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Out of the Playoffs? 3 Offseason Planning Tips for Finance Teams in Professional Sports

June 3, 2021 Evan Webster  
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Ahhh, playoff season. 

It’s always an exciting time for sports fans in the U.S. and Canada. The NHL and NBA playoffs are finally heating up and the teams still fighting for the Stanley Cup and the Larry OB are hungry. Even after a weird pandemic season, the buzz around the playoff cities is tangible. Will the Lakers go back to back? (They didn't.) Will the Mavs pull off an upset? (Unfortunately not.) Will this finally be the year a Canadian NHL team brings Lord Stanley home? (Allez les Habitants!)

Finance leaders at this year’s playoff franchises are just as pumped as the fans—because the deeper your team goes, the more playoff profit your organization will generate. Between ticket sales, concessions and merchandise, championship runs certainly make those income statements look a whole lot sweeter.

But for the teams who have already had their title dreams shattered, it’s time to start planning for a more profitable season ahead. That responsibility falls to your finance team starting the minute your season is over—because even though you can’t control what happens on the ice, court or field, you can make sure your franchise is set up for financial success.

Here Are 3 Offseason Planning Tips for Finance Teams in Professional Sports 

If you follow these helpful tips and align your people, processes and technology, your entire organization will be ready for the upcoming season.

1. Model the Bottom-Line Impact of Offseason Roster Moves and New Player Signings

This is a top priority during every organization’s offseason, especially in salary cap leagues such as the NHL, NFL or NBA. When your team limps out of the playoffs, management will start looking at ways to improve the roster, taking stock of the following information: 

  • Which players are under contract for next season and what’s the value of those contracts?
  • Of our players whose contracts are expiring this offseason, who do we want to keep? Are those players entitled to a raise?
  • Should we trade anyone to free up some cap space and acquire new talent?
  • Who are our top free agency targets? How much money are we prepared to offer them to join our team?
  • Do we have the cap space available to sign the players we want? What will the long-term impact of those signings look like financially?

The last question on that list is the most important one to answer in finance—and that’s where the value of what-if analysis comes into play. By modeling the bottom-line impact of a range of potential roster scenarios, you’ll be able to empower management with the information they need to make the best possible decisions for the future of your team. It’s important to remember that new player signings are about more than just salary, though. If you sign a big time player, you might also need to account for an uptick in jersey sales, sponsorship opportunities or higher attendance figures in next season’s revenue models.   

The challenge, however, is when your scenario modeling efforts are hampered by offline spreadsheet processes. If there are several versions of your player salary model floating around—or if you can’t adjust your inputs without copying and pasting across multiple workbooks—you won’t be able to deliver the information your team relies on efficiently. There are already plenty of reasons why your top-choice players may not sign with your franchise, but “we couldn’t figure out our financials in time for an offer” should never be one of them.

2. Take the Manual Legwork Out of League Reporting, Gameday Settlements, Ticketing / Sponsorship Revenue Tracking and More

There isn’t as much day-to-day finance stuff to deal with during the offseason, which makes it a great time to streamline some of the more cumbersome sports-specific reporting processes—including league reporting, gameday revenue settlements, ticketing and sponsorship revenue tracking. If the financial data you need for those things is siloed in multiple source systems, it gets tough to pull reports together manually during the hustle and bustle of the regular season. 

That’s why automation is so important to embrace and it starts by integrating your systems into one source of truth for financial data. That way, you won’t have to flip between data sources—such as your ERP/GL, HRIS, POS software and ticketing platform—to paint a holistic picture of how your franchise is actually performing.

Instead, up-to-date actuals will always be available on demand and you can automate report distribution to the right stakeholders across your organization. Think about how much time you’d save if gameday revenue settlements, for example, took minutes instead of hours. Your finance team would have a lot more time to focus on the future of your franchise—and isn’t that what business planning in sports is all about?

3. Collaborate With Cross-Functional Budget Owners To Capitalize on New Fan Engagement Opportunities

You may have already read our other blog on this topic already, but it’s worth addressing again here as we talk about offseason planning priorities. As you look at the season ahead and figure out new ways to engage your fan base, determining how much money to spend on those projects isn’t a job for just finance. Cross-functional budget owners (hospitality, sponsorships, facilities, etc.) need to be involved as well—because they know better than anyone how to optimize the fan experience.

Winning games is obviously important for engaging your fans (and for maximizing revenue), but there’s still a lot you can do to drive positive results in the offseason. Consider these examples:

  • Sales and incentives for new season ticket packages 
  • Sponsoring high-profile events in your local community
  • Investing in stadium upgrades or unique hospitality options for opening day

If you don’t collaborate closely with stakeholders from across your franchise, it’ll be harder to justify your spending as you turn these ideas into reality. Budget owners won’t participate in strategic planning in that scenario either—which might lead to missed opportunities for making the gameday experience even more profitable.

Raise Your Game This Offseason With a Complete Planning Solution Built for the Sports Business

Regardless of what you choose to prioritize this offseason for your franchise, charting the best path forward requires the right people, processes and technology. When you find the right balance between all three of those elements, your organization will be ready to win—both on and off the playing field. 

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