Name: Akshay Khanna
Job: GM – NFL, NBA, and NHL
LinkedIn: Akshay Khanna
In 140 characters or less, tell us who you are and how you got to where you are today.
Live experiences/sports fan, loves people but is also an addicted Redditor, and got here through a mix of drive, luck, hard work, and passion
What’s one trend in media or marketing that you’re buying or selling?
Fans, particularly millennials and Gen Z, with discretionary income are choosing live experiences over material goods at an accelerating pace. The winners from this trend will be those who are most adept at marketing that differentiated experience to these potential customers. We see this every day at StubHub, where we are constantly trying to innovate to provide our fans with “more than just a ticket”. “More” can come in the form of our newly launched loyalty program StubHub Beyond, money-can’t-buy type shoulder experiences at major events (like what we do at the US Open, Superbowl, or Lollapalooza), or the adjacent products we’re able to offer our fans to make their live experience truly memorable.
How do you define engagement?
I consider engagement to be a combination of how long you have someone’s attention span and how fully you have it. It’s probably the most important metric for those of us in the world of live experiences. If you can’t capture fan engagement and you can’t get fans to prioritize engaging with the content, then the battle is lost. And in an era where average human attention spans are less than those of a goldfish simply by virtue of being inundated with digital content, losing that battle is something no business or content creator can afford to do.
What’s the project or campaign that you’re proudest of? Why?
It’s said that to make great ideas work, one needs to make great deals and partners. We channel that mindset in thinking about how to innovate the user experience – it’s less about deals and more about the unique things StubHub does with our sports and entertainment partners to better serve fans. Partners give StubHub access to enhanced customer experience, but these relationships also allow us to create something new for fans.
StubHub’s mission is to bring the joy of live to our fans globally on a daily basis, and I have seen how we do that first-hand via our NFL partnership – which we launched last season.
The NFL was key in embracing the ticket resale market to create open ticket distribution. In the industry’s first open model for a top four major sports league, StubHub provided the technology and counsel to integrate with the league’s primary partners and other parties to offer fans more choice in purchasing NFL tickets.
As an official partner of the National Football League, we are able to ensure that our fans have a seamless and frictionless journey when buying and selling tickets for NFL games. Gone are the days of issues at the box office or fraudulent tickets purchased from scalpers – StubHub’s focus on being fan-first and this partnership with the NFL has allowed us to give our fans the single best game day experience.
Sara sits down to talk about subscription-based media, her proudest projects, and much more.
What are you working on right now? Any exciting future plans that you’re able to share?
In an increasingly digital world and ever-growing experience economy, StubHub optimizes the space between technology and live events to enable consumers around the world to access the events they want to see and create the memories they can only get in real life. Today’s consumers expect the ability to purchase anytime, anywhere – and StubHub is driving the consumer experience through innovations that create loyalty and make purchasing simpler and more engaging.
As a GM responsible for roughly a third of StubHub’s business, turning these innovations into a monetizable strategy for the company, while providing our fans with the best-in-class e-commerce experience, is core to my day-to-day job. Some of the innovative initiatives we have either recently launched or are in the process of launching include:
On a more personal note, we also have significantly expanded StubHub’s giving back program this summer. Our social good mission is that we believe that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, deserves access to the joy of live events. Research shows that attending live events reduces stress, boosts happiness, and has lasting health benefits. And we base this all on actual customer data! A 2018 survey of StubHub customers revealed that 83% of respondents stated that the reason they go to live events is that they feel joy and are happier.
Our #TicketForward program (www.stubhub.com/ticketforward) is all about rewarding inspiring people, but also about allowing fans to experience the joy of giving tickets to an inspiring person. It started as a program designed for our staff to nominate inspiring people in their community who we would reward with free tickets to an event of their choice. But now anyone can submit a nomination to send someone who inspires them to a live experience courtesy of StubHub.
As a connected fan, what’s the best piece of sports content that you have recently consumed?
This is an easy one for me, and it’s a key theme of this spotlight! The strategy, the execution, the creativity, and the social message behind Nike’s campaign with Colin Kaepernick was phenomenal. For me, it began with the most terrestrial of advertising methods – I first found out about it via a massive billboard that Nike put up in Union Square, near where I live in San Francisco. I then saw snippets of the upcoming commercial featuring Colin in a YouTube video, before seeing the entire ad on television. And it wasn’t just Kaepernick – I think the messaging around Serena’s greatness, Shaquem Griffin’s unbelievable tenacity, the USWNT’s dominance, and Alphonso Davies’ incredible story were similarly tear-inducing. If Nike didn’t inspire you to “Dream Crazy”, then nothing will!
What’s been the biggest high and low of working in sports?
Biggest high is definitely the proximity to a product that elicits passions like no other, from casual fans all the way to die-hards. Watching people experience the euphoric highs of seeing their team prevail, or even of watching their favorite player in person – I doubt there’s another career that allows someone to say that they played a part in such daily joy.
Biggest low is that it’s been odd for me to work in an industry where I have so few role models who look like me. I’m lucky to work at a company that prioritizes diversity and is led by a woman of color, but unfortunately, that seems to be the exception and not the rule. My goal is to work hard to see this change in the coming months and years, as we evolve as an industry and a career choice for young people of color.
What’s one element of the sports industry that you’d like to see change?
As a person of color, this is an easy one for me. Industries like sports, media, and entertainment have typically lagged behind in terms of ethnic and gender diversity, and this has to change sooner than later. With all that is happening in our country and around the world in terms of rising intolerance for diversity, this should be an industry that leads the conversation around the need for social change, not one that follows.
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