Mike Wendling is the Manager of Ticket Analytics at Oklahoma State University. A recent MBA/MSA graduate of Ohio University, Mike also spent time activating sponsorships while working with IMG College. In this interview, Mike talks about his experience and thoughts on getting a graduate degree, his responsibilities as Manager of Ticket Analytics, and the role analytics play in dynamic pricing.

You recently received a Master of Business & Master of Sports Administration from Ohio University’s renowned sports graduate program. Can you reflect on your experiences there and why you chose to get a graduate degree?

My decision to go to Ohio was based on a personal necessity as opposed to a way of enhancing my career. I have always had a passion for sports, however it wasn't until the end of my time at Queen's University in Canada that I realized I wanted to pursue a career in the sports business world. At the time I felt I lacked relevant experience to jump straight into a full time position. However, I will say attending Ohio was the best decision I ever made. The knowledge I gained, coupled with the practical experiences and connections I made within the industry have propelled me to where I am today.​

Do you think a graduate degree is necessary to work in sports?

It's definitely not necessary, but it sure helps! The sports industry is all about connections and networking. One of the greatest assets I gained from Ohio was a network of friends and professional associates. I know I can pick up the phone and call anyone in our alumni directory for career advice, a professional opinion or just to chat. The industry as a whole is beginning to see a shift in favor of those with Masters Degrees for certain positions, especially in the college realm.  That being said, a graduate degree isn’t the be-all end-all. There are a plethora of sports executives that are extremely successful without one. It all depends on the situation and the individual.

As Manager of Ticket Analytics for Oklahoma State, what are your responsibilities?

As a fairly new employee, I am still defining the specifics of my role at Oklahoma State. My overall goal is to determine various ways to generate more revenue and increase ticket sales for athletic events. I use the current data we have to help us make smarter, more informed decisions every day.

Additionally, a few of my ongoing projects span from working with retention models and location base models to creating dynamic pricing opportunities. Recently, I have been working with our retention reps to develop lead scoring models in hopes of moving even farther away from cold calling in order to put them in the best possible position to make a sale. In time I would like to produce closing percentages of the reps based on a variety of demographics in order to pair prospects with the rep most likely to make the sale as well as create a connection.  

Most importantly, our focus at Oklahoma State is always on customer service. Therefore, I am continually trying to find ways to have smarter touch points with our fans and enhance the experience within our facilities.

Dynamic pricing has long been a presence in the hotel and airline industry and is now being implemented into sports. What factors go into dynamic pricing and what role do analytics play?

The thing about dynamic pricing is that it is different for every situation. The basic idea is that the price needed to clear the market is going to change based on a variety of factors. However, the combination of factors will be different for every organization. Certain teams will have fans more influenced by weather, while other teams will have fans that are heavily influenced by the opponent. One factor, supply, will be a major proponent for all teams, hence why we often see prices rise closer to game day.

Analytics, in particular regression analysis, is used to tell the organization which factors are significant and how those specific factors affect the market clearing price. From there, we can use this predicted price as a starting point for discussion. It is important to remember to always give the best value to the organization's season ticket holders and to never price below what they would pay.

This might be a little far-fetched, but can this idea of dynamic pricing be implemented into other things such as memorabilia, in-game concessions, etc. 

It is possible. As the number of jerseys or hot dogs left in the stadium diminishes the price goes up for the last few. However, I highly doubt something like this would be executed successfully. Personally, it sounds like a sure fire way to create a negative experience complete with a multitude of disgruntled fans. Keeping the fan happy should always be the number one priority for every organization. In my opinion, dynamic pricing should ultimately be used to encourage fans to become season ticket holders so they know they will get the best value. At Oklahoma State, we are focused on longevity and building a relationship with lifelong fans. I would much rather have a season ticket holder be happy spending $400 a year for the next 10 years with us than squeeze an extra $100 out of a fan buying a single game ticket creating a negative experience.

What’s your favorite part about working in sports?

I have been business oriented my entire life, which is why I decided to pursue a bachelors degree in economics. When I found out I could combine this love of business with sports it was a no brainer. I get to go to work every day and sell something that I love. It is so much easier to sell something you are passionate and excited about and then actually get to witness that same excitement and passion on the fans faces throughout the game.

What advice would you give to students and young professionals looking to break into the industry?

Get as much practical experience as you can. Volunteer for everything and every opportunity that arises. Consider a Masters degree as a way to enhance your knowledge and professional network, but make sure it is the right fit for your career. Above all, you never know who is watching or who has that connection you need to make your next big career move. Be courteous and respectful to everyone you meet in the industry and in your daily encounters no matter how small. 

Follow Mike on Twitter @WendlingMike.

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