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Marketing Is Important When It Comes To Generating Revenue

Mary Pink's picture

I recently read an article titled The Religion of Marketing and the Heresy of Sales by Troy Kirby that suggested marketing didn’t drive ticket sales compared to the ticket sales department and didn’t play much of a role in sports marketing. The premise of the piece stated that marketing secured ticket sales through gimmicky giveaway items that bribed people to attend and ticket discounts that really didn’t provide a good return on investment.

What I sensed were misconceptions about the true place of marketing in a sports organization. Now I have worked on both sides, I have been a seasonal ticket sales representative for a professional team and a collegiate sports marketing professional. Both sides require hard work especially on the ticket sales side where you need a thick skin and willingness to keep making calls to get that one sale. After working within both units, I have the perspective that both department play a vital role in the sale of tickets.

Marketing isn’t just about giveaway items and discounting tickets. But when your product isn’t quite where it needs to be or the sales aren’t quite what you think they will be, another strategy is needed. For example, our last home football game each year, no matter what our record is, is a tough game for us to sell. Weather is an issue for our fans along with the opportunity to stay home and watch it on TV. We don’t have a ticket sales team so selling our program is left to marketing. In 2011, our football team had a 5-6 record facing #2 Oklahoma State on ESPN Friday night. We needed to sell tickets and even straight ticket sales wouldn’t have worked. I developed several ticket promotions around the game with the bestselling $11 tickets available on 11-11-11 for only 11 hours (we did extend the promotion due to the success of it) selling over 2,500 tickets. Would some of these fans buy this ticket and not another one – yes, that could happen. Did this directly give Iowa State Athletics a high ROI for this game? Not at that moment because it is about building a program one step at a time. You have to get the fans there and give them an amazing experience. And we did just that beating #2 Oklahoma State in front of one of largest late season crowds. Fans who went to that game had one of the most memorable experiences. In turn this season, we broke our season ticket sales record with a football team that finished 6-7. Sometimes the win will help you but in other cases it is also about an amazing gameday experience. What are you doing to sell that program once they are in the stands? You can’t control wins and losses. In addition, it is better to have people fill your seats by paying at a certain level for their tickets.

Marketers don’t want to give the “farm” away but would like to keep their fan base engaged with their product. After the NHL lockout, many teams offered promotions like discounted or free concessions, discounts on merchandise and free tickets in order to win fans back. This is after teams have lost a lot of money after the lockout. In this case, revenue can’t be the only focus otherwise, it may take longer to win these fans back. Maybe the value of the product isn’t that great or there are other factors so you have to figure out ways to move the needle. Even if the needle doesn’t jump off the chart, it is an improvement.

Another area of misconception was branding, where the article explained that marketers talk about branding but really to marketers it was just about spending a lot of money without a direct ROI. I don’t look at branding as just a giveaway item or spending a lot of money to promote the team. Branding is so much more. Branding is about building expectations, memories, and that relationship so that fans will want to support your team. This includes the fan’s gameday experience, connection with your players and coaches, team’s win/loss record, momentum of the overall department, experiences from over the years and getting your logo more exposure. Marketers like to utilize many of these things in driving ticket sales whether it is a meet and greet with fans or a thank you from the department. But there is rarely a direct ROI in branding and that’s what people don’t understand about marketing is that it isn’t always going to be about showing a revenue

The article also talked about how your customers are only the long term season ticket buyers. People who bought single game tickets were considered non committed fans. Single game ticket buyers need to be treated like a customer and a potential long term customer. We have donors and/or season ticket holders who started out as single-game ticket buyers and then moved to mini pack buyers, or $99 season ticket holders and then finally to donors with full-price season tickets. If we dismissed their value as a single-game ticket buyer, we may not have the chance to build them into a long-term fan. For example, the Oklahoma City Thunder could sell out their arena to season ticket holders, but have chosen to hold a certain number of single game tickets for each game to allow fans to have in game exposure to their program to continue to build their fan base.

In the end, ticket sales aren’t more valuable than marketing and vice versus. Marketing plays just as important a role in moving the needle in ticket sales as the ticket sales department. There may not be a direct ROI or one that recoups the total cost of the tickets immediately. It takes time to build a fan base depending on the product, pricing and the market. In order to be successful as a whole department, each unit must work hard and contribute.

Marketing Is Important When It Comes to Generating Revenue


I love your rebuttal that single game ticket buyers need to be treated like a potential long term customers and that a great game-day experience can make all the difference. We are reading Lou Imbranio's "Winning the Customer" in Illinois State's sport management graduate program, and he discusses the same philosophy. He contends that the focus of marketing initiatives should be dedicated to P2s who have an affinity for a team but aren't as dedicated as P1s (season ticket holders) because P2s are the greatest source of potential growth. I agree that marketing plays a role in the transition of a single-game purchaser to a fully-dedicated fan who contributes to an organization's bottom line. Thanks for the article!

Maggie Ahern

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