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Honeymoon's Over: Grow Ticket Sales After the Facility or Team Championship Isn't So New Anymore

Dan Migala's picture

The dreaded “Sophomore Slump” is something that keeps countless ticket directors up at night.

The season following the opening of a new building, a championship year or an expansion year can quickly humble even the most confident and prepared sales staff.

The aim of this Report is to showcase the parallels and differences between the tactics of the ticketing departments of the Chicago Bulls following their championship run and the AFL Philadelphia Soul following their inaugural year last season.

New school

The Soul sold 134,928 tickets during their inaugural season, accounting for a league-leading average of 16,866 fans per game.

As the Soul approaches its second season, the team faces a tough climb to maintain and exceed a higher level of success at the box office.

While it is too early to quantify the level of success the Soul will have in year two as renewals and new business accounts are still coming in, the team does have a plan to combat a second year drop-off.

At the core of the team’s strategy is a commitment to customer service and the pursuit of new demographic and geographic audiences that encourages its staff to consider themselves small-business owners of their accounts.

Beginning in their first season, the Soul decided against separating customer service from sales.

“It’s so important for the person that sells the ticket to be the one that services you because that is how you build and maintain long-term relationships,” said Stan Betters, Director of Sales for the Soul.

This strategy is paying dividends now as renewal numbers, according to Betters, continue to be solid.

While the challenge in year two is to balance out emphasis on renewals and new business, the Soul seem to have discovered the balance between the two areas of business.

For new business, the team created a series of “Community Days” promotions that will celebrate the characteristics of individual communities during different home games. In addition, the Soul will have a presence at most Philadelphia-area sporting events, including both college and professional games.

“We’ve planned to battle against complacency,” Betters said. “You can be your own worst enemy and you just have to go after new business with same tenacity as you did in year one. The past is the past and you have to keep building.”

A significant part of battling against complacency is the Soul’s philosophy to position each ticket sales account executive as a small business owner.

“It’s a huge wakeup call when I remind them that this is their business and this is how they make their money,” Betters said. “When they understand this, they know what it is at stake and the potential for them to rest on their laurels is all but eliminated.”

Old school

To learn from experience, The Migala Report asked Chicago Bulls Executive Vice President of Business Operations Steve Schanwald a series of questions based on his experience of maintaining and enhancing ticket sales successes following the Bulls championship seasons in the 1990s.

How did you communicate with fans during the championship years?
“In the championship years, and continuing to this day, we were very proactive in communicating regularly with our season ticket holders and in showing appreciation for their support with many benefits and gifts. In general, given that a championship cannot be delivered every year, we were very conscious of building a long-term relationship with our fans. The support we've enjoyed in the last six years seems to demonstrate that kind of relationship.”

Do you have any regrets or strategies you wished you would have done differently?
“Not really. Maybe I would have done a better job preserving our group sales business.”

How much time and resources was dedicated to addressing the issue of avoiding a drop-off following the team's post-championship years?
“Virtually everything we did from the time I arrived at the Bulls in 1987 and began our 13 year streak of sellouts was done to prepare for the day we would no longer be the NBA's top attraction.”

What is the most important piece of advice you would share with another team marketing executive whose organization just won a championship?
“Don't take anything for granted in this business. Success is always fleeting and temporary. The aging process and the NBA draft are set up to insure just that. Know that lean times are just ahead and plant the seeds necessary to buy your basketball staff enough time to rebuild the product on the court.”

Many executives have said they are not sure what to expect from a renewal rate following a championship or new stadium. How do you quantify or qualify that your strategy was a success?
“We have compiled the worst 6 year won-loss record in NBA history. During that 6 year period we managed to draw more fans to the United Center than any other NBA team did to theirs. On that basis, I'd say our strategy was a success.”

How has the experience of marketing a championship team changed the way you market a non-championship team?
“Well, we have to spend a lot more money on advertising than we ever did before, and we had to add staff to do the selling that needs to be done. Other than that, if you do the job right, the job is pretty much the same win or lose. We always took the approach when we were on top of the basketball world that we were marketing a last place team so we tried to be aggressive in all areas--especially name generation, game entertainment, community relations and customer service. “

Related links:

http://www.nba.com/bulls
http://www.philadelphiasoul.com

This story was originally published on Sep 1, 2004.

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