The Value Of Selling Season Tickets and Creating Demand
As a sports marketing professional for over 20 years, I have seen and done it all, from being an (unpaid) intern to a sales representative to becoming a Manager, Director, Vice President, General Manager as well as being a President and an owner of multiple professional sports teams. Through it all, in my mind, I still operate as a Director of Ticket Sales. Those experiences shaped me, but none more profound than my days leading a ticket sales department. I am lucky to have “ranked” it and not bounced around, I didn’t run when the going got tough, I hunkered down and pushed through. I didn’t seek glory or greener pastures, greener pastures sought me because of skill sets learned managing a ticket department.
I was very fortunate to work for and with some amazingly talented people. I spent the better part of the 90’s working in Las Vegas selling baseball when it was 100°+ outside. There were certainly easier places to sell, but none that could prepare me to work harder and smarter. During my time there we started focusing on what we could sell, how to position it and create demand in bite size pieces. We had a 10,000 plus seat venue, few sell outs annually and no notable demand for anything other than single game tickets on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
We did, however, host an event called Big League Weekend (now a staple of the Las Vegas sports scene every March) where we hosted sometimes 2-6 MLB teams for spring training games. Prior to my time in a management capacity, the team would announce an on-sale date and let the public have at it. Our Ticket Operations Department would place holds on key seats for our sponsors and season seat accounts but that was about as complex as it got. Then Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire happened. I am not going to get into the steroid debate or what their names mean today, but back in 1998 through different optics, it was a phenomenon. That following spring we happened to host the Cubs as one of the games.
Unlike in years past, we were given a golden opportunity to leverage the Cubs game as well as our other slate of games to drive season seat sales for our ballclub, the Las Vegas Stars. You could no longer cherry pick the Cubs game as a single game option. The only way you could be certain to obtain tickets to the Cubs game was to be part of our season seat family. That didn’t require a full season seat plan, but it did require at minimum purchasing an 11-game plan (10- Stars game and the Cubs game).
Those 10 Stars games were all Friday and Saturday games, plus our July 3rd game, in fact, they were our best games of the year. Our plan holder would get to come to our very best games (which were now all likely to sell out), those games also included 5 or 6 games that had giveaways items and we “guaranteed” our plan holders that we would have those giveaways awaiting them and not just give them away to the first couple thousand folks through the ballpark. The best part of it all was we kept the price point starting at around $75 for all 11 events, plus the giveaways.
My former staff can attest we sold over 5,000 mini-plans alone through this offer and now had half the stadium sold out for 10 games. Needless to say, we set records in total season seat sales that year but continued to break those records throughout my tenure. Did we have folks who were angry that we had such a policy departure and required a larger commitment to get the game they really wanted? Of course, but those few folks that complained were holding us back from establishing a real footprint in our market.
I’d love to tell you that we renewed at 95%, but that would be a lie, if memory serves me correctly we renewed those specific plans at just north of 70%, but replenished the well the following year with a new slate of Big League Weekend games. I know many of you reading this are asking yourself, “good for you, you leveraged the Cubs. We don’t have any MLB games coming to our park/arena to leverage”. That may very well be true, but you do have key demand games, be it a special fireworks night, a key weekend that draws well annually? The question to ask yourself is, how many games did we sell out last year? Why? Understanding why you sold out will help you better plan on how to make sure you sell it out again this year as well as asking how many more games can we sell out?
Once you know that magic number, you will want to create a compelling offer that a customer can’t refuse. Package it up, but don’t discount, instead add value that goes beyond the price of a ticket. For instance, let’s say you sold out a whopping three games last season, aim for eight, but make sure on those eight nights you have a three-ring circus of entertainment going on. You want to show your product at its best, which means a packed house (gives customer the opinion that your product is popular), provide guaranteed giveaways (you’re going to do them anyway, so do you want to reward the one-time customer who showed up specifically for a bobblehead night or the customer that bought 5,8,10 games from you? To me (multiple>1), and lastly make sure your game entertainment is spot-on when the game is not in play.
Lastly, let me dispel a myth, it will not cannibalize your full season ticket plans and successful execution will grow your revenues.