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"Sir, I Don't Think You Should Buy Season Tickets."

Steve DeLay's picture

Shoot for sustainable, long-term success by using full menu marketing to sell your customers what’s right for them.

It was 1999. Eric Deutsch, Executive Vice President of the newly announced Dayton Professional Baseball team, a Single A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, was being overwhelmed with phone calls. The city of Dayton would be getting a minor league baseball team, the city’s first professional baseball in more than 80 years. The phone was ringing off the hook with people calling for tickets.

The caller on the other end of the phone was adamant

“I want to buy six season tickets for the team. My wife and I and my four kids love baseball and we want to come to the games.”

Eric paused for a second,

“Sir, do you realize we play 70 games over about five months? That’s an average more than three games per week. Do you and your family do anything else, like little league baseball, summer vacations, or summer camp? If you do, you’ll likely miss a whole bunch of games and not be happy.”

The caller, a bit mystified that Eric didn’t just take his money said,

“Hmm, but we don’t want to just buy game by game. Who knows what type of seats we’ll get. We want to get the perks and benefits that go with being a season ticket holder.”

“No problem,” Eric responded, “You’re in luck. We also offer a half season plan and a partial ticket plan that’s just three games per month. Your seats won’t be quite as good but you’ll get all the same perks that a full season ticket holder gets and it won’t seem like you have a second full-time job going to baseball games. I really don’t think you should buy season tickets. You should buy our partial plan. It will fit your family’s needs much better. You’ll be much happier.”


If there was ever a time for a team to get greedy and sell a ton of full season tickets, it was before the Dayton Dragons played their first game. The team was selling tickets like crazy. They ended up selling out that first season before the first pitch was thrown. Sure, Fifth Third Field is only 7,200 seats so that may not sound too hard. But twelve years and 915 consecutive sellouts later through the 2012 season, the Dragons own the all-time professional sports sellout streak and are now shooting for 1,500 straight.

They renew 95%+ every year in a community where unemployment hit 17% at one point during the recession. And, the sellouts don’t just come because the team wins the Midwest League Championship every year. In thirteen seasons, the team has been to the playoffs just five times and has regularly lost more games than they’ve won. The Dragons have succeeded primarily following one key rule.

“Sell the customer what’s right for them, not what’s right for the team.”

Think about your own team. Would your salespeople have had the same conversation with a fan calling in? How many teams out there would consciously down-sell customers from season tickets and sell them a product that makes sense for them?


Season tickets are the lifeblood of any pro sports team. However, they aren’t right for many fans and a lot of teams. Because of market conditions, it’s impossible to create desire for season tickets where little desire exists.

A goal to just sell more and more season tickets in a market where there isn’t the consumer desire will just add up to frustration and failure. However, many teams don’t even offer partial ticket packages until right before the season starts. They want to force as many fans as they can in to buying season tickets whether it’s right for them or not.

I was talking to the President of a team in one of the Big Five leagues (I include Major League Soccer as their teams average more fans per game than the NBA and NHL). He said,

“We had a tough selling season last year. We couldn’t get anyone to buy season tickets. It seemed like we went four months without making a single sale.”

I asked him how many partial ticket plans sold during that four month span. He said they weren’t offering partial plans. It was recommended to him by “ticket sales experts” the league brought in to only offer partial plans right before the season started. He did go on to say that once they started offering ten game plans, sales picked up steam tremendously.

Imagine how frustrating it must have been to work as a ticket salesperson for that team. You make hundreds of sales calls during that four month period. Maybe you close 10-15% if you are good. Everyone else is shutting the door on you at every turn because you have a product nobody wants to buy. How many of those hundreds of phone calls or face to face appointments could that salesperson have closed if the team offered those ten game plans at the start of the season?

“We have to sell season tickets to as many people as we can. The partial plans are the leftovers,” the Naysayer might claim. “We can just call the people who said no to season tickets when we get around to offering mini-plans.”

Sure, you could try to get them on the phone a second time or meet with them face to face again. However, most of the time when someone says no and shoos you out of their office or off the phone, that’s a no for any product you would offer this season.

“No thanks, we already considered season tickets and decided not to,” they’ll say. Or, “Thanks for the call but we decided to spend our money on something else.”

If your market and team’s situation prevents you from selling full season tickets, you are blowing a tremendous opportunity by not offering Full Menu Marketing from day one of the selling season. These are people who can’t or shouldn’t buy season tickets. But, they are interested in your team. The issue could be the total cost or the time commitment. Or, they might not have enough interest in the team to go to 41 or 81 games but still want to come to some games.

The best of all scenarios is where every seat is shared by at least four fans. This way, coming to a sporting event is an experience to look forward to. The fan will plan their week around it, even look forward to eating a couple hotdogs and having a few beers at the arena or stadium. (College or NFL football of course doesn’t count because they only have 6-10 games. Every game is already an experience.)

Help your salespeople make more sales. Help them sell something on as many sales calls as they can. Their confidence will grow which in itself will lead to more sales.


Of course I’m a huge believer in full season tickets, if you can sell them. However, I’ve spent pretty much my entire career selling tickets for teams where nobody wanted to buy season tickets. Success in full menu marketing was paramount. Here are some guidelines to follow:

1. Don’t let the Clampetts move in. Remember the old show, The Beverly Hillbillies? It was about a redneck family who struck oil and moved to Beverly Hills. The problem was they still acted like rednecks, even while they lived amongst the elite and privileged. The idea was living in Beverly Hills was supposed to be prestigious and exclusive. When the Clampetts moved in, that prestige went out the window.

Think of your full season ticket zones like Beverly Hills and your single game buyers like the Clampetts. Set up realistic season ticket zones based on how many full season, half season and partial plans you think you can sell. Don’t go crazy with your projections or you’ll end up having to sell single game buyers in seats right next to your full season ticket holders. Just like those people who lived in Beverly Hills who had the Clampetts move in. People buy season tickets, primarily to get the best seats in the building. When they realize they can buy those prime seats on a game by game basis, your season ticket sales will drop. It may take a couple years for fans to realize it, but they will find out and stop buying season tickets.

2. Anchor Marketing. Shopping centers use big name retail stores as anchor stores to get customers to come to their mall. This way, the smaller stores that don’t have as big of an advertising budget still get the benefit of foot traffic that’s primarily coming to the bigger stores. Think of your partial ticket plans the same way.

Use your best games as your anchor games for your ticket packages. If you have less than 50% of your building sold on season tickets, resist the temptation to package lesser opponents or crummy games with your best games. Package only your best games. It would be like a mall with only your favorite and most popular stores. You need to make an offer your fans can’t refuse. (We’ll talk more about how to create a ticket package that sells thousands of seats in next month’s column.)

Full Menu Marketing works. It may be more work in the short term with more accounts to deal with and smaller sales. However, it leads to the sellouts necessary to get your fans and your community buzzing about your team.

Steve DeLay has spent 20 years in the sports industry selling tickets in Major League Baseball, the NBA, NHL and minor league baseball. He presently works as a revenue consultant for sports teams. He can be reached at and @SteveDeLay2.

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