November 1

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Lessons from Leaders – Jamie Pollard

Charles Campisi

November 1, 2021

employee experience, fan experience, fans first, leadership, NACDA, sports business

Are you considering fan desires before updating your game day experience? 

2019 NACDA Athletics Director of the Year Jamie Pollard joined the latest Flip the Switch episode and discussed Iowa State’s momentum, culminating in record season ticket sales this year. A significant contributor? Understanding Cyclone fans and tailoring experiences to key customer personas. Here are three key takeaways from the conversation with the NACDA President:

Speak to fans’ love language  

Early into his tenure, Jamie and team recognized the Cyclones’ passionate fan base loved tailgating but weren’t necessarily buying tickets. So the department began investing heavily in the overall Jack Trice Stadium experience. For example, their End Zone Fan Club targets middle-aged, high-earners with early Saturday commitments who want to arrive and immediately step into a tailgating environment. The result of all these improvements? Iowa State has seen a steady increase in season ticket sales over the past decade that started well before the program reached national prominence under Matt Campbell. 

To lead like an entrepreneur, challenge your staff

As a leader, your job must include asking the tough questions before implementing a new strategy. Earlier this year, Iowa State adopted digital parking passes over the standard hang tags for football. Before carrying the same plan over to basketball season, Jamie challenged his team to ask more probing questions: What happens when all cars show up at the same time? Will the scanners work when it’s pitch black and 10 degrees out? Will fans be fumbling for their phones in their winter coats? His team also had to be willing to execute the plan themselves before implementing. The department reconsidered, sticking with hang tags for basketball.  

Hold people accountable. And not just about job performance 

Jamie learned from legendary AD Debbie Yow the importance of holding people accountable. At the end of the day, a ‘job has to get done.’ However, that doesn’t mean an employee should skip important family responsibilities. Jamie prides himself on the “Family First” culture at Iowa State and mentioned calling out an employee who missed his son’s first little league game to complete a work task. At a time when employee burnout is widespread across the U.S., have you evaluated what values your culture truly prioritizes?

Jamie also discussed:

  • How the recent Big 12 additions and evolving media landscape substantially bolster the conference
  • Learning from past failures 
  • Empowering your staff so that you are only a tie-breaker

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