Every well-performing team needs a responsible and effective leader. To stand up to the demands, expectations, and challenges, one must understand the right leadership principles to embrace. Lance Tyson sits down with Todd Kline, SVP of Sports Talent and Property Sales at WME. Todd touches on the importance of mentorship and role models play in developing your team, why volunteering in an organization is so important, and some core principles every leader needs to support and advance their team. If you are looking to advance your sales career, don’t miss this.
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Setting The Right Leadership Principles With Todd Kline
I’m excited to do another edition of our series here talking to different sales leaders. I have a good friend of mine and worked with for a few years, Todd Kline. He’s the SVP of Sports Talent and Property Sales with William Morris Endeavor. Todd, thank you for being on. I appreciate it. This is one of the interviews I’m excited about. If you can real quick introduce yourself, maybe tell the audience a bit of what you do, how you do it, and get into that would be great.
It’s good to see you as always. I miss you, my friend. I hope you and yours are certainly healthy and safe during these surreal times when you think about what’s going on here, which is wild to see. My name is Todd Kline. I’m the Senior Vice President of Sports Talent and Property Sales for William Morris Endeavor. William Morris is a very large company and we’re the largest representation business in the world.
We represent everyone from Tom Brady to Serena Williams, to Kevin Durant, to Kawhi Leonard. Half of my job is waking up every day, and our team and I were trying to figure out how we build businesses and create revenue opportunities for them outside of their core skill, which is usually on the quarter on the field.
The second half of our job is we represent third parties and their efforts to monetize a premium asset. Most likely and notably, that’s naming rights or large partnership, jersey patches, and sleeve sponsors, things like that. It’s fun for me at this point in my life to be working with talents. I’ve never done that before. We’re coming up through the property side. It’s been a fun year for me at WME.
You’re saying that one of your clients is one of those big football Quarterbacks that got drafted. Is that one of your big clients?
Yeah. We do represent Joe Burrow. It’s amazing how much the drafts can drive business and conversation. It’s the folk from Joe Burrow, who was obviously very active around the draft and a very unique and humble guy for us to work with within your neck of the woods in Ohio. The real fun one was we also represented the first draft pick at the WMBA, Sabrina Ionescu, which was fascinating to see her.
She’s immensely popular following her speech at the Kobe Bryant Memorial, and her interest in corporate growth for her was fascinating to see. I’m doing this now for several years and can still learn something, have a new thing that gets you motivated and can get you out of bed every day, and excited for what you’re going to accomplish.
Let’s talk about your trek. One of the philosophies with this is it’s amazing when you look at people that are in senior leadership. How many of them come out of the sales? One of the reasons I wanted to get you on is because you and I share a lot of very take the offense to the prospect philosophies. That’s probably why we’ve always got along so well, so talk to everybody got your trek. Where did you start off? How did you get in sales?
I have the classic story that everybody has worked in sports. I’ve started as a business consultant for Arthur Anderson installing JDS Uniphase Software ERP systems.
That’s a surprise out of this call. You got to talk about that.
I was at the University of Maryland. I played baseball there, walked on, got hurt after my sophomore year, and the next thing you realized was that you got to figure out what to do in life. There were all these on-campus interviews. I went and interviewed with all the different companies out there, and I’m signing a $46,000-a-year job, which I left after nine months. It took me four years ever to get back to that same salary level.
I thought that’s what you did. You went to college, got recruited off campus to go, and next thing you know, you’re in Milwaukee trying to figure out how to implement a chain software or accounts payable system to a company with 150 employees. I’m looking at myself in a Motel 8, wondering what the heck I’m doing. I’ve been very blessed.
It was a big five accounting at the time.
Yeah. Like PWC, Deloitte, Arthur Anderson, after the Enron stuff, it got consolidated down. I learned a lot. You go to their big training centers. I’m very lucky. I grew up in a small town in Boston and had a few other friends who inspired me to work in sports. They were already on their career path. I looked at them and said, “If that’s what they are doing, there’s no reason why I can’t do that as well.” I remember I had covered a little magazine called the Sports Business Journal.
You could get a free two-week membership if you gave them an email. I think I had 15 or 20 Hotmail accounts, so I can keep reading it. It was almost like I found where I belonged. My parents thought I was crazy because I left a high-paying entry-level job in 1999 and I ended up literally going to work for free at night for the Boston Bruins and during the day editing the ESPN Sports Almanac updating statistics year over year. That was literally my first job.
You moved back to Boston and literally said, “I’m going to work for the Bruins.” Are you even a hockey guy?
If you’re ever in Boston, you have to be, but I feel like I needed the blue-chip brands on my resume. I feel like the experience you get working in Minor League Baseball or volunteering for the team, you did every job. You’re drawing raffle tickets, ushering players around, and working the charity tables. You were doing everything you had to do. I figured out that I like sponsored things because I was the only person who had the job who wasn’t a junior or a sophomore at BU or Northeastern.
I’d show up in dress-out, so they let me work with the sponsors and take them to tour the locker room. I was like, “This is a job?” That’s when I learned what and how an organization works. It’s volunteering at night 46 home games and, during the day, working for ESPN books, which is a cool experience. I get to tell you that I officially did write a New York Times Bestseller, which is awesome, non-fiction, but it’s neat to have that on your resume. From there, that’s where it all started. I knew I needed to be part of it. I was drawn to it. Ever since then, the whole industry has felt like home.
Where’d you go from there? You sold at Arthur Anderson. It sounds like what you were doing was part of its sales at the Bruins.
You’re seven tables up. Arthur Henderson was I wasn’t there long enough to know what I was doing. I showed up, and I learned how to use email. I graduated college without ever owning a cell phone or sending an email. It got me real formal business training in a very corporate setting, which has benefited me greatly.
Trajectory sales-wise from there is where you go.
I was not in the sales world for a while, so I went to work in a marketing function. There was a very big agency in Boston in Wolf & Associates, started by the legendary Bob Wolf. The president of Wolf & Associates, who was the former president of Feld Entertainment, a gentleman named Joe Gold, who was a great mentor to me for many years.
Joe left and started a small agency that supported one company who was at the time called Clear Channel. We are now known as Live Nation. He had a saying to me that even the guys shoveling S-H-I-T in the circus is in show business, and that’s literally where I started. I was a promoter for family entertainment lands for shows like Champions on Ice and Spiderman. I was in amazing cities, Peoria, Moline, Illinois.
Literally, I was at the bottom, but I got competitive because what would happen is that they would judge you by your ticket sales for these shows. The facts would come up every day, and I was kicking the crap out of the people in the bigger markets. That’s when I first got the taste for, if you drive results, things open up for you. My big break was they’re letting me promote the show in Charlotte. I was there with Joe for three years. I learned how to travel. I learned how to pitch. I learned how to go to a city, figure out the contacts, how to promote a show, earn media, press, load in, and load-out. I learned a lot. I understood the value of celebrity.
I was 23 years old on the road with Michelle Kwan and Sarah Hughes. I don’t talk about it. That wasn’t my calling. I ended up having a huge break where I got a chance to go work for Gene Upshaw and the NFL Players Association working in their corporate marketing group. That is when the world for me exploded. I was at Super Bowl, and Jacksonville was my first one. I started working with NFL partners, but I started working on the activation and fulfillment side. That set me up to understand how to work with brands, the language that they used, the KPIs, and the metrics.
Ultimately, as I ended up shifting into a sales role when I was at AEG if it wasn’t for starting on the activation side, your book says it best like selling is an away game. I lived in my clients’ minds for years, thinking about how to bring their objectives to life with my asset. When I switched to sales at AEG, it served as the backbone, for I’d never felt like I was selling anything. All I did was sell my ideas when I was an activation. I made the transition into revenue generation when I moved over to AEG.
How long in the Players Association before you went to AEG? Explain what AEG is, so they know.
I was at the PA for four years. It’s an amazing experience. I left, and I got to AEG, which is Anschutz Entertainment Group. It’s a very large company. I guarantee you’ve heard of Anschutz. I can still hear Todd Goldstein’s pitch in my head that we’re a small little sports entertainment company with hardware, which is 100-plus arenas, venues, clubs that we either own, operate, the broker managed. Things like Staples Center, LA Live, O2 in London, and Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai.
All your experiences and knowledge should lead you to your ultimate goal and where you want to be.
There’s a software side of their business, which is they own the LA Kings and LA galaxy. At the time, they own the Houston Dynamo. They’re the second-largest concert promoter in the world and the number one owner of Music Festival Coachella and Jazz Fest. When I got there, I uncovered a couple of things. One, I realized that I got to go from being domestic with the NFL to opening up the world to me. I always knew I wanted to, but the next thing you know, I’m on a plane to Stockholm, Sweden, because we’re building a venue, which is now the Tele2 Arena. I’m in Brazil right before the World Cup because we’re building what’s now known as Allianz Parque in Sao Paulo.
It showed me the world, and that is where I started to understand revenue generation. I started as an activator. LA Live was opening, so another colleague and I were activating all the partners, but it was 2008, the market had crashed. I realized if I was going to get ahead, the sellers and the revenue drivers were the ones who got ahead. I started doing deals, getting attention and senior-level exposure by bringing brands to the table. That’s how I made the transition from activation to revenue.
I was literally on with one of your former colleagues, VPs at Staples Center. When I think of AEG, I think about the execs there and all of my notes, tough as nails, competitive, get it done. Not a lot of BS, excuse, just get it done. How did your personality tie into that culture or vice versa? What did that look like?
It does come back, and I think that’s somewhat true. What I tell you from being inside is at that time, I started out. LA Live hadn’t even opened yet. I was there during a massive growth experience. The AEG Global Partnership Division was formed when I started. I got to work for Todd Goldstein, the CEO, who was the president, and Shervin Mirhashemi, who’s now the CEO of Legends.
I got to work for both of them while they were building this. The reality is while they were the leaders, the people that work there turned out to be some of the most amazing professionals with a lot of respect in the industry. It is Nick Baker, who’s now the COO, Russ Silvers, who’s his COO, Sam Piccione, who’s now the President of Oak View International, Bill Pedigo, who’s the CRO of the Anaheim Ducks, and Rob Blake, who runs the LA Kings. It was such an immense talent right there that I learned so much of being around them. It became stable and was competitive, but it was collaborative.
The talent, the way they sold, sales, get it done, I’m attracted to that myself. When I bring that up, that is the most positive nature I can be because I love that type of culture.
I’d say I started as an activator. I’m sitting there getting American Express and Coca-Cola signs up. I tell you the person who has been someone I respect the most in the industry, Nick Baker. I’ll never forget. I always say he was like Derek Jeter walking into the Yankees locker, he was a coordinator and I was a director. This kid had more talent than I’ve ever seen in my life. I remember I sat down with him, and I said, “Tell me how you got the Amgen Tour of California deal.” I sat there and listened to everything he said. I wanted that process to find the company, do the pitch, negotiate the deal and bring it back and celebrate. It didn’t matter how old you were, many years you’ve been, or anything.
It didn’t matter how old you were, many years you’ve been, or anything. It was the most meritocracy I’d ost meritocracy I’d ever been a part of. That’s the part I think that culture breeds were performed and do it the right way. That’s the key. It was like, they never cut corners. You nailed every step along the journey and celebrated along the way, supported your colleagues, and competed, though. You wanted the attention, but it drove you. I felt like being on a team, which I love that environment.
You’re saying competition is a good thing. If you think about that team you’re involved in, that organization single-handedly revived Downtown LA. Before what you guys do with LA Live, the creativity and the business has been drawn down there. The people are still there, too. You’re coming up through there. It’s competitive and driving you.
You’re learning from people. One of the things I love about you is, as much as we work together, you always want to feedback. I’ve never had to throttle back my feedback to you. Talk about how that nurtured you? You shot up that ladder there at AEG. Talk about what that looked like and how that thirst for knowledge is serving you?
I think the young group of people who were there, Lance had amazing role models. To go on a pitch with Tim Leiweke and see him the articulate vision. There’s a funny story where, for two years, I carpooled to work with Shervin Mirhashemi. I was reminded after the fact that he never drove one. Therefore, I was a chauffeur. I’ve listened to him for two years every morning in the car and on the phone.
When Todd Goldstein was in town, we went to every meeting. You’d be in every pitch with you. I had these rockets that you emulated what you loved about them. What they did, which has been a core philosophy, I think as me as I grew and became more of a leader was, they genuinely cared, provided a vision, taught you, and gave you honest feedback. At the core of it, they wanted to see you succeed. They never cared about credit.
They wanted the team to win. I’ve never worked on the revenue generation side for 10 to 12 years. I’ve never worked for a commission once in my life. I don’t know what a commission is. It was this idea of working for if the team wins, the bonus pool, and you don’t win unless the company wins. It has been my environment. I never want to be a commission-driven seller. It didn’t matter.
Your deal was the one that we ended up doing. You did a pitch to this QSR 1, but you did the QSR 2, and you drove competitive pressure, or you did a better deck that got used. If the company wins and we hit budget, we all win. That was hammered into us by some great leaders. The next generation of it will follow.
How long were you there?
Seven and a half years.
For everybody who’s reading, you’re talking Arthur Anderson to one of the biggest entertainment platforms in the world. Where did you go from there?
I go to Arthur Anderson, NFL PA, and AEG. I always do the cities. I went from Boston to DC to Los Angeles. I then made the decision to go be the Chief Commercial Officer for the Miami Dolphins.
Always map your leadership style to the business environment or situation you are in.
I’m not familiar with Hard Rock Stadium and that whole property there. Talk about that experience. It was for a few years and that’s where we connected.
The Kings had won two Stanley Cups when I was there. I felt myself wanting to be on the team side. I knew that was an environment that I wanted to play in. Rather than being a mile wide and an inch deep, I felt as if this was my opportunity to go work in a dedicated team environment. I’ve been fortunate to have these amazing mentors in my life, whether it be Todd Goldstein or Shervin. I knew I wanted to work and learn from Tom Garfinkel.
I looked at Tom. Here’s a guy who made his own way in the industry, and gets the keys to a franchise, not once, not twice but three times. I knew I had so much I could learn from him, but there was an immense opportunity. He was not known as a great sponsor to market Florida. There are only five Fortune 500 companies there.
It’s a large investment by the owner to renovate the stadium. There were opportunities to put points on the board. I knew if I went there and we were successful selling the naming rights and turning around that sponsorship model, I knew that would open future doors for me. I also knew that I had to take a step back to learn a little bit more, and I did. It was a phenomenal experience.
It’s interesting that I ever realized this and the benefit of doing this, listen to people’s stories, you’ve had a lot of choices, and it sounds like you’ve made your choices. That’s what your career has been about. You’ve made your choice. You make decisions, and you get a choice.
It sounds that way in a twenty-minute interview. There was an immense synonymous. Tom Garfinkel has a great saying, “There’s only one way to get promoted, and that’s producing results every year, innovate and do something different.” I think about each year of my career and the fact that it’s much more getting to the Major Leagues where a person who gets promoted from A to AA is the person who had the best batting average and hit the most home runs. Everybody wants it. We’re all in sports and competitions. The fun, cool, enticing jobs were readily available. We don’t have them, but there was a lot of hard work that went into it.
I didn’t mean to say that. What I mean is you’ve put your head like, “I want to be in this. I’m going to become valuable enough that I have a choice. I’m going to do these things at the Bruins. I’m going to have a choice and get noticed.” You talked about your trip to the Players Association. You learned a ton there. There are two things that are happening in this interview. Everywhere you’ve gone, you’ve learned and grown, risen, not to discredit the hard work, but then have the choice to do something else if you wanted it.
That’s a good way to look at it. I knew leaving the NFL PA, I needed international, and AEG gave the international. I had a theory that guided my career. I think we all get paid three ways. I would ask myself. Obviously, money is great, it pays for things, and we don’t need it. I would ask like, “What am I going to learn? What are my experiences going to be?”
The reality is you’re going to end up at the job you want if you have the right experiences and education. The fact that I’ve been able to get a deal done in China and know how to get a chop out of the government, you’ve done a naming rights agreement, you can figure out what power you need to run to a trusted sign, and whether or not you needed to get the city approval or not. All that experience and all those things that you learn are all things going to get you hopefully to your ultimate goal and where you want to be.
I’d like to think it was somewhat architected, but the reality is that I try to have these micro-goals along the way. What do I need to accomplish this year to get ahead? What’s in front of me now? How do I define my own success? What’s the team’s success? It’s been marked by some luck, hard work, and strategic decisions.
One of the reasons I wanted to get you on here is because my alignment with you is I think you’re a true hunter. I’m a hunter for all the right reasons to bring it to the table. You go from there, and now you’re your WME, William Morris Endeavor. What would you say is your core sales strategy value and then your core leadership value?
I don’t see myself as that hunter.
It is a compliment. You are phenomenal at that stuff.
The other thing that would maybe mark my anchor, Lance, is I’ve always believed in the property in which I’ve represented. To me, it’s honest. I generally believe that what we’re doing is going to help these brands get the return on their objective, so I liked that. When I uncovered the sense of accomplishment, you feel when you sell the naming rights or see someone else sell their first $1 million deal. I’m attracted to it, but I don’t define myself by it. I like the result of the process.
Are you more of a goal-setter or a hunter?
I don’t have a great answer. Are you surprised to hear me say that?
That’s what this is all about.
You don’t always have to be blinded by your ambition to move up a ladder continuously. You can just be happy.
My default mechanism isn’t to hunt because I think of myself as that activator, the ally to the brand, like, “How can this work for the brand? How does empower in the Broncos come together for that naming rights deal?” I’m thinking about it from the empower standpoint, how it’s going to be for their adding 2,000 people in Denver, and what it’s going to mean when the real estate development goes up. I think about it that way in terms of that. I don’t need the instant gratification of that immediate sale. I enjoy the celebration, the moments, and the legal. I like the term sheets. I definitely am not afraid of it, but I like it.
The belief in what you’re doing is so key to success. When I talked to a tech CEO, I started talking to one, and he had such a belief in what he does. I love it like that. I could see it in your facial expression.
You have to. I literally can remember sitting with Hard Rock, telling them what the moment is going to feel like when we have the Super Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium. We invited the world there eight years later. I and the COO went to the game together and sat there. None of us worked at the companies that we represented at that time, but we still enjoyed that moment. That, to me, is what motivates me.
You talk about vision and then land on it. To pose that question as a leader, what value did you try to instill?
I think there are these core principles that you have to have. You have to have common sense, pride in what you do and everything you do, character, skill, trust, teamwork, and good communication. In any situation you’re in, you need to have that. The more and more I look at leadership, you have to map your leadership style to the environment and the business situation. If you think about certain coaches in professional sports, if they have one system, it may not work in every place that they’re going to be. A lot of times, you have to adapt yourself as a leader to the situation you’re in.
Lance, you’re with us in Miami. That was a startup. For the most part, we had to build sales materials, create insights, get sizzle videos done, and create term sheets. It was a bit of a mix between a turnaround and a startup. Sometimes, if you went to some of the great sales organizations of the world, most at AEG, every business they’re in is an accelerated growth model. The way you have to lead, and the way you have to structure your team and things like that has to map to that. I also think there’s a great study on leadership, Lance, where the real leader is the first follower.
Until I’m the CEO or the owner, the reality is that the first follower to the vision that the owner and the CEO are setting for us. That’s how we started the movement. It’s by bringing their vision in the way they want the company you were on down to our teams. I obsess a lot about making sure that my style, now at WME, has to match that vision of Mark Shapiro. He was one of the all-time great leaders in our industry.
I have to make sure that I’m implementing the vision, holding my team accountable, caring, rewarding, teaching, mapping, strategy, and doing all the things that leadership is core to. You have to do it in a way that fits the culture of the company. Until we’re sitting at the top of it, one of us buys a team. At the end of the day, we’re making sure we get to the top of the mountain the right way.
Here are some power questions. This is a quick one. If you have a niece or nephew, 7 or 8 years old, and they go, “Uncle Ty, what’s it means to be successful?” In a 7- or 8-year old’s mind, explain success to them, go.
Success to a 7- or 8-year-old, your success is going personal to you about what makes you happy. My best friend in the world, the only guy I talked to every day, is the principal of the middle school we went to. He’s the happiest guy I know. What makes you happy every day, selling tickets, being a teacher, working for a team, and selling the sponsorship, that, to me, is a success. You don’t always have to be blinded by your ambition to continuously try to move up a ladder. You can just be happy.
I would try to get maybe them to understand that success is, like, “If you can never do wrong by doing right,” and that’s a great thing I learned. Brian Lafemina, who I’ve become very close, is one of the great leaders in sports. Brian taught me, “Success for us is if we do right by never doing wrong.” I think maybe a kid would understand that.
This is not more of it, but I want you to think deeply about this. We’re going to project yourself to your wake and all the people that you loved. You decide in your will that you want certain music played. What’s the song?
I have two. I have a theory that there are not enough bagpipes in our lives, so I’d need Amazing Grace with bagpipes. I’d like to bring the emotion to the moment, and who doesn’t like bagpipes? There are not enough bagpipes in our life. Number two, I want to make sure the emotions there, we’re going to have to do Boyz II Men. It’s emotional. It’s an all-time great funeral song of all time. You have to do it. Maybe a Little Leonard Common. Hallelujah would be nice too. At the end of the party, Lance, when everyone’s had enough to drink, and they’re telling great CK stories, Tina Turner is simply the best because I’m gone. I can brag. Let’s get into it.
The last question is, if you had one book to gift the people, the people you need or people who are important to you, what would be that book?
I’m going to give you two books in a movie because I do this every time I hire somebody. Obviously, it goes without saying, Selling is An Away Game by Lance Tyson. The first book is called The First 90 Days. It’s how to master successful transitions by Michael Walkins. It’s not about your first 90 days of the company. I talked about it earlier in leadership because these jobs change. They’re living and breathing.
Now with COVID, all of our strategies have to change because we are now trying to turn around a business. At any given point, the way we’re going to operate, behave, and lead is going to change. I find myself going to this book often to make sure I map my actions to the situation I’m in. There’s a book by Kim Scott named Radical Candor. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. It’s simple. You need to care personally but challenge yourself deliberately.
That’s the core of the book. The reality is, “I want to be with people that are going to tell me if I have something in my teeth and not get mad at me. I want feedback, but the reason I know I like your feedback is because I need to care about myself.” I know you want me to be successful. Therefore, you can say whatever you want to me. I think about all the great relationships I had at work, and now they get classified as “hard conversations.” They’re not hard if you care about them.
Tom Garfinkel was probably the best at this I’ve ever seen. I’ve had to put my legs up on his couch, and he’s talking me through a bunch of things. Nick Baker and I barely talk every single day. I swear to God, like, “It’s all radical candor,” and you can give that feedback, but you can’t give that challenge to them deliberately if they think you don’t authentically care. If you want a good movie, I got this from the president of Dell, who turned out to be a great mentor of mine. His name is Chris Riley. He said, “The best sales movie of all time was coming through the family.” Have you seen it?
I literally have seen that movie more than one time.
It’s about the relationship between the sensei and the student in finding the secret of their success. The reality is it’s all in you. It’s the simplest way to identify these relationships that we have with all of our teammates. We can oversimplify things, but I’ve never been around some of the quotes or made them seem palatable and tangible.
I appreciate you being on and your friendship over the years.
I appreciate you. A lot of you probably know Lance is a sales trainer, but to me, you’ve been an unbelievable life coach and business coach as I did transition into leadership roles. You were a huge part of getting me to where I’m at, and forever grateful to you. I’m glad you were yours are happy and healthy.
Thanks. I appreciate it.
About Todd Kline:
TODD KLINE JOINS TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
Tottenham have appointed a former NFL executive as the club’s first chief commercial officer to aid the search for a lucrative naming rights partner for their stadium.