With one shocking explosion, Jay Cipoletti’s life changed forever. He was fresh out of West Virginia University, eager to impress, willing to work long hours and hungry to start a career.
It was the summer of 1996, and Cipoletti willed his way into a well-paying internship as an events coordinator for Turner Sports in Atlanta at the Olympic Games. He found himself managing transportation to and from baseball and track & field venues -- along with food and beverage. The job was for only two months, but it opened his eyes in terms of the art of good hospitality and how to make events run smoothly.
Then the explosion that rocked the world. Without warning, the Atlanta Summer Games changed instantly from an international sporting event to complete chaos.
“Immediately following the bombing, the FBI took over a portion of the hotel where I was staying,” says Cipoletti, who admits he saw things right after the bombing “that I wished I hadn’t.” But he was needed. Despite being sleep-deprived and unsure about what was happening around him, he ended up working roughly 30 consecutive hours during that anxious period.
“From a human standpoint it was gut-wrenching,” Cipoletti says. “The magnitude of the event was unbelievable.” But you know what? By working in such an atmosphere, Cipoletti had some crucial revelations.
“I look at it now and I think nothing they throw at me can phase me. It taught me to remain calm, think on your feet, be flexible.”
After the Games ended, Cipoletti found a job as the championship director at the West Virginia Golf Association. He did that for a bit, then worked as a public relations director for a motor sports marketing agency.
As he began meeting more people, and involving himself in different types of duties, he started to learn valuable lessons.
“The more points of contact you have with your consumer, the easier it is to form a bond,” Cipoletti says. That kind of sales knowledge came in handy when he finally landed his current position with West Virginia Bats. Maybe Cipoletti never grew up thinking he’d sell bats for a living, but it seems like an ideal fit when you consider he’s able to meld his love for sports with his business acumen.
“I have to think about our product, our demographics, our website, how to sell,” Cipoletti says. “In a nutshell, I have to be thinking ‘what is our cost per transaction, the cost per bat we sell?’”
So he did a little research. It turns out there are 31 million baseball and softball players in the U.S. Of that group, there are 7.1 million “elite” players, which means that particular person plays baseball at least 50 times per year or softball 25 times per year.
As far as reaching those 7.1 million players, it helps when you have a unique product you truly believe in. You see, West Virginia Bats (westvirginiabats.com) doesn’t just make typical bats. They make something that could give them a prime location on the sporting goods map.
It’s called the Original Metalwood Bat.
“It performs like wood because it has a wood barrel,” Cipoletti says. “But it has an aluminum handle.” This gives the player a wood bat feel and wood bat sweet spot. But it provides an aluminum bat’s durability.
In case you’re wondering, the Original Metalwood Bat has been approved for play by every level of baseball and softball -- with the lone exception, of course, of the Major Leagues.
Cipoletti believes his product, which comes with a one-year guarantee, “resonates” with players and coaches, and could even be used as a “transition bat” for the rookie leagues. In other words, these guys get to rookie ball having used aluminum bats their wholes lives. Suddenly, they’re forced to switch to wood.
That’s where Cipoletti’s company comes in. And it’s brand new. I had a chance to speak with him on January 1, 2004 -- which the company considered day one of year one in its operation.
No matter what happens with the bat’s overall sales, Cipoletti seems like he’ll be a success. He has the smarts and the drive to make it. In terms of what he suggests to people eager to break into the sports field, here’s what he says:
“Seek out the thing in the industry that you know least about or you like the least,” he says. “If you want to get into group and corporate sales with a franchise, find out how the concessions and media relations works. You have to know how they all interact. Because if you have a good ball park, great concessions, easy access but unfriendly ticket takers, that’s something you have to fix. The more you know about the other departments, the better you’ll understand how everything works.”
He also has a business tip: “There are two positive things you can do for a company [or franchise]. You can reduce outgoing expenses or you can increase incoming revenue. If you can have an impact on one of them, that’s great. If you can do both, then you’ll be calling your shots pretty soon.”
And his parting thoughts: “My career path has been far from orthodox, and I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone graduating from college today, but I do love where it has brought me and wouldn’t have made it here any other way. I guess you could say that I took the scenic route instead of the highway.”