say they got something done, it’s about putting their name on what they’re doing and taking pride in that. When you can find people like that, that have that sort of passion, those are the folks that I’m always looking for.”

“There are a lot of people that think they love sports and that they’d love to work in sports, but it’s a lifestyle that’s not for everybody. Until you’re in it for a season or two, I don’t think you that you understand that fully.”

And for those that are frustrated either trying to break into the industry or advance to the next level in their current organization:

“Have patience. Influencing change, especially as a young up-and-comer, takes time.”

“It takes time to build trust. With each idea, success grows. Once you gain that momentum it will pick up pace and the hard work will eventually pay off. It doesn’t feel like that every day in the early days, but just have patience and work hard and good things usually happen.”

With such a stellar track record of success, innovation and creativity, the recent promotion to Assistant General Manager is a no-brainer. Expect continued success from the Indians and Zawacki as they continue to raise the bar in marketing and sales across the minor leagues.

Front Office Sports is proud to have spoken with Joel Zawacki. We would like to thank him for his time and insight and we wish him the best in his new role as Assistant General Manager of the Indianapolis Indians. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

Linkedin
Whatsapp
Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

While Sports Fans Are Turning Out in Record Numbers, 2024 Isn’t Looking So ‘Rosy’

Sports fans have made one thing clear in 2023: They have been more eager than ever to attend live games.
Mercedes-AMG Petronas driver George Russell drives in front of race fans during the Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix Launch Party at Las Vegas Strip.

Formula 1 Las Vegas Ticket Prices Falling From Great Heights

Some wealthy fans have already paid exorbitant sums.
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry shoots the ball against Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves and forward LeBron James in the second half of game four of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Crypto.com Arena.

Big Markets, In-Season Tournament Powering NBA Ticket Sales

The Warriors and Lakers are the two most in-demand NBA teams for ticket sales.
Chicago Blackhawks center Connor Bedard skates with the puck during the third period against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden.

Connor Bedard Effect: Tickets Surge for Blackhawks Rookie’s Home Debut

Fans traveled 300 miles on average for Bedard’s home debut.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

Deconstructing the A’s and Their Messy Move

0:00
0:00

Featured Today

Sabrina-Steph Wasn’t the ‘Battle of the Sexes’—But It Was Part of the Bigger War

The competition could play a factor in increasing the WNBA’s media value.
NASCAR Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace (23), in a Star Wars rebel alliance X-wing fighter pilot-inspired race suit, motions to the crowd to get louder during the driver introductions for the Cup Series Championship race at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale on Nov. 5, 2023.
February 17, 2024

Celebrity Owners, International Ambitions, and $7B Media Deals: Welcome to the New NASCAR

NASCAR boldly keeps pace with the increasingly competitive sports and entertainment world.
February 16, 2024

Wilson Introduced an Airless Basketball for $2,500. We Had Questions

The black, 3D-printed ball appeared in last year’s Slam Dunk Contest.
Emily Henegar, a baker and content creator, made a batch of NFL-inspired cookies featuring Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce.
February 11, 2024

The ‘Life-Changing’ Economy of Taylor Swift’s NFL Outfits

Appearing in Swift’s game-day wardrobe has been “life-changing” for small businesses.

Careers

Powered By

Careers in Sports

Looking for a new job? Check out these featured listings and search for openings all over the world.
Finance Manager
FanDuel
New York, NY
Senior Technical Artist - Sports Technology
EA Sports
Orlando, FL
Assistant Manager, Affiliate Operations
Adidas
Portland, OR
Sponsored

Temple Takes Your Sports Career to the Next Level

If you want to break through to the C-Suite , Temple University’s Executive Master of Science in Sport Business can help you up your game and accelerate your career. 
Sponsored

Networking With Purpose

Investing in the Ohio University PMSA unlocks access to one of the largest sports business alumni networks in the world.
Sponsored

University of San Francisco Is Your Ticket to the Game

Rated the No. 1 Sports Management program in California, USF has been a leader in educating industry professionals for more than 30 years.
Sponsored

Live Sports Are Now High-Tech Experiences

Oracle is leading the technology revolution happening in stadiums across the world.
Sponsored

UMass, McCormack Department of Sport Management Introduce Groundbreaking Women in Business Course

UMass’s Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management has announced the addition of a Women in Business course launching Spring 2021.
Sponsored

Sacred Heart University Gives Athletes and Students Hands-On Learning Opportunities

Professor Matthew F. Moran is training the industry’s next generation of exercise scientists at Sacred Heart University.
Sponsored

Ohio University PMSA Prepares Sports Professionals For New Normal

Two alumni of the Ohio University Professional Master of Sports Administration explain how they feel prepared for the future of sports.
Sponsored

Temple’s Sports Business Master’s Program Gives a Sports Media Pro Unique Perspective

Temple’s School of Sport, Tourism & Hospitality Management gave Sean Hanrahan the tools to elevate his career even after 30 years in the business.