By: Adam White, @FOSAdam
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Jeff Munneke, VP of Fan Experience and Youth Basketball for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx. A sports business veteran with 28 years of experience, Jeff has been an integral part of both the Timberwolves and Lynx’s success as he has spent the last 27 years as part of the organizations. Even though Jeff has been with the same franchise for basically his entire career, he still enjoys coming to work everyday because there is, “always something new and exciting.” He was gracious enough to offer up his time and insight into the interworking of the NBA and its facilities, why you must practice interview skills early on and why, “When you meet with someone or talk to them, they should be the most important person in the room at that point.”
You have been in sports for 28 years, with 27 of those years being spent with the Timberwolves. What has that journey been like for you? How cool has it been to see the franchise grow up around you? What has made you stay?
I have been very privileged to spend so long working in my home state and in for a NBA and WNBA team is a dream come true. It is amazing to me that I have been doing this for so long and been the part of the start of both franchises.
I played college in basketball and when I realized I wouldn’t be good enough for the NBA, I knew there would be other avenues to work in the league. I am truly blessed to be able to work in a place that I love coming to every morning and in a place that I have built my network up over time.
I am always so excited to get to work everyday. We have such a great staff that it makes every day so exciting, fresh and fun.
In 28 years, the way the fan experiences a game has changed so dramatically. Can you touch on what you do differently now as an organization as opposed to just a few years ago?
As I started on the sales side of the industry many years ago, we didn’t have voicemail, computers or a cell phone for the first few years. It was a face-to-face business then. Technology has changed so much and will continue to change every aspect of the fan experience and the business side of the team.
The engagement opportunities now are just far more frequent and you have to keep pace. Everyone wants to communicate in their own way with an organization. You have to find out which way works best for each fans personal preference and once you do, execute on what you have learned from them.
Having to keep pace with all these new ways to engage have kept me ‘hip’, much to the chagrin of my children.
When engaging fans, you don’t always have to sell. You want to be yourself, and then use that skill to morph moments that may have nothing to do with the team, into moments where you can tell a fan or season ticket members about an upcoming event or game.
If I was in your shoes, what could I expect to do on a day-to-day basis?
For me on a day-to-day basis, I am just looking for every single possible way to engage with our fans. These engagements range from having a morning coffee with one of your season ticket members to hosting ten season ticket members for lunch at the arena. In our eyes, we are a conduit to keep the fans together. We want to keep them engaged with the team and engaged with other members of the fan base.
I also head our basketball academy and everything that goes into that, whether it is hosting camps and clinics or having teams out for halftime shows. The goal is to build rapport with the youth basketball market.
A lot of our time is spent out of the office going to meet with people and setting the table to not only build rapport, but to see what makes them tick.
Most challenging aspects of your job?
For me there are two main challenges. The first one is trying to keep pace with everything that is going on. We have had to make everything more intimate in recent years, which is great for the fan but not so good for us as that means we have to work more events and not get to spend as much time with our families. Time is such a major challenge as well. Luckily I was blessed with an extremely patient wife and kids who have allowed me to do this. It is possible to have a good work life balance; you just have to adjust your schedule accordingly.
One book that you suggest every student should read?
A great mentor for me and one of my favorite people of all time, Bill Sutton is always recommending books for me and one of my favorites he recommended was Good to Great by Jim Collins. It was excellent.
If you had to hire someone today, what traits and skills would the ideal candidate have in your opinion?
For what I do in the sales and service side of our industry, it is very rare that I will not be hiring someone for their personality.
I am much more interested in how prepared you are. I always tell kids to really understand whom they are interviewing with. With the information that is available now through resources like LinkedIn, not knowing who you are speaking with is a big mistake.
During the interview process, come prepared with really great questions and be engaged throughout.
Practice your interviewing skills by not only getting good at asking opened ended questions, but by practicing how you would respond to hypothetical questions and situations.
If you have practiced and done your research, when you walk into an interview, nothing should be new.
Favorite career memory?
There have been so many great memories that I would probably need a book for all of them, but there are a few iconic ones that stand out.
Some of my favorite memories have been the ‘firsts’ of things such as my first win as a member of the staff and my first playoff opportunity as a member of the staff.
One thing I will never forget is breaking the all time NBA attendance record by selling 1,000,072 tickets in year one. It is a record that will never be broken again. It was incredible.
3 things every sports business student should remember when starting out?
1. “The interviewing process is so important. Make sure you lock in on your craft and practice as much as possible.”
2. “The power of building relationships early on. You can never start too early. There is always someone to talk to. Understand the value of the open-ended question, because the open-ended question leads to dialogue and dialogue leads to relationships.”
3. “Value every conversation. If you are a great listener, you can learn from every conversation. Put down the phone and look people in the eye.”
“Relationships are everything. People want to work with people that they like.”
“The power of relationships will get you in the door and provide you with references and referrals that may give you an advantage when it comes to the hiring.”
“When you meet with someone or talk to them, they should be the most important person in the room at that point.”
“Be interested, not interesting.”
We would like to thank Jeff for his time and insight and we wish him the best in all his future endeavors!