Anthony Di Fino brings aggressive approach to develop ticketing strategies for Syracuse
Tomer Langer | Sports Editor
Anthony Di Fino’s office is very clean, much like it was back in September. Then, the walls were painted a dull gray and the desks were barren, because he still hadn’t fully moved in to his office.
Now, the wall is painted a bright orange color, and mounted on the wall is a large whiteboard, split into five neatly divided columns, each one a different list. Photos line a table in the back. And even with the added touch to the office, everything is still very neatly in order.
“Sorry for the mess,” Di Fino joked, flashing a smile.
Di Fino, a Syracuse native, was hired in March 2016 as an associate athletics director for business development. He is in charge of increasing overall revenue and boosting ticket sales, among other tasks. He’s overseen multiple overhauls, changing the student-ticketing package and coordinating the women’s basketball team record-shattering attendance on Feb. 19 by packing 11,021 people in the Carrier Dome.
He still faces one big challenge: filling the Carrier Dome for football games. In 2016, SU had its second-worst average football attendance in Carrier Dome history with 32,805. Despite the obstacle, he approaches the work with aggressive techniques.
“He’s bright. He’s energetic and he’s got a creative mind,” SU Director of Athletics John Wildhack said. “He’s very, very important to our team.”
Di Fino’s move to Syracuse represented a change in business approaches. Before SU, he worked at IMG Learfield, where he consulted other universities.
He says his work now, from within an athletic department, provides an easier path to accomplish his goals. When he worked as a consultant, he needed to pitch a plan a few weeks in the making to an athletic director whom he didn’t know well. Now, he and Wildhack are in on the plan from the get go.
Di Fino also works for a brand that dominates the area, the way SU Athletics does in Central New York, something he didn’t always have. He got his start working at the Fordham Athletic Department, joining the ticket sales team after his stint as a punter for the Rams football team.
“I went into college as a cornerback and punter,” Di Fino said, “saw the defensive playbook and said ‘I’ll just be a punter.’”
After Fordham, he moved to work in Columbia’s ticketing department. Both New York City schools had to compete with the bevy of professional teams in the area. Through those challenges, he developed his strong instructional background and approach to ticket sales.
After working as an assistant athletic director at Army, Di Fino made his move to IMG Learfield. He wowed colleagues with his ability to develop relationships and eventually, as a consultant for Penn State, he developed a program that revamped company-wide training, Brad Sexton said.
“Even though he was in a role that only impacted Penn State,” Sexton, vice president of national ticket sales at IMG Learfield, said. “His influence on the company national wide for our training program is really attributed to him.”
Di Fino wanted to find a way to relate to the ticket sales team at Penn State, which he described as “defeated” when he got there. He realized many employees had grown up watching the children cartoon Blue’s Clues, so he incorporated that into the training program to boost morale. Remember the Blue’s Clues analogy, he’d tell his staff.
As soon as he got to SU, he started working with the sport management sales club, which just formed last year. The club president, sophomore sport management major Anthony de la Fuente, said they spoke over the summer.
After working through logistical issues, Di Fino helped set up a program where members from sales club came in two nights per week to make ticket-sale clubs. And at Penn State, he introduced a twist to the four-hour long training program he gave the club members last fall. He pulled out a bright pink pony from his bag and said any time somebody asked an open-ended question, the pony would be thrown at them.
“That whole training session, because it was so new to us, that pony was flying across the room,” de la Fuente said. “It was pretty cool though because by the end … we were really focusing on only asking open-ended questions.
SU Athletics had tried many options for ticket sales, said Patrick Ryan, a sport management professor at the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. They tried to fill the role in-house with current staff — Ryan was in charge of it one summer — and by outsourcing to other companies, but that didn’t work.
“They finally realized, I think,” Ryan said, “that they really needed to put a professional, full-time ticket sales group together.
“He was a key person that athletics desperately needed to be responsible for the ticket sales.”
Aside from the job opportunity, part of the reason Di Fino moved back to the Syracuse area is because he hopes to start a family soon. His return to the place where he grew up has been marked with success at every stop. His blend of pristine organization with creative problem-solving techniques has fueled it.
Despite that, Di Fino realizes that his job never ends. There are more tickets to sell. There are more season ticket holders to satisfy on game days. And there is the challenge of luring fans back to attending football games. He relishes all of that.
“I’m not going to sleep until that Dome is filled,” Di Fino said.
Published on April 23, 2017 at 10:39 pm