Alumnus Shawn Sullivan Named a Sports Business Journal Forty Under 40

Tuesday, June 16, 2009
SNHU Communications Office

Forty Under 40 turns 10 this year. Kind of hard to believe, actually. Doesn’t seem like that long ago when we were touting the exploits and successes of such young industry up-and-comers as Jeff Price and Jeff Shell, Tony George and George Pyne, Dan Meis and Daniel Snyder.

They were the young guys then, the ones to keep an eye on, just like this year’s class represents the same for today.

It’s been an interesting 10 years, to say the least. We’ve had thirds and fourths, brothers and sisters, people whose names you knew well and maybe some who were complete unknowns. Sons and daughters of the industry’s elite mixed with entrepreneurs who started with an idea in the basement.

From team owners to tech guys, architects to agents, marketers to moguls, our list has been a microcosm of the industry’s last decade. And this year’s list of winners is no different, 40 executives who represent the best and brightest that our industry has to offer under the age of 40. Marketers like Robert Birge and Steve Battista, media game-changers like Dana Zimmer and David Berson, Jerry Jones Jr. and Shawn Sullivan on the team side, Ryan Steelberg and Greg Genske cutting their own path.

Oh, we’re not going to blow horns that our list turns 10 this year. Instead, the special attention should be reserved for the thinkers and dealmakers who make up Forty Under 40.

Shawn Sullivan , SNHU '95

Shawn Sullivan’s road to recognition as a member of this year’s Forty Under 40 class begins with a tour guide job at the old Boston Garden and includes a stint selling circus tickets for peanuts.

''My commission was 25 cents for each weekday circus ticket and a dime for each weekend ticket,” Sullivan said. “I look back at it now as high comedy.''

Sullivan can afford to laugh considering that as chief marketing officer for the defending NBA champion Boston Celtics, he has been instrumental in doubling the Celtics’ full-season-ticket base to more than 10,000 in two years. The team posted a 97 percent renewal rate last season while setting club records for ticket revenue and paid attendance.

Winning a championship certainly helps sell tickets, but Sullivan has leveraged the success by

adopting one of the most analytical sales structures in sports, which allowed the Celtics to drive revenue when the team won the NBA title.

''When we were losing, we had built up a database to figure out who to target, and we were ready to go when we signed Kevin Garnett,'' Sullivan said. ''We really identified which games would sell and what part of the arena to market.''

Winning hasn't changed the Celtics’ aggressive marketing approach. After capturing the title last June, the Celtics boldly implemented a new courtside sign strategy that puts more sign space at the end of the team benches instead of at center court to increase television exposure. Other teams are now considering making the same changes for next season.

“Sully’s greatest strength is his knowledge of the ticketing business at both an intuitive and analytical level,” said Celtics President Rich Gotham. “He really understands the key drivers for renewal and new sales, and he has consistently created effective sales and marketing programs to maximize our market opportunity. He is also extremely adept at handling relationships with our biggest and most important clients. In all my years of business I’ve never met anyone who is as well-liked and respected by his co-workers, industry peers and clients alike.”

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