Sports Career Spotlight

We've been featuring executives from the sports industry since 2001. Naturally, some of these executives have moved onward and upward in their sports careers. We believe these profiles remain relevant and valuable because they highlight the hard work, dedication, brilliant successes, and lessons learned in a variety of career paths through the sports industry.

Dave Neff

Dave Neff, Director, Suite Sales & Services

Pacers Sports & Entertainment


Name: Dave Neff
Current Job Title: Director, Suite Sales & Services
Company Name: Pacers Sports & Entertainment
First sports job: Premium & Ticket Services Administrator – Pacers Sports & Entertainment
College education: B.S. Sport Administration, Ball State University
Executive most admired: Scott O’Neil – President, Madison Square Garden Sports
Brand most admired: Apple

I have been with Pacers Sports & Entertainment (PS&E) just over four years. Currently, I lead the business development of all licensed suite revenue as well as suite rental revenue. I am also responsible for the retention of our existing contractual suite revenue. My team is comprised of four other individuals: two sellers and two service reps. We work closely with Corporate Partnerships and the rest of Ticket Sales to serve as the subject matter experts on all suite related information and inventory at PS&E. We prospect C-level executives throughout the greater Indianapolis metropolitan area to determine how a suite can help to grow their bottom line and drive employee engagement.

Prior to working with suites, I spent two years on the service side of the business. I developed relationships with season ticket holders and it was my responsibility to renew and grow the partnership with my clients. An opportunity became available to move to the sales side of things and particularly suite sales. Ultimately, I saw greater growth potential in a sales capacity and especially in the evolving discipline of premium/suite sales.

Tell us a little about your first job in the sports industry. How did you land it?

I broke into sports through a relationship I had with a classmate from college. He had done an internship with the Pacers and ended up getting promoted into a full-time position. After being at the Pacers for about nine months he received another promotion. This left his entry level position open. He reached out and told me about the opening. I jumped on it and went through a couple of interviews with him lobbying on the inside for me. Timing was perfect as I was offered a position in April of ’07 and I was scheduled to graduate in May ’07. Get to know your classmates as this will often be your best bet on learning of opportunities to break into the industry.

In terms of responsibility in that first role, I essentially supported the Director of Premium & Ticket Services as well as the seven Service Coordinators in the department. I kept records and helped to facilitate events for season ticket holders but did not service any of my own accounts. Thankfully, an opportunity became available five months into that first role that allowed for me to move into a different position where I began servicing my own account base.

How does working in sports differ from working in other industries?

Working in sports allows you to meet so many business professionals in a variety of industries that you would never meet in most other careers. Because my business card says the Indiana Pacers, it gives me a good excuse to meet Presidents & CEOs of companies that I would otherwise never have the chance to meet. Everybody is a stakeholder in their respective city’s professional sports teams and it’s good business to support them through tickets or a suite. A lot of business gets done at sporting events which in turn drives economic development for the city.

What advice would you give to students looking to make sports their career?

- Get involved in as many extracurriculars pertaining to the sports industry as possible
- If your respective major has a Club (ie – Sports Management Club), join as a member and volunteer; take a leadership position in the Club
- Seek out the job opportunities in the athletic department as a student assistant
- Use summers for the opportunity to gain experience through internships – broadens your network and allows you to see areas you like and areas you do not like
- As mentioned earlier, get to know your classmates – never know where these relationships may lead
- Create a LinkedIn profile and reach out to sports executives; establish as many contacts in the industry as possible

What advice would you give to people in established careers trying to make the transition into sports?

- be prepared to take a step back, both in scope of responsibility and pay grade
- this business is a grind if you are in ticket/suite sales – you will get left behind if you don’t produce
- only make the move if you are confident this is your passion and something you are willing to make happen no matter what the consequence

We all know that working in sports generally involves long hours. What are the perks that offset this?

-As mentioned earlier, one of the perks is the people you will meet – at 26 I have strong network that will enable career opportunities for the rest of my life
-Working at Conseco Fieldhouse, one of the biggest perks is the chance to play basketball at lunch or after work. I sometimes tell people my dream was to make it to the NBA – I made it, just took a slightly different route than originally planned.
-You get to be a part of some pretty special moments. Making it to the playoffs this past year was a phenomenal experience.
-We have had staff functions at Larry Bird’s house. That’s not a bad perk.

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