Inside the Comets: Adam Banko
by Don LaibleMar 11, 2014
With the Utica Comets, the stub stops with Adam Banko.
“My job is to get people in the door,” says Adam Banko, Comets Vice President of Ticket Sales.
It’s 75-minutes prior to the drop of the puck for a mid-February Friday evening contest. The Comets are hosting their Thruway rival Rochester Americans. Gauging advanced ticket sales numbers, and the crowds swelling inside the main ticket lobby already, the Comets are headed for their third consecutive sell-out. For the Pittsburgh, PA native there is a sense of accomplishment, for now. Tickets sales are his main business. Making sure all who have or need entrance into a Comets game goes beyond sales; he’s an official, quintessential, customer service representative, too.
Getting any potential customer/client to commit monies towards a new and/or unique product, such as the Comets inaugural season, could be daunting. For the veteran ticket pro Banko, it was all about finding his groove. Since joining the Comets in July, Banko has delivered.
Walking The AUD’s concourse, as the season-ticket holders begin to filter into the building, still more than 30-minutes prior to warm-ups, Banko begins to breakdown the science of sports ticketing. There is an air of confidence and intelligence that I haven’t seen in my years around professional sports teams. What I see in Banko, as he is on foot patrol in The AUD, is a master salesman combined with TV’s fictional Mad Men character Don Draper – a dapper, always prepared, well dressed executive.
Taking a seat behind the goal, Banko divulges his mantra for the season. And his strategies are proven successful. Through 25 home games, the Comets have drawn 97,166 fans – averaging 3,351 highly faithful followers. “This is my fourth season in the league (AHL). “I have not seen passion like we have here anywhere else,” Banko tells.
Banko, a graduate of Saint Leo University’s (35 miles north of Tampa) sport management program, has the chops to lead Utica’s ticket department. The previous three AHL seasons, Banko was s group sales account executive with the Albany Devils. Taking the working knowledge earned in the Capital District, and putting them to work in the Mohawk Valley remain as the central focus for Banko and his staff. Increasing attendance to The AUD’s events is his business.
“We want to have groups come here for the experience,” Banko explains of potentially gaining new and regular patrons. “Groups get a discounted ticket ($12.00) for a Comets game.”
His voice inflections remain at a constant level, and never stammering for a thought, as he tells of his responsibilities. Clearly, Banko is enthralled at what he does and who he’s doing it for. So, what or who brought Banko to Utica, to solidify the partnership? “In July, I met with Rob (Comets President Robert Esche). He was looking for leadership and wanting to build a system. When I heard about Utica coming into the league, I wanted to be here,” Banko recalls.
Our conversation shifts to the Comets office after a short walk down a now bustling AUD concourse. Teams are going through their warm-ups, while ushers are busy manning turnstiles. For Banko and his staff, these are compliments. In the quiet of an office comprised of 10 desks, this is the nerve center of everything Comets. The inviting quiet allows an atmosphere for Banko to immerse himself on sharing the art of ticket sales. Make no mistake, it is an art.
He tells of attending an AHL ticket meeting this past December in Chicago. Knowledge is power, and Banko returned to Utica with more strength. “You learn to be proactive and preach a sense of urgency,” Banko said during our one-hour conversation. “Amongst the speakers at the meeting was the CEO of AEG. I learned a lot.”
The life-blood for any sports team is the season-ticket renewal process. Banko concurs that this is crucial for a successful fan base. With 3,815 seats available in The AUD for hockey, Banko and his staff keep busy looking for buyers.
There is a genuine understanding and appreciation of The AUD by Banko. He cites the full-houses from the January 31 game with Syracuse, and the following night’s hosting of the Rockford IceHogs, as why it’s exciting to be in his box-office. Aside from Comets ticketing, Banko’s staff handle Utica College hockey, as well as all events that happen at The AUD, like when the Harlem Globetrotters came to Utica.
Banko makes it a point to tell what he preaches to his staff members Zachary Dooley, Matthew Potrzeba, and Bryan Feiler, and stresses their importance to the success of events at The AUD. “When I was in Albany, I was baptized by fire. You take a deep breath, and go,” Banko adds.
What may seem natural in Banko’s, 28, approach to ticketing are a result of years of experience. After college graduation in 2008, Banko took his classroom learnings and got his feet wet in sports by accepting a seasonal opportunity in ticketing with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. This came after interning a semester for the Tampa Bay Lightning. With ownership changes in Tampa, as well as a hiring freeze at the time, Banko headed west for Arrowhead Stadium.
After four months in Missouri, an opportunity in Albany opened. With the Devils, Banko’s job title led to his learning “a little bit of everything”. It was these past experiences that Banko brought to a budding Comets organization. A move that the team’s VP of Ticket Sales has no regrets making. “Rob and Brittany (Comets Vice President Brittany Usmail) value their staff’s opinions,” Banko states.
8:30 am is when Banko typically begins his days. Catching up on emails, making sales calls, and thinking of different creative ways to bring people into The AUD occupy Banko’s mind. Another assist to Banko and his sales staff is the weekend recap of all AHL games. Learning of what ideas worked for other teams could give the Comets’ staff direction on what to pursue.
Then, there’s the renewal board hanging in the Comets office. On The AUD’s oversized seating chart, Banko informs me that the green dots represent season ticket holders. There is a draft of a renewal letter for season ticket holders I am shown. The final version is scheduled for mailing soon. The Comets are third in the league in season ticket holders – 1,631. If Banko has his way, a goal of adding an additional 300 new subscribers will occur.
As Banko walks towards the main box office, for an update on sales, he meets and greets several fans – some he knows, others pleasantries are exchanged for the first time. Keeping fans happy is Banko’s creed. As our travels reach the lobby table manned by several Comets employees, included are all Banko’s staff members. He points out Matthew Potrzeba – Assistant Director of Ticket Sales.
“Matt is the mayor of this place. He knows everyone. Being from Utica, Matt knows the people that support us,” Banko credits his top lieutenant.
Before the night’s game would begin, on two occasions, with the sold-out sign in lights outside on The AUD’s marquee, Banko comes to the rescue of fans. In his pants pocket are a few tickets/passes in case of emergency. One family with tickets already is in need of just one to make the family outing complete. Banko makes their night. Another ticket emergency pops up minutes later, while giving me a tour of the box-office. A middle-aged woman tells of having lost a ticket, and his family being distraught. Once again, Banko scores a goal in customer service, with the hand-off of a special ticket saved.
On the ball, on the same page, fan friendly, customer driven, Adam Banko and his staff are an important ingredient in the overall on-going success of the Utica Comets.