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Rethinking Charitable Donation Ticket Requests

Charitable ticket requests are something that I have received a lot of questions about recently from fellow franchise executives. ‘Tis the season to continually receive massive amounts of ticket donation request letters from charities throughout the local community, trying to hit up teams for an auction or fund drive. That’s why franchises and other entertainment options have a ton of information on their website concerning ticket donation requests.

While I’m not personally against helping charities, I don’t know what good it really does to donate tickets to a 501c3 organization. Most of these charities look at sports as a magnet for an auction bidding war, in order to supplement their fundraising goals. Because mom or dad may be interested in bringing out the whole family to a game, and why not try to get four tickets from the local sports team?

An industry colleague mentioned to me that his “charity ticket requests” by one fundraising organization had suggested that if the franchise donated tickets to an auction, that team would help “bring awareness” to their games for the entire group attending the auction.

Giving away the ticket product assumes that it costs you nothing. The organization believes that, and wants every franchise executive to believe it too. Yet, there are several costs, embedded in performing the charity ticket request practice, which may not be seen on the front-end, but are definitely available on the back-end.

Charitable Ticket Request Issues

First to consider is the manpower and customer service equity lost to distribution and handling this request. Even though ticket printing costs a franchise relatively nothing, it costs a team everything in how a fan interacts with the organization as well as perceives the actual price of the ticket paid for.

What if a $12 ticket by the team goes for $25 at the auction?

Or a grouping of four $12 tickets, amounting to $48 retail, now goes for a bid of $125 at the auction?

The auction buyer doesn’t know the primary market price for those tickets. But it is exactly how much those new customer perceive those tickets to be worth. And that auction buyer often sees the team, not the charitable organization, as receiving the money, thus gaining the advantage. All while sitting in $12 seats that went at auction for twice their value.

A Different Secondary Marketplace

Sports franchises often get really upset about the secondary market. Especially when tickets they price at $40 end up going for $185. Yet, because a charity organization makes a free ticket request, with the goal of selling those tickets for money, every franchise executive gives that group a pass. It’s the same ritual, within an auction space, and yet teams can’t get their stories straight about what they are upset about.

Not only that, but when the free tickets are sold at auction, the franchise not the charity becomes responsible for all deliverables. Especially when promises are made by the charitable organization about the tickets, seat location, game times, etc. All of which may not have been communicated to the auction buyer correctly, but no matter.

If a secondary market broker did the same thing, every franchise executive were seek out their seats and cancel their barcodes, banning them from the stadium. And yet, a charitable organization doesn’t receive that same type of scrutiny.

If franchise executives are so upset about tickets being sold by an outside agent, developing a relationship with the fan, circumventing the team’s own sales staff, then what is the charitable organization doing? This is where it gets into the murky water where someone suggests that I’m an Uncle Scrooge, who doesn’t like the goodwill of organizations to help each other and fundraise. Nothing could be further from the truth, but I do think questioning deliverables is probably a smart practice anyway.

What Awareness Does This Actually Build?

The second issue comes from the idea of what a charitable auction item of tickets does for the franchise itself in terms of “awareness.” While it is understood that charities are a good thing for the community as a whole, if the idea of donating tickets is to involve the franchise in that community effort, beyond the technicality of distribution, what is the franchise actually doing to in the community?

The team merely mailed off some free tickets after receiving a request letter, and it is seen as only another item among many during the bidding process of the auction. No involvement was really performed by the franchise or its executive staff, and the charitable auction attendees recognize that. Thus, there is never an obligation by the organization nor its membership to return the favor to the franchise for committing to the donation at all.

Instead of donating free tickets, the franchise should involve itself in the charitable auction physically. Having a specific presence at the event, by bringing the team mascot and sales staff to help with auction items and presentation, allows the franchise to help cultivate relationships, gain awareness for its home games, and be a community leader.

If the charitable organization is unwilling to allow this presence, the franchise should offer an alternative solution; for every 50 group tickets sold, the team donates four vouchers back to the organization for auction purposes. A quid pro quo perhaps, but potentially effective.

If there is a great group leader that has fostered a relationship throughout the years with the franchise, bringing out hundreds to games, and asks for a ticket donation for a charitable auction that they are involved with, that is a different story. Yet, that is often not the case.

Are These Charitable Organizations Even Involved With The Team?

Most of these charitable organizations send out thousands of form letters annually, in the hopes of getting back 10-15 percent responses from recipients. Organizations teach charities how to write these letters in mass. And they typically amass a huge amount of donations back for auctions. All in order to achieve their goal of provoking their own membership to want to give to their own organization, by using someone else’s products. It’s a strange set-up to where the charitable organization doesn’t feel that enough of its membership will just provide a donation, without having a specialty item attached. It’s the same issue that franchises have with Bobblehead and other promotional nights, where the game itself is somehow not enough, and creates a “gifting” cycle with its core group of fans, building up unattainable expectations.

While it always helps to build up warm and fuzzies for franchise executives and marketing staffs receiving ticket donation letters, the current practice in the typical manner has to stop. There is a dividing line to how the practice is considered acceptable, and simply printing out free tickets, with no direct involvement, does the franchise no good, nor helps the charitable auction achieve its goals in the process.

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