Michael Yormark’s passion and dare to fail attitude fuels his team at Sunrise Sports & Entertainment

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Michael Yormark doesn’t have to look too far among his many steadfast employees to find the perfect example of how his company empowers people who work hard — who are dedicated, passionate and willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. 

He stops on Matt Rickoff, vice president of sponsorships.

“I am very proud of the way he has grown his career and made an impact on this organization,” Yormark says.

The organization? Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, a holding company whose heart is one of the fastest-paced sports characterized by its passionate fans — hockey. Yormark, president of Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, is responsible for overseeing all the organization’s operating entities including the Florida Panthers NHL hockey club, the BB&T Center arena venue, the Saveology.com Iceplex recreational skating and training facility, SSE Gaming and the new Club RED, an exclusive club at the BB&T Center.

What impressed Yormark was Rickoff’s enthusiasm and desire, which he tries to nurture in all his 150 employees.

It all began some years ago when Yormark started receiving early morning phone calls. Yormark, who usually works out at around 4 a.m. and who is in the office no later than 6 a.m., was getting phone calls every morning around 6.

“I said to myself, ‘Who the heck is calling me this early?’” he says. “One day I actually answered the phone and the guy on the other line said, ‘Mr. Yormark, this is Matt Rickoff. I read that you are an early riser so I thought this would be the best time to reach you and tell you that I really want to work for you, and I promise that if you give me a chance, I won’t let you down.’”

Eventually, after a lot of persistence on his part, Rickoff had Yormark’s attention.

“I told him to come in and work on a trial period, and if he proved himself, we would hire him full time but on one condition — that he would stop calling me,” Yormark says.

“Well, Matt came in as a sort of intern and proved himself so much that he just recently earned his VP stripes, and is now one of the leaders in our organization.”

It was that passion that Yormark was looking for.

Here’s how Yormark keeps the passion alive at Sunrise Sports & Entertainment —celebrating its 20 anniversary this year — so the organization can grow the right way and consistently deliver the results the company and its supporters expect.

 

Work hard to deliver the promise

One of the fundamentals of business is that your customers are your lifeblood and deserve a first-class experience with every purchase — or every time they set foot inside an arena.

“But here it’s different because there is a certain lack of control you have over wins and losses and overall success,” says Yormark. “You can put a team together that you think will perform, and you can service your guests properly.”

But there is still a measure of unpredictably as to the outcome of a game or a season, so there is no secret to success in Yormark’s line of business.

“It takes a lot of hard work, diligence, preparation, perseverance and the like,” he says. “One of the mantras I have always lived by is ‘Dream big and dare to fail.’ I think that’s something our entire executive team and our staff have embraced.”

With the Florida Panthers in a competitive sports market in South Florida and the BB&T Center in a competitive market for entertainment, Yormark knows the pressure is on to offer something different, something that adds value.

“This is a challenging business, but we are not afraid to get up early, stay late, outwork everyone, and dream big that we can achieve the goals, the objectives and the successes that we set out to do,” he says.

The approach is to take the entire contribution of the workforce to make an experience that draws in repeat customers and makes believers out of first-time visitors. And it takes some work behind the scenes.

“From a business perspective I think what most fans do not see is just how hard people work to put on an exciting hockey game, an incredible concert, or even on a day-to-day basis just to keep this organization headed in the right direction,” Yormark says. “There is an incredible amount of work, dedication, sweat, creativity and passion that goes in to this franchise on a regular basis.

“If our fans saw that first-hand, it’s something they would be proud of — it’s something that I am proud of. I can honestly sit here and say that no one in the industry works harder than our staff.”

 

Stay in front of your audience

Delivering what a customer wants is often the gold standard used to evaluate your businesses’ sales. But how do you gauge what first-time or loyal fans really want? The same way industries such as manufacturing or service do ­— you study your feedback.

“Not only do we do an incredible amount of research, but we try to stay in front of our fans as much as possible,” Yormark says. “We have a campaign called ‘Talk 2 Us’ where we encourage fans to give their feedback on everything related to their Panthers or BB&T Center experience.”

Fan forums are held before every game where fans can give feedback face-to-face with Panthers representatives.

“Our executives lead advisory boards in each of the three local counties where they get opinions and feedback from 20-plus of our most dedicated and in-tune constituents,” he says. “We host regular town hall meetings with myself, General Manager Dale Tallon and others to keep them up-to-date on the state of our franchise, all the initiatives we are working on, and also to take questions and hear their thoughts.
“We take their feedback very seriously, and when we aggregate all that feedback and analyze it, it often leads to major changes or new programs.”

Accessibility makes a great impression. It demonstrates that in the glamor of professional sports, keeping in touch with fans can show compassion and a desire to want to stay connected with grassroots followers, so to speak.

“We are one of the most accessible organizations in the industry,” Yormark says, noting how he and his staff run an open-door operation. “We answer every email. We return every phone call. We engage on social media. I even give out my personal cell phone number to fans so they can reach me 24/7.

“In my opinion, that’s the only way to truly service your supporters and provide them with the best experience — you have to be accessible 24 hours a day.”

 

Add value and sustain success

As there are always going to be outside influences that can hurt a business — the recession, or in Yormark’s case, the NHL hockey lockout of 2012-13 — having the ability and flexibility to add value is crucial to repeating success.

“The important thing is that we grow this organization the right way and ensure that any success we have is sustainable success,” he says. “I believe we are doing that by constantly analyzing the way we do things both on and off the ice and making strategic decisions in every area of our business.”

Stars are made and broken each day just as products are sold and returned with the same regularity. The skill is to try to respond appropriately.

“You have to be willing to make the tough decisions to be successful in this industry,” Yormark says. “And certainly, I think as an organization we will continue to be willing to make those tough decisions and stay focused on the goals and objectives that we have set for ourselves.”

If you think of a product that you can buy from many sources at similar prices, it’s often the added value that makes you decide where you will make that purchase. Yormark’s passion for a fan’s total experience makes him sound like, well — like he’s a hockey coach giving a pep talk to his team.

“We do need to provide fans with great value for their investment,” he says. “We need to provide first-class customer service, their experience needs to be second to none, and regardless of the outcome of the game, or what they thought of the show, they need to walk out of our arena saying they had a great night and they would love to come back.

“From the minute they approach our parking lot, park their car, walk through the activities on our JetBlue tarmac outdoor plaza, show their ticket at the main entrance, grab a hot dog or a soda at one of our food courts, and sit down in one of our great seat locations, we need to make every part of their experience magical. Then hopefully the action on the ice, or on stage, will take care of the rest.” ●

 

Takeaways

  • Work hard to deliver the promise.
  • Stay in front of your audience to get feedback.
  • Add value and sustain a successful operation.

 

The Yormark File

Name: Michael Yormark

Title: President

Company: Sunrise Sports & Entertainment 

Birthplace: Morristown, N.J. I have a twin brother, Brett, who is CEO of the Brooklyn Nets. 

Education: University of Maryland as an undergraduate and Ohio University, with a graduate degree in sports management. 

What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?

My first job out of college — after I sent out hundreds of resumes for pro sports jobs and received rejections from all of them — was selling clothes at a men’s store during the day and being a janitor in the evening. It humbled me a bit, and it taught me that you’re not going to achieve anything unless you work hard for it. Eventually, through a family friend, I got an interview with the New York Yankees and was lucky enough to get my first job in sports. But I’ll never forget that feeling of failure when I first graduated and couldn’t get a job. It motivates me to this day. 

What was the best business advice you ever received?

“Dream big and dare to fail” or “Anything is possible.” 

Who do you admire in business?

I was fortunate enough to work for Wayne Huizenga early in my sports career, and to this day I still consider him to be one of business’ greatest entrepreneurs. He is the reason we have an NHL franchise in South Florida, and for a period of time, he was by far the most dominant sports figure in the region. For people who knew him and worked with him, he was an incredibly intelligent and creative businessman, a tough negotiator, and someone who could look at any endeavor — be it a sports team, a land development project or a business — and know exactly how to make it successful. I consider him to be an incredible mentor, and a person I greatly admire to this day.  

What is your definition of business success?

In my current role, I define success as building and maintaining a first class organization with the right culture, the right employee DNA and one that the community and all our fans and supporters can be proud of.

 

How to reach: Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, (954) 835-7000 or www.floridapanthers.com

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