Here at Trak, we love our users and their stories. Trak Stars is a series that highlights some of our users and champions in various roles to learn more about them, and gain some sports and entertainment industry insights. Trak offers resources to optimize day-to-day partnership management and provides support along the way as a team extension.
This month we spoke with David Vedder, Trak user for 3 years on the team side with St. Louis FC. David is an MLS sponsorship veteran with extensive experience in sponsorship activation, and marketing and communications.
David got his start in sports while still in college, heeding advice from Advisor and eventual Athletic Director, Mark Orr, to consider sports as a career avenue. After completing the Master of Sports Management program at St. Mary’s College of California, his alma mater, David joined Pacific Lutheran University overseeing marketing and sponsorships. David recently joined Trak as the Director of Customer Experience, while also serving as Director of Marketing, Communications for St. Louis Scott Gallagher soccer club.
Trak team member, Hilary Goldberg, caught up with David to learn more about what he is doing now, how he sees the sponsorship space changing and how he is navigating those changes. Here are some of the highlights from that conversation (edited for clarity and brevity) or you can watch the entire interview.
(HG): What are you doing now?
(DV): I had the opportunity to join Trak as Director of Customer Experience. I started working with Trak three years ago with Saint Louis FC. They were looking for a solution that allowed us to activate both the partnerships and the game operations. Once I understood the full capabilities of Trak and how it could make me successful in both areas, I really bought into it. I think back to the days that I spent going through spreadsheet after spreadsheet, trying to keep things straight. Where was Trak eight years ago, when I was trying to get it all figured out? Now I champion it whenever I can to colleagues and friends and point them in the direction of Trak. I have wanted to use my sports experience and apply it in the tech space. Trak has given me an opportunity to bridge that gap.
I am also the Director of Marketing, Communications for a youth soccer club here in St. Louis. St. Louis Scott Gallagher is a club that has about 7000 players. We have a program that supports athletes from age five to when they go pro. We are known, locally, regionally, nationally. St. Louis, Scott Gallagher, asked me to reimagine who we are as a club. I am looking at who we are as a brand, our relationship with the community, and how we can continue to grow both the boys and girls’ clubs.
(HG): What were some of the challenges that you faced in 2020? What are some of the successes that you saw?
(DV): 2020 was a year unlike any other. It was challenging working through different partnerships. Mainly because every partner was affected by the pandemic differently. Some partners were not affected very much, I also had partners whose businesses went by the wayside. It challenged me to understand that sports is a business, but there is also a human side to it.
While you are doing the best that you can, those partners are as well, and unfortunately, disruptions are going to happen. At times, you are going to need to look beyond the dollars and cents and understand that the relationship you have built outweighs other considerations. Those are the bigger challenges. Trying to make the best decision not only for yourself, and your club, but considering how those decisions affect your partners and your partners’ businesses. In some cases, it could be a make-or-break situation for partners. COVID has been a time to look at how our partners have supported us, and how we can support them.
(HG): How have you seen your partner's needs change over the last five years? Outside of COVID, what were some of the trends that you were starting to see?
(DV): A big trend is the experience of, and how we are connecting with fans outside of game day. For example, in the soccer space, you have 17 home matches. How are you connecting with those fans, Monday through Friday, when your game is on a Saturday?
Understanding that there has to be more than logo placement in-game. Brands are refocusing how they look at spend and understand that it needs to be all-encompassing. No longer just signage or just hospitality but identifying how we can build a package that will put your brand in front of fans regularly and enable them to engage with every single aspect of the partnership.
Also taking a more analytical approach - how are you showing the return on investment? Brands are no longer looking to be attached to a team just because they are winning. Partners want to understand how we are working together. How are you organically integrating my brand, mission, and marketing goals? How can we use your team as the vehicle to connect me to your fans? And is it working?
(HG): What industry trends or practices do you think are underrated?
(DV): Building relationships with your partners, understanding that it is a marathon, not a sprint. Being open and honest with partners about what is working and what is not and knowing that you're in it for them.
You are an extension of your partner’s team, you are going to be their biggest hero, their biggest supporter. You want to make sure that you are being upfront and setting them on the right path. It means sharing the good AND bad news and may mean not collecting the check at the end of the day. It means acknowledging when something goes wrong and calling out if a program is not working and needs to be re-imagined to find that path to success.
(HG): What industry trends do you think are overrated?
(DV): The overselling and under-delivering. Say you set expectations with partners that you're going to deliver the world, and then you speak with the activation side who says, we can't really do that.
It is a big one that people absolutely do. Sometimes people oversell and don't even realize it. It is easy to get caught up when you are meeting with a partner – if you’re enthusiastic, or have a big idea, and not realize everything that is required to deliver.
If you are on the activation side, working very closely with the person who is selling to make sure accurate expectations are set. If you are on the selling side, work directly with the activation team as you prepare to pitch your partners. That way you are on the same page and in a better position with your partner at the end of the day.
(HG): If you had the power to change something in sports, what would you change?
(DV): I would love a little bit more work-life balance. Granted, I also go by the saying of: Work hard, play hard.
There is a lot of focus on work culture right now, on ensuring that employees like their workplace and are growing and improving. Everyone needs a reason to go into the office every day that is more than to collect a paycheck. Oftentimes we see our colleagues more than we see our own families. It is forcing a lot of organizations to look at their culture and evaluate if they are fostering an environment where employees are going to want to be 5 or 10 years down the road.
You are also starting to see more and more teams double-down on the investment they have in the community. It is no longer engaging the community for ticket sales, merchandise, concessions, on game day. There is more focus on what is happening in the community, how teams and athletes can use their voices to stand up and support issues that are meaningful to their fans. It is also important to the players who live in these communities and who interact every day. The stronger the community is, the more support is there for teams, and it will come back tenfold.
(HG): What individuals or organizations do you look up to? In sports and outside of sports, who inspires you?
(DV): I am big on family, so I think of my family, first and foremost.
My mom was a big supporter of myself and my brother growing up. She is someone who continues to inspire me every day. My wife as well, she can find the good or see the potential in someone in an instant.
My father-in-law has been somebody who actively pushes me to think about the next step, and how what I do in the present will set me up for the future. He works in tech, and with tech converging with sports more and more, we have had many conversations about how they are intersecting. It allows me to see a future in that space and is really a path I see myself going down.