The person behind the brand
The CMO Club recently sat down with St. Louis Cardinals Senior Vice-President of Sales and Marketing, Dan Farrell. Dan has been with the Cardinals organization for over thirty-five years. He started as a promotions assistant and is currently leading a seventy-plus member staff over multiple departments including all marketing, ticket sales, corporate partnerships, broadcasting, team publications, and stadium entertainment. He serves as the primary club liaison with Major League Baseball on matters related to sales, marketing, television and radio broadcasting, as well as scheduling, including negotiating and managing all the team’s local media rights agreements. Dan is the father of three adult children and lives in St. Louis.
CMO Club—What’s the best part of your job?
Dan Farrell—“The best part is that you can be a fan, live and die with the Cardinals, but when it’s also your vocation, you get to feel great not only because of the win but because of the revenue you helped generate and contribute with that win. It’s been a great ride.”
CMO Club—You’ve been with the organization for over thirty-five years, and I understand it was your first marketing job out of school. Can you remember anything about those first few years that you still find relevant today?
Dan Farrell—“I met a great mentor very early on, a former Cardinal player named Joe Cunningham, who played with the team in the late fifties and early sixties, and later became the head of our sales department. He taught me the value of relationships, and that the most important role we have is to represent the team positively, create relationships with our fans that builds on that genuine connection we have, and never take that relationship for granted. We are the “keepers of the flame” for the Cardinal legacy, and my job is to make sure that flame never goes out, one relationship at a time.”
CMO Club—Is there still that “oh wow” element after thirty-five years with the same brand?
Dan Farrell—“I still get to meet so many different kinds of people in so many different industries being here every day, especially in my interactions with corporate clients. I think if you’re the type of person who is always trying to grow and learn, you’ll always have the opportunity to build those meaningful relationships that can yield positive results. That’s the part of my job I still like the best. People want to talk to you because you’re with the Cardinals, but if you’re good at what you do, you can turn those relationships around to find out more about what they do and how you can potentially find common ground to work together. It never gets old, feeling part of that for such a storied franchise and feeling like you’ve contributed.”
CMO Club—Over those thirty-five years, what’s the number-one thing that’s changed in how you do your job?
Dan Farrell—“The biggest thing is the way we sell tickets. We used to have a fifty-thousand seat stadium with only three categories, pink tickets for the lower level, blue tickets for the mid-level, and green tickets for the upper level. You’d pay the same price for a seat behind home plate as you would for a seat in right field. Ticketing now has become so sophisticated, in how we approach that part of the business, in all the digital ways we interact with our fans. That has changed everything we do but, at the end of the day, it’s all still relationship-based, making people have fun at the ballpark.”
CMO Club—Although the game of baseball hasn’t changed all that much, we know the attention spans and use of technology has. How has your marketing approach recently evolved to take this new dynamic into account?
Dan Farrell—“One of our more significant off-season projects this year was to re-configure a block of six seating sections in the upper deck in right field. We tore out over a thousand seats and redesigned the entire area to create standing room platforms and lounge seating areas for fans to gather in. It’s been a great transformation for us, this festive, lively place that was traditionally a very low-yield seating location. By turning it into what’s now become a popular, socially interactive party zone complete with music, food, technology, and baseball, free to ticketed fans with no special access required, we’ve transformed what was once a stagnant seating area into a wonderful interactive experience for our fans. We realized as time has gone on that people want to get out of their seats and socialize, which was impossible sitting in a row of sixteen seats across. It’s a fan amenity that’s been a big hit.”
CMO Club—What characteristics do you value most in new hires?
Dan Farrell—“A relationship person. I look for someone who is a great communicator, a great listener, a kind and thoughtful person that cares deeply about building relationships. Don’t say you want to work here because you love baseball. That doesn’t distinguish you from tens of millions of other people. I like to hear you’d like to SELL the St. Louis Cardinals, represent them, build relationships that will yield positive results for the team. That’s the kind of person I look to hire. It has to be genuine.”
CMO Club—If you could go back to those early years and give yourself a piece of advice as to what’s ahead, what would you say?
Dan Farrell—“I wish I had learned to type better.” (Laughter)
CMO Club—Two-finger man, are you?
Dan Farrell—“Absolutely.” On a serious note, I probably would have used some of that time to get an advanced degree. I think I may have benefitted from that, having a little more finance and business-specific degree track. That’s a very valuable skill-set for any senior manager.”
CMO Club—Anything surprise you recently?
Dan Farrell—“One of the things that I find surprising is how much our industry is changing, the way consumers interact with our product. For someone who unabashedly admits to being “old school,” and not very “tech-savvy,” or “new-media savvy,” it’s just stunning to me the amount of interaction our fans have with all the new media. I sometimes feel as though I’m barely hanging on by my fingernails because I’m not a consumer of those sources. It’s overwhelming, the power some of these tools have.”
CMO Club—Is it sometimes a battle between the “old school” handshake relationship in your marketing philosophy versus the new technology methods of social media, algorithms, and big data?
Dan Farrell—“I would never overlook one for the other. You have to use every one of those resources and trust that all of them are going to be effective. I do think some people might rely on data and tech more than they should. Getting out of your chair and meeting face-to-face is a lot more effective in many cases, but not always. It amazes me how measurable all that data is. That’s the exciting part for me, to use that knowledge to better the brand. I’m not one to be “dug-in,” to say that this or that way is the only way to go, that the old-school relationships are the only way, but I try and make sure that we don’t forget about that. You have to adapt to the changes.”
CMO Club—What are you most passionate about outside of work?
Dan Farrell—“I’m a huge thoroughbred horse-racing fan. I had an Uncle named Jim McCulley, who covered horse racing for the New York Daily News for many years. I grew up going to the track with him, watching the likes of Secretariat and Seattle Slew, all those great horses up close, and I was hooked and still am, enjoying handicapping of the higher-quality races to this day.”
CMO Club—Is there anything else you can share with the club that most people don’t know about you?
Dan Farrell—“Ah, yes, my “Moonlight Graham” moment. I was sitting in front row of the stadium, entertaining clients on the first-base line, when a towering foul ball hit by one of the Red Sox players started to come down toward my seat, pointed directly at my head. The last thing I want to do is catch a foul ball, so I’m desperately trying to get out of the way, but the crowd is coming closer and closer, and I’m locked in there, unable to move, directly under the path of the ball. I put my hands up to protect my head, and the ball hits me. The next thing I know, Albert Pujols, our first baseman, is reaching out and the ball, which had just hit me, lands inside his glove. I look down, and there’s this big smudge mark on my shoulder from where the ball hit me and then ricocheted into his glove. The umpire calls the batter out, and the coach of the other team is screaming at the umpire and pointing over to me. I’ve got my Cardinals badge on, and I’m quietly trying to take it off and put it in my pocket before anyone sees. Pujols is already sitting in the dugout, and my cell phone starts going off with friends calling to tell me that I’m on replay on television, a hundred times, the ball hitting me in the shoulder and into his glove plain as day. I’m finally able to get out of there, but our P.R. department is calling me with requests from Boston reporters for an interview on what just happened, and all I want to do is hide and change shirts.”
CMO Club-Wow, what a great story. Was the batter out, then? Did it hold up?
Dan Farrell—“Yes it did. I have a major League assist! It’s my infamous “Moonlight Graham” moment, my small part of a Major League game that will forever go unreported.” (laughter)
CMO Club–Any favorite moments from the CMO Club you would like to share?
Dan Farrell–“I love being at the summits with so many innovative and creative people all around you. It’s a great experience.”
CMO Club—Last Question. Can A CMO like yourself change the world for the better?
Dan Farrell—“Sure. If you’ve got a product that people love and use, that improves their lives, whether from the use of that product, or the entertainment from that product, and you help to create that enjoyment, you’ve changed the world. I’m very proud that we bring Cardinal baseball to so many fans, that so many fans love Cardinal baseball, that for the past thirty-plus years we’ve drawn three-and-a-half million fans every year, allowing fans to enjoy our product the way they do. CMO’s are always bringing something positive to the world.”