Bill Manning - President, Real Salt Lake Share PDF Print E-mail
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President of Real Salt Lake (RLS), Bill Manning has enjoyed a successful career as an executive in the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Soccer. Manning played professionally in the United Soccer Leagues (USL) with the Penn-Jersey Spirit (1991), Valley Golden Eagles (1993) and New York Fever (1994-95). Manning’s first entry into MLS came in February 2000 when he was named President & General Manager of the Tampa Bay Mutiny.

After a fruitful spell with NFL franchise Philadelphia Eagles, where he was responsible for all corporate sponsorships and premium seating, Manning returned to soccer with Utah side RSL and has not only won the MLS Cup in 2009 but also successfully sold naming rights and opened one of America’s premier sports and entertainment, Rio Tinto Stadium. Bill talked to iSportconnect about his marketing and development strategy and his achievement in US sports.

By Fabrice Porzyc

Tell me how you got into soccer

I played soccer all through my childhood as I was growing up and then in college. Before MLS there was a league called the United Soccer League (USL), which is still around today. I got my first opportunity to join soccer in 1993. I was director of marketing for the Continental Indoor Soccer League.  I was working in a private industry at the time so I sent a resume and got an interview. One thing lead to the next and I got the job. A little less than a year later I went to work for a team in the USL called the New York Fever where I also played and then eventually become a General Manager for a USL team called the Long Island Rough Riders back in 1993. 

How did RSL approach you when they offered you the job?

I was working in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles as President of Sales. I had previously worked in MLS back in 2000-2003 running the Tampa franchise.  I got approached through an executive recruiter called Len Perna who heads up Turnkey Sports. He asked if I would meet and I actually said no at first! He asked me if I was interested in the Presidency job at RSL and I told him I wasn’t. He called me again about a month later and said ‘why don’t you meet with Dave Checketts’ who was the owner at the time. I wanted to meet this impressive guy. I really believed in the vision. It was a very difficult decision because NFL in the United States is the most popular league.  It is the top of the food chain when it comes to pro sport in America.

What are the main differences being an executive for a MLS franchise compare to the NBA or NFL?

It’s actually very much the same; customer service, generating revenue in terms of sponsorship and ticket sales, and overseeing the team side of it. Our goal here is we want to compete for championships every year. That is the number one underlying goal of this franchise and with that is a certain culture which has enabled us to build our revenue streams tremendously. It starts with great customer service and never forgetting the fans. You have to put a good product on the field and you have to treat them well.

Ticket sales and sponsorship revenues have tripled since you became President. Can you tell us your strategy?

Well it is more than that! I think regarding the sponsorship you have to believe that your product is worth something. I learned that when I worked in the NBA. We opened up the Toyota Centre and elevated our sponsorships to another level. Then when I went to the Eagles there was a sense of ‘we are the Philadelphia Eagles and we command a certain investment level for you to align yourself with.’ When I came to RSL there was a little bit of a minor league mind-set that will take any dollar we can get. So we started putting in minimum standards. We only do multiyear deals, we won’t do one year deals. We do minimum investments levels and we built up our stature. So we started to elevate our level of sponsors and believing in who we were and then delivering on that.  We always try to over deliver on not just the big things but the little things, remembering someone has kids and you get signed jerseys for them when it’s a kid’s birthday. Now I’ve grown our sponsorship by over $10m.

In terms of ticket sales it came down to having the bodies. We went from a club that had less than 5,000 season ticket holders when we moved into the Rio Tinto Stadium to over 10,000. We will pass 11,000 this year. We have an entire fans relations group that take all of our season ticket holders and they get to know all our season ticket holders on a first name basis. They know where they sit and we break down our sections into ‘neighbourhoods.’ Each of our fan relations rep has a neighbourhood where everyone in those sections knows their customer.

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