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LOOKING BACK AND LOOKING FORWARD

Steve DeLay's picture

Some of what I learned this year and what I'm looking forward to in 2014

This time of year everyone seems to do a look back at 2013 and a look forward to next year. I'm guessing nobody has ever done it for ticket sales but here are some snippets of things I learned and witnessed this past year and other things I'll be watching in 2014.

  1. Long-term and sustainable business strategies. I spent quite a bit of time this year working with the Portland Trail Blazers helping them revamp key revenue areas in tickets, sponsorships and premium sales. I had a chance to sit in on a meeting that Blazers GM Neil Olshey held with the Blazers ticket sales and customer service staff. He was talking to the staff about his strategy for building the Trail Blazers roster. He said, "I could go sign a 32 year old free agent as seventh man. We might sneak in to the playoffs every year as the 7th or 8th seed. I don't want to do that. I'm not going to sacrifice for the short term. We're going to build a long-term, sustainable strategy for success to compete for a title." (Did it work? As of this writing, the Trail Blazers are 18-4 and in first place in the Western Conference)

    I thought, "Why don't teams take the same approach with their business strategies? If the personnel guys don't do things for the short-term, why do teams do massive ticket discounts, slash the price of sponsorships at the last second and negotiate bad suite deals, all for the short-term revenue bump? Teams should be thinking long-term on the business side as well as the personnel side. You have to position it right with ownership but they should understand.

  2. A relentless fixation on the fundamentals of ticket sales. Too many times this year did I see teams get dazzled by what they thought was the latest silver bullet for ticket sales. Things like Facebook, Twitter, variable pricing, dynamic pricing, smart phone apps, Wi-Fi in the building etc are all nice but they aren't going to drive dramatic ticket sales increases (or huge drops if you don't do them). Teams need to re-focus on the fundamentals of:
    • Develop ticket products your fans are willing to buy, not products you want to shove down their throats.
    • Devise the right strategy to take those products to their target markets in the most efficient way possible. Billboards don't sell season tickets. Tweets don't sell mini-plans.
    • Hire and train the heck out of a sales staff to make sure your strategy works. Training isn't just hiring a trainer for a few days to rile up the troops. It's on-going, non-stop, 12 months out of the year activity that matters.
    • Track everything. I'm regularly amazed at teams that run ads, send out emails, run radio, tweet, post etc and don't have any idea what's working and what's not working. It's almost as if Marketing Directors feel safer not knowing so they can plead ignorance when the boss asks why ticket sales are down.
  3. Sellouts drive demand One of the more remarkable stories I watched in 2013 was the end of the Boston Red Sox sellout streak and their difficulty getting fans to come back to games. Even though they were in first place most of the year, the Red Sox still saw a drop of almost 3,000/game. The argument was tickets were too expensive, parking and traffic was too difficult. Bunk. Tickets were the same price they were a year ago and parking and traffic were actually easier because there were less fans coming to games. They couldn't get fans to buy in advance because unlike the previous 780+ games, fans no longer had to plan in advance to go to a game. It was no longer an event that was looked forward to months in advance. It was a tremendous example of why sellouts are so important to drive demand. The Sox have work to do to get back to sold out every game.

HERE'S WHAT I'M KEEPING AN EYE ON FOR 2014

  1. Cracks in the formerly invincible teams in attendance. There are a number of teams that have been long-term sellouts and tremendous successes that are seeing big blocks of empty seats. How will they respond?
    • In the NBA, the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns are down thousands in announced attendance over the last few years. Sure the teams haven't played will but do they have the structure in place to sell tickets if the team continues to struggle or better, if the team gets better quickly? (see the Trail Blazers example above)
    • In the NHL, the St. Louis Blues under new ownership have dropped more than 2,500 in the last couple years.
    • The Seattle Mariners tried to make a big splash signing Robinson Cano hoping he'll sell tickets. The Mariners are down more than 7,000/game in five years and less than 1/2 of what they were ten years ago. They can't just hope fans buy because of Cano. They need a long-term sustainable strategy to sell tickets, something more than sign free agents.
    • What will happen in Washington with the Redskins? Likely a new coach for next year (coaches don't usually sell tickets) and coming off 3 or 4 wins with attendance that has dropped more than 8,000 in the last four years. One of the NFL's marque franchises won't have games blacked out next year....will they?
  2. Will MLS continue their hot streak? With the announcements of Orlando and a second team in New York, will MLS continue their momentum? Both teams have time before entering MLS in 2015 but they can't wait to sell. Start selling tickets and sponsorships now. Will Beckham bring a pro team to Miami that people will finally support without needing to sign a boatload of superstars (see Marlins, Dolphins struggles and the Heat's up and down attendance over the last decade as superstars have come and gone) The MLS Cup was a wild shoot out and most teams continue to draw well. However, they have a big clunker in Chivas, most likely the worst team in all of major professional sports in all aspects of their business. Something has to change there or a big black mark will overshadow all the positives in the league. Also, what of the idea of a winter schedule being played? Have they seen the weather in Philly, Chicago, Toronto and New England? (If they do go to a winter schedule, I'm hoping they find a way to put a team in Las Vegas so I can help out)
  3. What of variable and dynamic pricing? Yes, I go counter to just about every other team in the world on this but I'm starting to hear some teams question the long-term validity of variable and dynamic pricing. Does it drive revenue for your biggest games? Of course. However, does it help a team get more sellouts? Not likely. Teams are gouging for record gates for one game and forgetting that they can use that biggest of big games to sell out other big games. Likewise, I've had multiple teams tell me dropping prices for lesser games really doesn't matter. The NBA did a study showing increases of roughly 1,000 tickets per game for the off games. However, does an extra 1,000 tickets really help when it takes a crowd from 45% full to 48% full and screams to the world that you are massively discounting your tickets? Fans aren't buying your bad games regardless of the price point. Focus on the sellouts and maximizing gates for multiple best games.
  4. The release of The Ultimate Toolkit to Sell the Last Seat in the House After more than 18 months of working on it between rounds of golf and other consulting projects, Jon Spoelstra and I will finally be able to release The Ultimate Toolkit to Sell the Last Seat in the House. We hope you'll like it and find it valuable to sell more tickets. Watch this space in January for more information on what's in it and how to purchase.

Guess Who??

Check out past Ticket Sales Thursday posts on The Migala Report.

Check out past Ticket Sales and Service articles on The Migala Report.

Steve DeLay has more than 20 years experience in the sports business working in ticket and sponsorship sales for teams in the NBA, NHL, MLB and Minor League Baseball. He presently works as a consultant for teams and is co-author of The Ultimate Toolkit to Sell the Last Seat in the House with Jon Spoelstra. He can be reached at stevedelay@earthlink.net or follow him on Twitter @SteveDeLay2.

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