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Ethnic Studies: How to Create Ethnic Promotional Nights That Grow Ticket Sales

Dan Migala's picture

Ethnic theme nights have represented as much as a 9,000 seat bump in ticket sales for a Major League Baseball team.

While it is unlikely to expect this level of success with every event like a “Hispanic Night” and “Italian Heritage Night,” there are some essential lessons that every team marketer should understand before scheduling their own culturally-themed promotional nights.

The aim of this Report is to showcase the variables that led to success and failures of ethnic-based promotional nights.

Think long-term

The New York Mets began their ethnic promotions during the 1996 season and have watched it grow every year since. The promotion, which originally began as “International Weekend,” has grown into a full-week of promotional nights dedicated to celebrating the heritage of different cultures living in New York during each of the team’s seven-home games during the week.

“It’s only natural that if you stay committed to something and are consistent with it that it will grow,” said Tina Bucciarelli, Director of Marketing for the Mets. “People have so much pride with their heritage that it you put out a good event that the people will naturally spread it virally.”

The Mets, like most teams, started out the promotion as a group sales initiative. While group tickets still drive the promotional staple, it has spawned incremental revenue streams through sponsorships and concessions.

For the Mets, a typical ethnic promotional night includes culturally-themed pre-game entertainment, food, on-field recognition and music.

Bucciarelli said planning these elements is the easy part. The primary challenge, according to Bucciarelli, is to ensure that the scheduling is convenient for the group and not just the team.

For example, the team rotated out Greek Day and replaced it with Black Heritage Day because of a poorly attended Greek Day last year.

The reason for the low attendance was not a lack of interest among Greek fans. The depleted numbers were more a sign of the game being scheduled in August which is annually known as the time of year that most traditional Greeks return to Greece for a vacation.

Recognizing this, the Mets pulled Greek Night out of the International Week festivities and planned Greek Night in June and the group sales numbers increased.

“We’ve learned it’s wrong to just say ‘Italian Night will be Monday, August 30th,” Bucciarelli said.

She said it is important to seek feedback from organizations entrenched in the specific communities you are trying to celebrate.

“It’s always been better to listen first before acting,” Bucciarelli said. “If not, you run the risk of not only having a poor sales night but potentially alienating a key group of your fanbase.”

By listening to the community, the Mets have watched some of their promotional nights grow to account for an increase of as many as 9,000 ticket sales.

While this number, Bucciarelli admits, is well-above the team’s ethnic promotional night goal of moving an extra 5,000 tickets, intangible goals are equally important as quantifiable results.

“Our underlying goal for these theme nights is to get new audiences in to the park and show them a good time to want them to come out whether it is a theme night or not,” Bucciarelli said. “To do this, it takes time and momentum and a commitment from ownership to stay with it.”

Language lessons

When the Tampa Bay Devil Rays made Hispanic Heritage night a staple to their promotional roster since year one the team hoped it had a promotion that could move the ticket sales needle by 10-to-20 percent.

While the promotion, and other culturally-inspired initiatives, have helped net double-digit ticket sales increases, the Devil Rays have discovered that these promotions can attract mainstream sponsors that would otherwise have not spent money with the team.

The team has tried unsuccessfully to secure Kellogg’s as a sponsor in the past but the Battle Creek, Mich.-based company had a different response when approached with an opportunity to sponsor the team’s Hispanic Heritage night on September 4th.

While terms of the deal were not disclosed, Devil Rays Vice President of Marketing John Browne said the package allowed Kellogg’s to be involved in delivering a ticket discount to Hispanic consumers. Working with an area grocery store chain, the offer gave fans a $5 discount on ticket to the Hispanic game with a Kellogg’s purchase listed on the receipt.

“Kellogg’s wanted to position this singular event as if they were bringing this offer to the Hispanic marketplace,” Browne said.

The key to securing this deal, according to Browne, was time.

“Both from a sponsorship and group sales perspective, the more time you have in advance, the greater your revenue potential will be,” Browne said. “Sponsors and community ethnic groups both start to button up their plans in the fourth quarter of the previous year and the more you understand their perspective the better your prospects for success will be.”

Start slow

The San Francisco Giants must have talked to the Mets to follow their lead of moving slowly with ethnic-themed promotions.

The Giants added two separate ethnic nights celebrating Irish and Italian heritages and marketed the two events almost exclusively through the team’s Internet site.

The grass roots marketing strategy allowed the team a low-cost and minimal labor outlet to launch ethnic-based promotions.

To help entice online sales the team purchased Irish- and Italian-themed Giants hats at a cost of $6.00 per hat. The Irish hat is green with the Giants logo on the front and an Irish flag stitched on the back. The Italian hat is black with the Giants logo on the front and an Italian flag stitched on the back.

The team sold 1,200 tickets to the Irish night and only 200 for the Italian night.
Giants Special Events Manager Todd Lindenbaum attributes the difference to the uniqueness of the giveaway.

“The green hats were extremely unique and addressed the Irish culture more than the black Italian hats addressed their culture,” Lindenbaum said.

Magic trick

Ask executives from the Orlando Magic to describe the key to their successful Latino Night promotions and they might tell you to look in the mirror.

That’s because at the core of the team’s strategy to attract the local Latin community is to have Latin employees selling the game.

“It absolutely helps to have someone from the same ethnic community selling to the community,” said Bobby Bridges, Assistant Director of Ticket Sales for the Magic. “It is not necessary but it is definitely beneficial.”

This strategy has helped the Magic sell an additional 1,500 tickets through group sales packages to various Latin community organizations.

Using this strategy, the team has assigned their interns to research other ethnic groups in the marketplace to explore additional cultures to create ethnic promotions.

The Magic felt this was a necessary step after two failed attempts to create Asian-themed nights surrounding games against Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets. The promotion netted a disappointing average of a group sales count of about 250 tickets per game.

“It was a lesson for us in not forcing a promotion on the marketplace and to listen to their needs and not just our internal gut feeling,” Bridges said. “Having the research done and staff members who are part of a specific community makes all the difference.”

Bridges also stressed the need for flexibility whenever possible.

For example, the team is working with a specific ethnic-specific community organization and gave them the option to pick a lesser-demand game and receive a bigger discount than a higher-demand game. They chose the more expensive game.

“It is a good thing for us because it shows us they are probably going to be more aggressive in selling more tickets,” Bridges said. “Flexibility is clearly a good thing.”

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This story was originally published on Sep 1, 2004.

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