Faham Zakariaei – Special Events Manager, San Francisco Giants

June 13, 2006
June 13, 2006 brett

Born and raised in San Jose, Faham attended Leland High School before enrolling at the University of Arizona to study Management Information Systems (MIS).

He accepted a position, while in school, that pertained to his major and soon found that that he hated MIS! At that point, he thought that his decisions to pay out of state tuition and study MIS were the worst decisions he had ever made in his life. It wasn’t a matter of his capabilities, he just found himself unispired. So Faham switched his major to Business Marketing and Management and got involved with an organization that focused on sports marketing. This group was the Sports Marketing Association (SMA) at the University of Arizona . SMA gave him the opportunity to begin learning about the business and professional side of sports.

Given the difficulty of breaking into this highly sought after industry, Faham decided that experience was going to be his most important asset in making himself marketable to HR departments of professional sports teams. Faham decided to use his SMA and Alpha Kappa Psi memberships to the fullest in order to gain the necessary experience. Most notably, Faham was able to bring Jerry Colangelo and Peter Magowan to speak to the student body at the University of Arizona. These were the two biggest events that he was able to accomplish as a student.

In the realm of work experience, Faham volunteered to sell tickets at the Colorado Rockies spring training. This was an opportunity which Zakariaei made for himself when he called the team’s front office asking what he could do to help the team while they were in town. This further would prove important later, as it extended his resume and added to his marketability.

The semester before he was to graduate, Zakariaei decided to cold call the Director of Sales of the San Francisco Giants. He asked if he could learn a little more about the organization. This lead to an informational interview.
Although the ball club had no openings available at that time, Faham kept in steady contact with the sales director. So much that when an internship eventually did open up, Giants Enterprises, offered it to him. This internship would later lead Zakariaei to a full-time position as a special event sales executive. This position focused on selling seats to games with an anticipated low attendance. Faham was now in the sports industry! As his knowledge of the industry grew, so did his good reputation within the organization. Faham is now the Sales Manager of special events for the San Francisco Giants Baseball Club.

Here are some of the questions that we asked Faham, and his answers:

What kind of advice would you give to students that would like to work for the San Francisco Giants?

“Get started early. Best thing I ever did was called every organization that I thought would be interesting to work for and set-up meetings to get a good idea of who I could potentially be working for. You really have to spend the time to set up face to face meetings because then you’ll see what they want to see out of you as a candidate, and whether you want to work for them.”

If you could tell college students anything, what kind of advice would you give them?

“Make sure you don’t settle for less. If you settle for less and you’re working somewhere you don’t want to then you won’t be passionate about it and eventually I believe you won’t be successful. Don’t be frightened or hesitant of going after something.”

Interview

I’m from San Jose, California.  Born and raised out here.  Went to Leland High School.  Went to UofA initially to study MIS.  I worked for Mark Zupan, who was the dean of MIS related stuff.  And I absolutely hated it.  At that point I thought it was the worst decision of my life.  Coming out to the UofA, paying out of state tuition.  For something that I thought I wanted to do it.  It wasn’t a question of whether I was capable of doing it or not, it’s that I wasn’t inspired

I don’t want to tell my parents that I was switching my major, which is what I did while at the business college, and I started studying marketing and management. At that point I had been a diehard football, baseball fan my whole life.  Like everyone at the UofA, I was just consumed by the basketball team.  I got involved with SMA because I thought it would be something cool to do. Go out to the basketball games and help out.  Like every other student in the organization.  That’s when I truly began to learn about the business side of professional sports.  How sponsorship was involved in sports.  Different techniques people do to pull the stadium.

Like the investment group started a new franchise…that really interested me.  So I knew working in sports was extremely difficult to do.  Coming up, before my first senior year in college, I realized that I didn’t have a whole lot of time left.  I knew I had to get something on my resume to make myself marketable to major league baseball marketing departments. 

I grew up a diehard Giants fan my whole life.  I knew I wanted to work for the organization.  I didn’t know much about them from a corporate standpoint, but I knew the basics about the organization.  They saved a team from going to Florida in 1992.  They were supposed to move.  It was imminent.  Then Peter Magowan who is the president and managing general partner put together a group of investors and brought the team back.  He bought the team back from the Tampa Bay ownership group.  That alone, tells you a lot about the organization and the people you work for.  They actually cared about the team.  They weren’t in it to make a profit. 

Some of the other people you meet with in sports or in baseball attest to this as well, but most baseball teams aren’t profitable.  The Giants are one of the few teams that are profitable.  By that, they’re kind of just breaking even.  This team, the organization has done really well. 

I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn more about the Giants and see what they’re about.

I started getting involved in a lot of different clubs.  I was on e-Board for SMA.  I did all the marketing for the Sports Marketing Association.  I was the VP of membership for AK Psi.  And that’s where I got all my experience, to be honest with you.  I had no experience working for any kind of company prior to that when I was going into my senior year of college.  I got really acquainted with the business college, working with Pam Perry. 

We had this speaker series set up through the business fraternity, and we kept bringing these big IT guys and the attendance was minimal.  I thought, “Who can you bring out that people will be drawn to listen to them speak?” 

Obviously in Arizona, everyone is a Diamondbacks and Suns fan. So I went out on a limb and contacted Jerry Colangelo to see if he would speak at the UofA.  I sent the request in March 2003.  Didn’t hear back from him until September 2003.  He called me back and said, “Yeah.  I’ll do this.”  The day was Labor Day Weekend.  It was the only day he could do it.  Then I realized there was no school that day. 


That was my first big project.  The dean, all my advisors were telling me that Jerry was a big, big figure.  Not just in Arizona, but in the country.  Don’t bring him out here and put him into an empty stadium.  It will make us look really bad.

At that point it was too late.  I already told him to come.  I went out on a limb and did it.  There were so many people there that we had to turn people away.  People were sitting in the aisles.  If the Tucson Fire Department would have found out we did that, I would have been sued.  It was just overflowing.  That was the first time I was truly inspired.  I knew I could put on events. 

I pursued getting Peter Magowan.  I knew the Giants did spring training in Scottsdale.  I called up his assistant and said this is who we’ve done.  Would he be interested in coming out when the Giants are in Scottsdale.  I did that event.  Wasn’t as much of a draw, but definitely went well. 

The two biggest things I did as a student were putting on those two events. 

I don’t really have a whole lot to say, because I graduated in May 2004 and haven’t been out for too long.  But my college experience was what got me there and I still keep in touch with everyone who helped. 

As far as work experience, I knew the Rockies were in spring training in Tucson and I don’t know if it was luck or just persistence, but I called them up and asked them how I could help.  They said I could work in the ticket office.  It wasn’t a glamorous job to help out with promotions.  For me, it was a great opportunity to work in baseball while I was in school.  I did that. 

I applied and got accepted to go to this NBA front office draft that takes place once a year, hosted by the NBA.  They pick 100 people throughout the country to go there and you interview with all the different NBA teams.  And if they like you, they’ll offer you a job right then and there.  I thought it was cool just to get invited into that.  My other friend, he also got accepted.  We went out there together.  I guess I should back track a sec.

I cold called the Director of Sales for the San Francisco Giants, Rob Sullivan…I owe everything to him.  He got me to where I am.  I cold called him over Christmas break.  I told him I was from San Jose and that I wanted to learn more about the organization.  I had an informational interview with him.  It was the best meeting I ever had.  I totally look up to him.  He’s like what everyone wants to be in sports because he’s a personal person.

I asked him how I could help out.  There was nothing available, so I kept in touch with him.  He helped me get a paid internship right out of college.  Training program, I guess with Giants Enterprises selling baseball events.  I did that for a half a year and transitioned into working in consumer marketing.  As a trainee still. And I got hired full time as a special events sales executive working for Jared Dillon.  He was the manager of special events.  I was his sales executive. 

What we do is pick the worst games throughout the season, where you know attendance isn’t going to be very high, and you hold special theme nights on them.  Some of the events we have are Singles Night, College Night, Irish Heritage Night…anything you can think of.  We have sixty-four big special events throughout the year. 

We market ourselves to a lot of the school districts and education foundations in the Bay Area.  Because of all the budget cuts that have taken place, we offer to do a large scale fundraiser with them.  We have a basic $20 ticket in the view reserved section of the ballpark.  People prefer not to sit up there because it’s a little higher up there.  They’re considered ‘nosebleeds’ by some people.  I think they’re good seats…whatever (Laughs). 

We discount those seats to $11 and sell them to these education foundations.  They sell them for the face value of $20.  So it’s a great fundraiser for them.  We’re selling baseball games.  We give them the national anthem.  The first pitch.  Performances throughout the stadium.  Every group we had last year raised an average of $12,000.  Every single one of them made a lot of money.  They helped us fill seats in the stadium that we usually wouldn’t fill.

It’s kind of like my dream job because I get to work for a team that I love.  We get to help out a lot of communities and associations that are raising money for great causes.  That’s kind of why I don’t see myself going anywhere else because I’m in my ideal situation.  I love this game.  I get to do something I love and get to give back at the same time.  It’s just great for me and I don’t see myself going anywhere anytime soon.

I oversee all the special events.  It’s a lot of work, but a lot fun.  Fortunately I have an intern over the summer to help me out a little bit.  It’s great.  I think the Giants, and I’m not just saying this because it’s our team, but we set the standards for big promotional nights.  We get all these calls from teams on a weekly basis asking us how we do things.  People look up to us.  It’s nice to be in that position.  We’ve done really well for ourselves so far.

What are you guys doing to continue to be on top?

You know, this ballpark has been around for seven years.  We sold out every single game when we first started.  As the team gets older and the venue gets older…Barry coming close to retirement…you can imagine a lot of people aren’t going to renew their season tickets. 

We have a 27,000 season ticket base, which is the largest in all of baseball.  It dropped off a bit last year, but considering how bad a year we had, it wasn’t too bad at all. 

What I do is I’m constantly trying to find new nights and new ideas.  But it’s kinda tough because we deal with sixty-four of them that are already set up during the year.  We broke up Asian-American Heritage Night into Chinese and Japanese Heritage Night.  We are trying to have a German Heritage Night.  However many target markets you can reach through an event, that’s another event you can have. 

Sometimes we have three or four events on a given night.  Tomorrow we have 8 mile walk for Breast Cancer Night, Chinese Heritage Night, Carnival Night, and another big school district that is having their fundraiser.  So, you come across challenges sometimes.  The general public asks why you are having a Chinese Heritage Night the same night as Carnival?  It’s a fundraiser.  So we’re helping out different groups.  So it works out well. 

We have schools that come out from Las Vegas who do big fundraisers with us, so the clientele is out there.  It’s just reaching out to them.  It’s kind of hard to balance with your everyday work, but you have to spend time trying to double up the outside sales effort to let them know that there is this opportunity.  That’s what I focus on.

Barry Bonds is close to retirement.  He’s the most marketable athlete.  As much as people hate him across the country, it doesn’t matter because people love him in San Francisco.  It’s all that matters.  27,000 people show up every night to see him, not the opposing team.  That’s a powerful statement.  You can’t replace him.  Bring in Albert Pujous, who would never come because he’s set in St. Louis, but you can’t replace a guy like that. 

The San Francisco market is one that needs a superstar to look up to.  Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Barry Bonds.  You can’t spend that $20 million and get a couple less expensive guys.  It doesn’t work that way.  No one really knows how we’re going to make up for him leaving.  I mean, you put a winning team on the field and hope the attendance is there. 

The contract we have set up is to keep people in the seats.  They went back to those people and renewed those contracts.  I think we’re in a safe position.  Because PetCo Park in San Diego, and not to take anything away from them at all, but after their first season, their attendance was really low.  They don’t have an ocean in the background.  So it’s something that we use to our advantage.

What have you learned outside of school?

What I learned in school was event planning and coordinating large scale events.  But it was simple, because you’re dealing with one client.  When you’re dealing with the events that we put on, like Japanese Heritage Night, it’s a really sensitive subject.  You have to be careful because you’re talking about ethnicity and culture.

When I first got started with this last year I was overseeing a lot of special events.  I wasn’t too politically correct with everything but I was learning in the process.  You’re advertising to certain associations, you have to realize that some people don’t have an interest in baseball, so how do you get them to come to your venue and check things out?

I think my methods of marketing have definitely developed since I’ve been working here.  But a lot of that is being thrown in the fire and trial by error.  I’ve learned a lot in the last year that I had no idea beforehand.

Everything I’ve learned is trial by error.  Go in their and try to spearhead an event.  You really need to maintain and develop the right contacts for every single event, which is a lot of client management.  You can do as much as you can to promote a big night, but if you don’t have the right people in the community who can help step up and assist you, then it’s not feasible.  Fortunately people like that opportunity.  ‘Help the Giants out.  Promote this opportunity.’  They’re all over it.

What kind of advice would you give to a student wanting to get involved in sports right out of college?

I get calls from students who are going into the final semester of their senior year and I know it’s not easy to decide what you want to do for a career, because you’re always experimenting and trying things out, but you really have to get started early.  The best thing I did for myself was calling up every single team that I thought would have been interesting to work for.  I set up meetings with them and just talked to them over the phone.  Then you get a good idea of who you want to be working for. 

You really have to spend time setting up face to face meetings with these people because then you’ll see what they’ll see in a candidate, whether you want to work for them.  But I grew up a diehard fan of this other team, in this other sport and I did an internship with them, and it was the worst experience of my life.  Totally made me see this organization through a different perspective.  You really have to get started early.  The sports industry is cutthroat.  It’s hard to get into.  They can get by without paying people extremely well.  There’s a lot of guys I work with that can go make $200,000 a year working in real estate, but they like working for a baseball team. It’s got it’s perks.  It’s fun.

You look forward coming to work every day.

Since you’ve been in this organization, what’s your favorite event you’ve planned so far?

The biggest events that we have every year as far as revenue would be our Singles Night and our Irish Heritage Night.  I’m a Persian guy working in professional sports.  You don’t see that too often.  For me, working on these ethnic events and these heritage nights have been really cool for me. 

Irish Heritage Night, I’ve realized that during Saint Patrick’s Day, and during these big sports events that are tailored towards Irish Heritage, everyone and their mother wants to be Irish that night. They come out.  It’s very festive and friendly.  I love being a part of it to hang out with them.  They know I’m not Irish but they’re receptive to me. 

It’s cool because in a sense, it’s like throwing a big party at the same time.  Our Singles Night for instance, that purple tent behind the scoreboard (pointing out to center field), that whole area is our corporate picnic area.  We just sell big private parties out there between 5:15 and 7:15 before the game.  We turn that into a huge dance floor.  We sell these packages for $25 dollars that includes a bleacher ticket, or a view reserved ticket, one free drink coupon, and entrance to the pre-game party.  People go out there.  We bring DJ’s, do contests.  We’ve had six people get married through our Singles Night.  That’s almost magical.  It’s sounds cliché.  But I got a wedding invitation from some guy.  I sent out this big email blast about Singles Night to our past clients.  This lady called me back and asked me to take her off the mailing list.  I’m like “Sure, do you mind if I ask why?”  She told me she got married from someone she met at Singles Night.  When I heard that, those are the things that I won’t be able to accomplish and experience working for a mortgage company. 

How high can you go in this organization?

I’m broken it down a little bit and met with a lot of people internally with formal conversations.  People have been here for a very long time.  It’s a company with no more than 125 people.  There’s little turnover.  And there’s people waiting in line, who have already established themselves and done great things for the organization.  And they haven’t really moved that much higher than where they currently are. 

I’m the manager of special events right now.  The next position would be Director of Events.  The current director has been with the Giants since ’97.  He’s doing a great job.  The only reason he’ll move is if our Senior Vice President goes somewhere.  And they’re both doing a great job.  It wouldn’t make since for them to go anywhere. They’re like me.  They’re die hard baseball fans. They love what they do and in a more prestigious position than I am.  So I’ve broken it down and that past the ‘manager’ in this organization won’t happen anytime soon.  That’s why I’m pursuing something on the side.  Because I don’t want to leave, and at the same time I don’t want to settle for where I am three, four, five years from now.

Besides having a game at the end of every working day, what’s a perk to working for a baseball team?

You don’t have to wait in line when you go to clubs.  Just joking.