Mini-Me: How to Improve Your Mini-Season Ticket Plan Sales
Wed, 11/03/2004 - 14:10 — Dan Migala
While many teams have long considered partial season ticket plans to be a method to lead in to full season ticket buyers, several teams are finding that these mini-plan holders are also proving to be substantial revenue-generators in their own right.
The aim of this Report is to examine how these organizations approach mini-plan sales and the reasons for their consistent annual success in partial season ticket offerings.
Just three years ago, the Class AAA Durham Bulls sold about 1,000 partial season tickets. This year, the team sold 5,800 partial season ticket packages.
The primary reason for the increase, according to Bulls General Manager Mike Burling, is the team did not change their mini-plan offering over those years and let the plans build some equity in the marketplace. The team offers three different nine-game plans and one 12-game plan that is set primarily by the schedule and day of week.
“It’s an education process for fans and they need to have some consistencies in order for word of mouth to spread and grow,” Burling said. “We’re living proof of it.”
Even though the team puts a greater emphasis on mini-plan ticket sales, the Bulls full-season ticket holders have held idle at around 2,000.
“Any fears of an increased emphasis on mini-plan sales jeopardizing full season ticket sales have been eliminated,” Burling said.
The team initially targeted residential accounts as the primary target audience for mini-plan sales but quickly discovered that corporations were a strong market as well.
“Businesses want the best tickets for the best games and not always can make the commitment to every game,” Burling said. “They want to get smarter with tickets and mini-plans can afford companies the opportunity to spend the same amount of money and get the seats and the games they want.”
In addition to the flexibility offered by a mini-plan, Burling said fan feedback tells them that partial-plan holders cite being treated like a full-season ticket holder as a key benefit.
Just like a full-season ticket holder, every Bulls mini-plan holder is guaranteed a promotional giveaway item and they are excluded to pay variable pricing increasing on dates that the ticket price increases to the individual ticket buyer.
“Mini-plan holders consider themselves to be season ticket holders so make them feel like it,” Burling said. “If you can do this consistently, the word will get out the business will come.”
The Class A Aberdeen Ironbirds played their first game just two years ago and was experiencing all the high demand for full season tickets that can be expected with a new franchise.
However, the team wanted to build a long-term business strategy that would help them maintain their season ticket base and not experience the sophomore slump that so many franchises go through.
Understanding this, they realized that many teams lose season ticket holders after year one because the excitement of a new franchise and fans calling themselves “season ticket holders” is replaced with the frustrations of a drawer full of empty tickets that ultimately leads to a cancelled account.
The team immediately sold 1,200 full season tickets and decided to make a strong push among their sales executives to begin questioning customers interested in season tickets about how they were going to use their tickets.
The team sold 2,500 mini-season ticket plans in three different packages and the Ironbirds all a credit the results to simply listening and understanding the customer’s needs.
“It was a tough adjustment to make but it was an important one to look long-term,” said Jeff Eiseman, General Manager of the Ironbirds. “Rather than get $1,600 for four tickets for one year, I’d prefer to look at the lifetime value of the customer and that is where mini-plans are critical. It is so important to identify the needs of the customer and match a plan for them.”
For example, the Ironbirds might get a call from a customer saying he wants to become a full-season ticket holder, the first question from the ticket executive is not where would you like to sit. Instead, the team trains them to ask how the customer plans to use their tickets and gauge if they are better suited for a mini-season ticket offering.
“My biggest fear in selling someone a full-season ticket is that he will be in for one year and then gone,” Eiseman said. “I know a mini-plan holder will be there for multiple seasons because it is bulls-eye for their needs and they begin to be sales ambassadors for you. Next thing you know, the whole building is sold out and you have a twice as many season ticket holders who are ambassadors for your product.”
The Dallas Mavericks use mini-plans as an entry-level plan for those people that don’t have either the time, money or both to commit to a full-season ticket package.
“We know from experience that our mini-plan holders are the best prospects to become full season ticket holders,” said Matt Fitzgerald, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the Mavericks. “It's a lot easier to upsell a person than it is to find and sell a new customer.”
The Mavericks believe in the stair-step approach to selling and mini-plans play a strategic role in customer development over time. The team prefers to have more customers buying the same number of seats than fewer and mini-plans are the major pipeline to full season ticket holders.
For example, a young professional with limited discretionary income is an ideal prospect for a mini-plan. Over time as this person has the ability to spend more dollars on entertainment, they become a potential full or half season ticket holder.
“It's a really simple concept that has proven to work,” Fitzgerald said. “The one caveat, teams need to structure mini-plans (via seat locations and scheduling) in a way that doesn't "downsell" a potential full season prospect.”
This is the reason that Mavericks mini-plans are only available in the upper level. All of the team’s inventory in the lower level is dedicated to full season ticket holders.
To initially uncover new customers, the team uses a unique sales proposition that is built around the idea of selling fun and excitement instead of seat location and specific games.
Unlike the Ironbirds, the Mavericks do not train sales executives to specifically sell mini-plans versus any other type of package. The team stresses to its account executives to identify and gauge prospects for their different packages based primarily on their own experiences.
This story was originally published on Aug 1, 2004.
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