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Steve DeLay's picture

If you can operate Excel, you can take your first steps to sellouts

You’ve been offered a job as VP of Ticket Sales for a down-trodden team that’s missed the playoffs for the last three years. Season ticket numbers have plummeted and they've only sold out one game each year, the game when the league's biggest star comes to town.

On your first day, before you even finish your first cup of coffee, the owner walks in to your office, welcomes you and says, “Welcome aboard. How long is it gonna take to get every game sold out?”

You choke on your coffee and stutter, “That’s my first project to figure out. Let me get started.” The owner nods, walks out and over his shoulder tosses out, “Good luck. Looking forward to hearing your plan.”

You swallow the rest of your coffee, look around at your empty office save for a whiteboard and a computer on your desk. Nothing like jumping right in to the first on your first morning. Where do you start? Whatever do you do?

You could:

  1. Build an altar in your office and pray regularly for a big-time superstar to decide to sign with your team.
  2. Dramatically drop your ticket prices so low that just about anyone would purchase tickets.
  3. Start rumors that the team is going to move out of town unless the community starts buying tickets.

Or, you could fire up your computer, open up Excel and start building your Sellout Matrix.


Sellouts don’t just happen.

You have to plan, strategize, re-strategize and track every ticket for each of your targeted sellout games. I'm amazed as I work with teams how many don't have a sellout strategy. They keep their fingers crossed and hope. That's not nearly enough. Not with your owner, President or Athletic Director breathing down your neck.

Sellouts start with a simple spreadsheet - A Sellout Matrix - to determine what you need to do to get games sold out. These steps may seem simple and rudimentary but how many teams actually go through this step by step process? From my experience working with teams, very few. Some teams may start with this process when the schedule comes out but then the season gets in the way and planning and review takes a back seat. All of a sudden, a targeted sellout is a week away and there are still thousands of tickets available.

Don't let that happen to you. Let’s get started with your first steps.

  • Fire up that computer and pull up last year’s game by game sales reports. How many games did you sell out? How many games did you get to at least 80% capacity? Eliminate any unusual occurrences such as a superstar rehab assignment. Add the sellout number and the 80% sold out number together and that should be your minimum number of targeted sellouts for next season. If adding the two numbers together equals zero, don't fret. There is still hope.
  • If you have your schedule already for next year, take a look at it. Which games do you feel pretty good about selling out? Consider which opponents are most popular. Also, take a look at which days of the week are most popular. Do you have games around holidays that historically are well attended? Now, be realistic. If you need to sell 5,000 single game tickets or group tickets to get a game sold out and the most you’ve ever sold in a game is 2,000, don’t be silly. If you don't have your schedule yet, no problem. You probably can make some reasonable guesses based on past history of ticket sales for your biggest opponents, other stars in the league etc.

Now that you have the games targeted, let’s start building that spreadsheet. Name the first spreadsheet “Projections”. On this sheet, you’ll fill in you how many tickets you think you can sell for each category of tickets for each game.

Here are the columns:

  1. Number the lines 1 through however many sellouts you are targeting
  2. Game date
  3. Opponent
  4. Day of the week
  5. Full season tickets – How many total paid full season tickets do you expect to have?
  6. Half season plans
  7. Partial plans – This would be the total of all your plans less than a half season. Ten game plans, seven game plans, five game plans.
  8. Hospitality tickets – This is your regular suites, nightly suites, party decks/suites.
  9. Regular group tickets
  10. Single game promotion tickets – This would be special single game tickets such as a Friends & Family deal or sponsor related single game tickets.
  11. Individual tickets
  12. Comp tickets - This includes all comps like players, scouts, sponsor comps and single game comps.
  13. Total – This column adds all the others up.
  14. Capacity – What is the total number of seats in your building? Add up all the seats that can be sold, comped or distributed in some way.
  15. Available Inventory – This is the difference between the Totals column and Capacity column. Ideally, this number is zero.
  16. Comments – This is where you fill in big group initiatives, single game promotions or other notes about what you’re doing on each game.

Now, fill in your projections. Here are some things to consider:

  • Season tickets – Look at your past trends for new business and renewals. You might find this number is going down year to year. If that’s the case, don’t assume a big spike unless you’ve signed a big free agent, moved in to a new building or have some other major catalyst like the first pick in the draft.
  • Mini-plans – There are ways to dramatically ramp up mini-plan sales. I’ve worked with teams who have sold thousands of new mini-plans through some of the techniques in The Ultimate Toolkit to Sell the Last Seat in the House. If you need help on developing a strategy for huge leaps in mini-plan sales to drive sellouts, send me an email.
  • Group Tickets – Take a look at last year’s top five group sales nights. Average those numbers. That should be the minimum you should expect for group tickets on your targeted sellout nights. Think through your biggest and best group nights and determine which games you’re going to slot them on. Also think through how you can dramatically ramp up those numbers. One way to ramp up group tickets is the step by step training for your group sales staff for finding the right group leader. If you need some help with group training, send me an email and I can explain how you can quickly organize a two day group sales training boot camp and see huge results.
  • Single Game Tickets – What were your best single game promotions last season? I’m not talking about ones that moved a couple hundred tickets and made a bad crowd slightly less bad. I’m talking about single game promotions that moved thousands of tickets. Slot those in to your sellout games. Didn’t have one that sold thousands? No problem. I can help you in that area as well and explain the Friends & Family promotion I’ve done in more than twenty markets with huge success.


Don’t assume sellouts will happen based on your historical walkup crowd or single game advance sales. There is plenty that could go wrong. Bad weather, a losing streak, the opposing superstar gets hurt. Don’t take chances that previous single game numbers will happen again.

Plus, remember your primary reason for wanting sellouts. You want to put pressure on demand for your biggest and best games. If you let thousands of tickets be sold via single game sale instead of through packages and groups, there is no reason for anyone to buy tickets in advance. The single game buyers will still be able to get prime seats whenever they want. The fewer single game tickets you sell for your targeted sellout games, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

Now that you have your spreadsheet built and some projections filled in, add up the numbers. If your projections get you to sellouts, you're in business. Stretch a little bit and see if you can add a few more games to your targeted sellouts list. If the numbers don't quite add up, spend some time over the next few weeks with your sales staff reviewing the numbers, building your ticket packages and slotting in your big group and big single game promotions.

In next month’s column, we’ll talk about the second part of the Sellout Matrix, the on-going review and adjustments necessary during the selling season and throughout your regular season – the key part of achieving your sellout goals.

Steve DeLay is co-author with Jon Spoelstra of The Ultimate Toolkit to Sell the Last Seat in the House, a complete ticket sales strategy, tactics and training system for teams and colleges to dramatically ramp up ticket sales. There are more than 100 teams and colleges using The Ultimate Toolkit in all sports and at all levels. You can reach Steve at or follow him on Twitter @SteveDeLay2.

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