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The first panel of the 2011 AT&T Sports Facilities & Franchises conference was called, “The Presidents’ Perspective on Franchise and Facility Management.”

The panelists were:
Stan Kasten, former President, Washington Nationals
Crane Kenney, President, Chicago Cubs
Rich Krezwick, President, Devils Arena Entertainment
Randy Rigby, President and COO, Utah Jazz
Fred Whitfield, President and COO, Charlotte Bobcats



Panel discussion: “Examining Ticket Resale Opportunities”

The final panel of the Ticketing Symposium, titled “Examining Ticket Resale Opportunities,” was one of the most popular and lively of the conference.

Participants on the panel, which was moderated by Staff Writer Don Muret, were:

Dave Cohen, Vice President/Sales and Service, Atlanta Falcons
Sam Gerace, CEO, Veritix
Chris Tsakalakis, General Manager, eBay Tickets/StubHub
Chris Zaber, Senior Director of Ticket Sales and Service, Pittsburgh Pirates



Catching up: Greg Carey

After the finance panel discussion at the AT&T Sports Facilities & Franchises conference, we caught up with Goldman Sachs' Greg Carey to talk about leagues overseeing team debt, and the prospects for public involvement in future stadium construction.



Sports PR experts talk strategy in final Facilities & Franchises panel

The final panel at the AT&T Sports Facilities and Franchises conference on Thursday brought together some of the top execs in sports PR for a session titled, “Building Successful Communications Strategies for your Franchise and Facility.” Much of the discussion hinged on the question of when it is better to adopt a proactive or reactive communications strategy. LPGA Chief Communications Officer David Higdon: “When I came on with the LPGA two-and-a-half years ago, the whole team was in very much a reactive mode … and it just wasn’t working. … We have to aggressively pitch our stories.” USTA Managing Dir of Corporate Communications Chris Widmaier: “If you’re not thinking of ways to make your sport intriguing, then you’re not going to get any space.” Chip Ganassi Racing VP/Communications John Olguin: “We’re in a sport where we don’t have hometown media. … If we don’t tell our story, somebody else will, and chances are you’re not going to like the way they tell it.” Comcast-Spectacor VP/Public Relations Ike Richman cited having an in-house PR professional cover the 76ers and Flyers on the road as an example of being proactive, but said the front office is “just as reactive with Twitter,” a space that requires the organization to “put out fires.” Red Sox Senior VP Public Affairs & Marketing Susan Goodenow said despite the obvious hunger for information on her team in Boston, the organization has to “reach out and have a team of creative people who don’t have a sports background” in order to pitch stories “beyond the game.” Olguin gave two examples of upcoming coverage of his team’s drivers in lifestyle publications: a Redbook story on Juan Pablo Montoya’s wife and Graham Rahal making Cosmopolitan’s list of most eligible bachelors.

Olguin talks about how he handles negative
stories appearing in the press.
PRINT BUTTON: The panelists discussed the importance of newspaper coverage despite the current climate of media fragmentation. Richman: “Every morning show producer is reading the paper, every TV sportscaster is reading the paper. It almost programs the news that day.” Goodenow: “Our core fans are the ones that are going to look to the newspaper.” Widmaier said that a story being online-only on a newspaper site but not in the print edition is “nearly as effective.” He added, “The N.Y. Times influences all people. They still do.” The N.Y. Post’s Page Six is “still one of the most influential outfits there is.” Richman later said, “We work for the media. We have to help them get what they want.” Olguin said it is “not that important” for him to have people on his communications staff with newspaper experience and that he prefers to hire people with an agency background. Olguin: “If you can sell paper clips, you can sell sports.” When asked about reacting to negative stories, Olguin said, “My first question is, 'Is it accurate?' … As far as getting mad at the writer, if the story is accurate, I won’t do that.” Higdon added if a negative story is in the press, “the genie is out of the bottle,” and “what you need to do is follow up with other stories, work with other reporters, get your own story out there.” Widmaier brought up the issue of “a one-day story becoming a two-day story becoming a three-day story.” Higdon gave the example of the LPGA’s controversy with English language requirements, which was largely the impetus for his being hired. Higdon: “They kept letting it go, and then it became … a social story and a political story.” Asked about the NFL’s response to Cowboys Stadium's Super Bowl XLV seating issues, Widmaier called it an “utter disaster.” Widmaier: “It was so poorly handled, I was shocked.”

WHAT, ME WORRY?
At the end of the talk, the panelists were asked about what keeps them up at night. Higdon: “Growth for our sport.” Widmaier: “Media fragmentation and the changing world.” Olguin: “Social media. … Anybody who says they’re an expert, I challenge them on being an expert, because it’s changing daily.” Richman: “How I am going to get the next big story.” Goodenow: “Balancing branding and sales messages.”



Catching up: Fred Whitfield

The Charlotte Bobcats are getting ready to turn their building over to the Democratic National Convention next year for three-and-a-half months. Team president Fred Whitfield talked with us about the challenges that brings for the club, as well as what the team is doing this summer to get ready for next season.



Increasing use of wi-fi driving facility changes, panel says

During the “Enhancing the Fan Experience Through Broadband Connectivity” panel at the AT&T Sports Facilities and Franchises conference, Cowboys Director of Enterprise Infrastructure Bill Haggard said that Cowboys Stadium recently added 220 in-stadium Wi-Fi access points, bringing the total to 900, to accommodate the growing demand for Internet use during games. He said 13,000 fans use Wi-Fi on average during games. “The downloading of [content] has diminished but uploading at the bigger events is increasing,” Haggard told fellow panelists Bill Schlough, MLB Giants senior vice president  and CIO, and Cindy Ricketts, Spurs senior internet coordinator. “Everyone wants to update their Facebook page or upload video," Haggard said. "It’s been huge on the cellular side.”

Ricketts said AT&T Center is being used as a test case for emerging tech from the telecommunications giant. Schlough said 16 percent of fans now use the Web in-stadium. In 2004, the Giants found that most fans simply used in-stadium Internet to check e-mail, but that now video uploads are on the rise. Video replay on handheld devices, Schlough said, has also become increasingly popular due to the lack of replay at baseball games. Schlough said he favors device-driven replay over FanVision. “We don’t want to give fans another device," he said, "and you can’t tweet or access Facebook with [FanVision].”


Scott O'Neil offers inside look at MSG 'transformation'

On the final morning of the AT&T Sports Facilities and Franchises conference in Hoboken, N.J., MSG Sports President Scott O’Neil offered an inside look at MSG’s three-year "transformation" renovation. O’Neil said the primary goal of the project is to create new spaces inside while maintaining the building’s traditional outward appearance. “Yankee Stadium is a magnificent park but it’s not the same park where I used to scoot down in the seat to watch Don Mattingly -- it’s different,” O’Neil said. He shared photographs of the construction, with all seats removed from the lower bowl and the arena’s interior stripped down to concrete. “It looks like the Roman coliseum,” O’Neil said.

The renovated building will provide more premiere spaces and “areas to do business,” as well as a 40% increase in points of sale. He said that 19 of the 20 event-level suites have been sold and that 75% of the Madison-level suites are also sold. Addressing ticket price increases -- a 49% average for the Knicks and 23% for the Rangers -- O’Neil said the new prices are “more fair” and reflect fans’ demand. “At the end of the day we are capitalists and we don’t apologize for that,” O’Neil said. “The price represents increases in amenities we will see.”



Catching up: David Peart

New venue technology is great, says David Peart of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but you have to figure out how to use it to showcase brands, to enhance the fan experience, and to make money.



Catching up: Michael Williams

The New Jersey Devils' Michael Williams talks about the team's Mission Control, which gives the Devils a way to connect directly with fans through Twitter, Facebook and mobile devices.



Sports execs discuss relationships between facilities, sponsors

Attendees at the AT&T Sports Facilities and Franchises conference this morning got a preview of this afternoon’s tour of New Meadowlands Stadium, with Giants Senior VP & CMO Mike Stevens describing some of the sponsor activation at the venue during a panel titled, “Sponsor/Property Roundtable: Developing Unique Partnerships.” Stevens said the four Cornerstone deals are “like nothing I have ever seen” at a sports facility. Stevens said these deals give partners -- PepsiCo, Met Life, Verizon and Budweiser -- “just a dominant, dominant presence” that extends to non-gamedays. He added each sponsor area includes private club areas, and these are each “very distinctive and different.” White Sox Senior VP/Sales & Marketing Brooks Boyer asked Stevens, “How are you going to layer in a naming rights partner?” Stevens responded, “For how much space (the Cornerstone partners) get, trust me, there’s more.” When asked whether the naming-rights market is more vibrant now after a tough period economically, Stevens joked, “Vibrant? It only takes one.” Stevens: “People are talking again. … Marketing is back. It’s reflective of the economy.” Stevens also was asked about what the value of the Farmers Field deal for the expected NFL stadium in L.A. means for the market. Stevens: “Every deal is great for the industry, but they are all very, very market-specific.”

HAPPY RETURNS: The panel also featured two representatives of the brand side of the marketing business: PepsiCo Dir of Sports Marketing Mark Rooks and MillerCoors Dir of Sports & Entertainment Marketing Ryan Luckey. Luckey’s brand activates at the White Sox’ U.S. Cellular Field, and he said the activation is “street to seat.” Luckey: “The value of communicating our brand matters to the 42,000 people inside the stadium. The value of communicating to the 55 million people passing U.S. Cellular Field on the express way is every bit as valuable.” The brand reps also had some more general comments on assessing the ROI of deals. They agreed that putting a hard number on the value is difficult, but Rooks said PepsiCo is “actually monitoring” its deals and will “course correct where we can.” Luckey said marketers at times look for the “Ferrari of measurement tools.” Luckey said his brand tries to measure impact in a way that is “simple, repeatable, affordable and credible. It’s more the reliable Toyota Camry of measurement tools.” He stressed the importance of retail activation numbers, “not so much brand awareness.” Luckey: “At Coors Light and Miller Lite, we don’t have a brand awareness problem.” Stevens pointed out the variety of activation that is possible with sponsorship compared to traditional media buys: “Look at what somebody like us can deliver and what we can do together versus classical marketing expenditures.” Boyer also said one “can’t put an ROI on a connection” to a team’s brand.

SUPER MEN: Stevens said the Super Bowl at New Meadowlands Stadium will be “the largest single event that has ever come to this market bar-none. Not just in sports.” Rooks: “Obviously, we activate around the Super Bowl as an NFL partner, and it’s always great when we can activate around a PepsiCo. facility as well. And then you later on top that it’s in our back yard, and it’s even more of a win-win for us.”



Catching up: Rick Abramson

Rick Abramson of Sportservice talks about baseball's weather problems, Camden Yards crab cakes and having two clients in the NHL playoffs.



One-on-One: MLS Commissioner Don Garber

MLS Commissioner Don Garber sat down for a one-on-one interview yesterday afternoon to close out the first day of the AT&T Sports Franchises and Facilities conference, hosted by SBJ/SBD.

Q: Next year MLS will welcome a team in Montreal, which is the league’s 19th club. You have publicly said you support growth. What markets appear best for growth?
Garber: We are focused on New York. It’s a big market. The Cosmos have a great legacy and they have a great soccer history that so far the Red Bulls have not been able to tap into. For the most part Red Bulls fans come from New Jersey. The challenge for [the Cosmos] is to build a stadium, and as we all know New York City is not the easiest place to build. And we’ve put a high price on the 20th team. In 2007 we were asking around $7 million, and last year [teams] sold for $40 million. This could be in the $75 to $100 million [range].

Q: Is the Wilpon family still a viable option for MLS given their recent negative press?
Garber: We have talked with [the Wilpons] about MLS. They have a good situation when it comes to stadiums in the site around Citi Field. Willets Point is one of the largest pieces of undeveloped property in New York.

Q: It’s the elephant in the room. I have to ask you at television ratings. The league has had growth in attendance but in TV it has been relatively flat for the last three years. How do you grow those numbers?
Garber: I had lunch with [an NHL friend] and we spoke about their deal with NBC and Versus, and talked about our situation as a challenge and an opportunity. We have to convert those fans who are part of the global game. We are similar to the NHL; however they are not competing with Russian hockey like we are competing with the Premier League. We need a product to convert those fans, and we do it by having good stories in local markets and better promotion. You think about what has driven hockey, it was strong local teams that had great local TV deals and passionate supporters. The soccer audience is big. Chelsea versus Manchester United had 550,000 viewers this year.

Q: Kansas City will open a soccer specific stadium this year that is branded with the Livestrong brand. Are you worried that the brand may receive negative press given the [recent doping allegations against Lance Armstrong]?
Garber: It is a beautiful facility, one of our best. Think of a Midwest version of Red Bull arena. The ownership is great, they are young, technical-minded guys. They think differently. I think Livestrong was an innovative deal, and with the brand’s recognition in the cancer fight, I think they can do well with that. Clearly they will have something to manage if something does happen with Lance Armstrong. We are hopeful they won’t have to.

Q: Will they have the ability to revisit the [naming rights deal] if there is an issue with Armstrong?
Garber: Yes. I hope they don’t. Lance Armstrong has been a great story for Americans.

Q: You worked at the NFL for 16 years, and you worked alongside Roger Goodell. Did you ever envision him becoming the next commissioner?
Garber: I didn't think it would be him. He was a guy of few words and even in his mid 20's I don't think any of us thought he would be in that role. But 10 years later I think it became very apparent that [Goodell] could do it. He had great relationships with all of the owners and he really understood the brand. And he's very well spoken.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style.
Garber: I'm a walk-around-the-office type of guy. I try to be very accessible. I encourage taking risks. I remember at other jobs feeling like you were always looking over your shoulder, and that is not my style. To me, you can't win in this game or get to where you want to be by being pulled there. You have to be pushed there.



Panelists discuss emerging technology for the in-stadium experience

Mobile-based purchasing and fan engagement remained a hot topic yesterday at the AT&T Sports Facilities and Franchises conference in Hoboken, N.J., during a panel titled, “Emerging Venue Technology.” ByPass Lane President Brandon Lloyd said that his company is “turning every smartphone that passes through your gate into a point of sale” and using its system to help teams “learn more about your customer buying behavior.” Also on the panel were YinzCam Founder & CEO Priya Narasimhan, Penguins VP/Business Partnerships David Peart and New Meadowlands Stadium Co. VP/Design & Construction Robert Jordan. The Penguins and YinzCam partnered on a mobile video system at Consol Energy Center, and Peart said applications such as these help the team compete against the at-home sports viewing experience. Peart: “YinzCam is a great way for us to bridge that DVR, video replay component.” The panelists in turn addressed Mark Cuban’s well-publicized concerns that fans who are using their phones during a game are not immersed in the arena experience. Narasimhan said when she uses her mobile unit at the venue, she is still “fully engaged” in the game. Peart argued that mobile engagement can actually make the game experience more “communal.” Lloyd pointed out the somewhat ironic fact that despite Cuban’s comments, AmericanAirlines Arena is a ByPass client. When asked about the level of usage of YinzCam at Consol Energy Center, Narasimhan said that it could reach as high as 35-40% for a closely-contested playoff game. Lloyd said usage rates for the ByPass system have been “repeat and very high” once consumers get past the initial hurdle of trying it out. 

OBSTACLE COURSE
: While all of the panelists were bullish on new mobile technologies, they did not ignore the challenges it presents. Lloyd noted that ByPass often runs into connectivity issues at venues, but it has worked with AT&T to resolve these issues in venues such as Rangers Ballpark at Arlington. Lloyd: “In the offseason a distributed antenna system (DAS) was put in, and it totally solved the problem. … We’re seeing what was a significant issue when we began having conversations with franchises and venues a year ago beginning to solve itself.” Narasimhan noted video is a “bandwidth hog.” Narasimhan: “You still have to convince people who don’t have a new arena, and the healthy budget that goes with it, to fund some WiFi.” Jordan said, “Only the last six or seven buildings that have been built are truly digital buildings. Everything else is kind of … making do with old technology and new technology.” Jordan added the decision to have WiFi at the outset of a venue also affects architecture and other back-end considerations, and “those dominoes are going to start falling.” Lloyd said another major challenge is determining who the leaders will be in the space. Lloyd: “There’s so much noise in the mobile space today, it’s very difficult for the folks sitting in this room to separate the leaders from the pack. Any garage developer can build an app.” Meanwhile, in-stadium screen displays were another topic of discussion. Jordan, noting the importance placed on these displays during construction of New Meadowlands Stadium, said, “We live in a video-centric world. I think it is another palette, and it allows the brand to some across individually.” Peart: “Beyond the large-format video screen, we’re extremely bullish on IPTV. We have almost 900 monitors in our building.” Peart said the Cisco StadiumVision system improves the fan experience and sponsorship, promotes the team’s brand and helps concourse revenue. Peart: “You can’t swing a cat in our building without hitting a video screen.”



Catching up: Bill Sutton

Building a successful sales culture is a continual process, says longtime sports business exec Bill Sutton, who talked with us after moderating a panel on the topic. He also talks about using the networks of everyone in an organization -- not just the sales team.



Former Ticketmaster CEO Fred Rosen discusses re-entry into ticket business

Fred Rosen is grabbing the sports and entertainment industry's attention again as he re-enters the ticketing business. Rosen, co-President & co-CEO of Canadian firm Outbox Technology, spent 26 years as Ticketmaster's President & CEO, turning that company into the multi-billion dollar empire it is today. He sat down for a one-on-one interview yesterday during the AT&T Sports Facilities and Franchises conference in Hoboken, N.J. hosted by SBJ/SBD.

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
: The outspoken, often abrasive but always entertaining Rosen re-emerges with Outbox 13 years after leaving Ticketmaster, and three years after exiting AudienceView, a Toronto ticketing firm where things didn't work out for him after five months on the job. Outbox currently operates ticketing for Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens and Cirque de Soleil's worldwide tours. In February, six months after joining Outbox, Rosen and his partner Jean Francoys Brousseau, Ticketmaster's former chief operating officer, formed a joint venture with AEG. Together, Outbox and AEG plan to grow business over the next two years to include ticketing at facilities AEG owns and operates, and NBA and NHL arenas where it has booking and marketing deals. "What we want to do is ultimately be the company that lets you fulfill your need to be a brand," Rosen said. "It's not our brand, it's not about us, it's about you. The word empowerment is a very powerful word. Some people will get it and some people won't. We don't expect everybody to get it. No one's going to force anybody to do anything. We know how many people we're talking to and I haven't set a measure for what's successful. What's clear is this, people are talking about [Outbox]. People know that in the space of less than a year we're in many of the conversations." The total ticketing revenue those 115 venues produce where AEG does business is in the neighborhood of $400M. One of the first buildings expected to change vendors will be the AEG-operated O2 arena in London, where Rosen is headed next week to prepare for converting the facility's system from Ticketmaster to Outbox next year. "AEG has an extensive reach," he said. "They are everywhere from southern California to Australia and China. This is not a sprint but a marathon. We're doing an orderly conversion. Every quarter, more buildings will convert to us starting in the third quarter. We're going around the world."

A TEAM EFFORT: Staples Center and The Home Depot Center, the facilities AEG owns and operates in its hometown of L.A., will move to the Outbox-AEG system when those two facilities' deals with Ticketmaster expire over the next several months. The remaining 113 facilities where AEG conducts business is not a slam dunk, Rosen acknowledged. In those arenas where AEG books and markets events for NBA and NHL clubs, the decision to change ticketing vendors is up to the team or whoever manages the building, Rosen acknowledged. Together, those two entities will make a collaborative decision that best serves the interests of both parties, he said. For those buildings that currently have deals with Ticketmaster, the Outbox-AEG joint venture is pitching its product as a white-label solution where the team controls consumer data without a third party standing in the way of collecting and using that information to sell things beyond tickets such as food and beverage and merchandise, Rosen said. It is not unique. Paciolan, New Era Tickets and Veritix are three examples of ticketing companies using the same business model. But Rosen believes his three decades of experience developing Ticketmaster into the dominant player in the business, coupled with AEG's powerful presence as a building operator and event promoter, will help make those decisions easier for the facilities. "The point is this -- ticketing hasn't changed from days of the Roman Coliseum when they had much better attendance when the lions were actually eating the people," he said. "It's about putting bodies in seats and creating fair value for the fan and creating an expectation of the experience they're going to get in your building and there's nothing like a live experience."



Catching up: Curtis Danburg

The Cleveland Indians ramped up their social media efforts this year, creating a suite to host influential socmed leaders and using Twitter and Facebook to drive ticket sales on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Team exec Curtis Danburg talked with us about the success of those efforts.



Facility execs discuss ways to generate non-gameday revenue

SMG Senior VP Doug Thornton yesterday offered up the Champions Square development near the Superdome and New Orleans Arena as a model way to “create a vibrant experience for the fan and also generate revenue” outside of gameday operations. During the “Next Wave of Non-Gameday Revenue Opportunities” panel at the AT&T Sports Facilities & Franchises conference in Hoboken, N.J., Thornton said the area was “truly a public-private partnership” with the state of Louisiana. He distinguished this “special events space” from mixed-use developments. Thornton: “We’re not sure we want to be an L.A. Live. … It’s like turning a key to a car on and off. You don’t have to incur the operating overhead day-to-day as if you were running a 365-day-a-year operation.” Thornton later said the area, with the help of both the Saints and Hornets and with presenting sponsorship from Verizon, will eventually host 60-65 events a year. Thornton predicted that the Champions Square model is something that “you’ll see replicated” by other NFL teams.

IDEAS FOR INNOVATION
: The other panelists -- AEG Dir of Booking & Marketing Brian Gale and Live Nation President/Arenas Mike Evans -- shared their own ideas for new ways for venues to make money outside of a primary tenant’s schedule. Gale, who books events for Prudential Center, said he looks at a venue and thinks, “Here’s what it was built for, but what else can it do?” He pointed to the recent auditions for the upcoming Fox’ upcoming Simon Cowell show “X-Factor” as an example of this thinking. Gale also described how the building books many smaller events using all of its available space, such as magazine photo shoots and Avon parties in the warehouse areas. Revetria said with AT&T Park being a privately financed venue, the MLB Giants have had “no choice” but to explore additional revenue streams. Events have included a free, sponsored opera concert and the annual Icer Air ski and snowboarding competition. He added the ballpark’s capacity will increase to “about 45,000 from 42,000” for a slate of college football games this fall. Evans said with the number of touring music acts on the decline, Live Nation has looked to develop “evergreen” music events that are “not all that talent-driven,” but are more lifestyle-themed. He also pointed to electronic music as a growth area; Live Nation drew 13,000 at a Deadmouse concert in a parking lot outside Soldier Field. Meanwhile, Thornton floated the idea of having an international club soccer match at the Superdome.

TRIED AND TRUE: Thornton, Gale and Evans all related how conventions are important sources of revenue. Thornton says these events, which have included “huge” gatherings in the Superdome from Microsoft, Oracle and others, account for 40-45% of non-football revenue. Thornton: “We can make $1M in one day.” Revetria noted that his ballpark has a “growing convention business,” thanks in part to a sales team dedicate solely to special events. Another reliable moneymaker is the UFC. Evans: “The bloom has not left that.” Gale noted the Prudential Center has hosted three UFC fight cards in the three-and-a-half years, and these events generate the “highest percaps ever.” Ticket sales have come to almost $10M on three cards. Thornton and Revetria both acknowledged that their venues had looked at possibly hosting MMA events



Catching up: Michael Bucek

Mike Bucek of the Kansas City Royals talked with us about how quickly technology is changing franchise operations, marketing the team's mobile ticketing and preparing for the 2012 All-Star Game.



A look at the financial landscape for teams and facilities

Greg Carey, managing director of Goldman Sachs’ Public Finance and Infrastructure Group, said professional leagues have adopted a more hands-on approach toward stadium and arena financing. “You are dealing with Big Brother now,” Carey said at the conference this morning, where he appeared on a panel with Inner Circle Sports founder Robert Tilliss and JPMorgan Chase Bank Managing Director Richard Walden. “Leagues want to be able to control, and they are quick to step in and fix problems.”

For a slideshow from this panel, CLICK HERE.

Walden said that banks have rebounded from the financial crisis and are offering competitive financing strategies for stadiums and arenas. But in the wake of the financial struggles of the Mets, MLB Rangers and others, teams and leagues are approaching debt conservatively, which puts more emphasis on obtaining some municipal or government money to help finance projects. “It’s still competitive on the bank side, but it comes down to finding the right balance of leverage and debt,” Walden said. He said public financing is available, but convincing the public to pay is still a challenge, specifically in California.

All three said the labor issues in the NBA and NFL play a major factor in future finance deals. “The market is fairly stable, but people want to know if there's enough liquidity in these systems if there is a labor stoppage,” Carey said.



Team execs discuss issues facing franchises and their facilities

High-ranking team execs took a broad view of the issues facing franchises this morning during the opening session of the AT&T Sports Facilities & Franchises conference hosted by SBJ/SBD. The panel, titled “The Presidents’ Perspective on Franchise and Facility Management,” featured Devils Arena Entertainment President Rich Krezwick, Cubs President Crane Kenney, Bobcats President & COO Fred Whitfield, Jazz President & COO Randy Rigby and former Nationals President Stan Kasten. On the subject of dealing with different ownership styles, Whitfield said of former Bobcats Owner Bob Johnson, “Oftentimes the local owner is misunderstood.” The Ricketts family purchased the Cubs from Tribune Co., and Kenney said, “We went from the extremes of a corporation … to a family of four individuals.” He noted three members the Ricketts family are “at the ballpark” most nights. He added Principal Owner Tom Ricketts “has a plan” and has “articulated it in the marketplace.” Whitfield said Michael Jordan also has made his plan for building the Bobcats “very clear.” On the topic of labor, Kasten said he believes the NBA is “more likely” to lose games than the NFL is, but added, “I still say neither league will lose.” Rigby said he thinks the NFL will lose games, while Krezwick does not.

For a slideshow from this panel, CLICK HERE.

LOOK INTO THE CRYSTAL BALL: The panelists also discussed the future of the commissioners. Kasten expressed skepticism about MLB’s Bud Selig saying he will retire after ’12. Kasten said the “owners will prevail on Selig” to stay, joking they might even “prop him up like a ‘Weekend at Bernie’s' thing.” Rigby said the NBA’s David Stern has shown “no desire on his part of distancing himself from the game.” Whitfield said, “I hope not.” Krezwick said Gary Bettman is “having his best year” as NHL Commissioner. Meanwhile, Kasten said he is “afraid of the day when fans have better experience” at home instead of at the game. He said his goal with the Nationals was to make fans “remember that it’s just different coming to the park.” Kenney chimed in, “Fans need to leave Wrigley with a memory.” He said fans at the historic ballpark tended to prefer its “walk back in time” atmosphere. Kenney said the team tried giving Cubs batters recorded intro music when they came to the plate, but fans objected to the departure from the traditional organ music. He also said the recent Cubs-Red Sox throwback series at Fenway Park, which featured essentially a 1918-style game presentation, was "a bit jarring" because it was so devoid of entertainment elements. He said Red Sox Exec VP & COO Sam Kennedy told him he was "not sure we'll do that again real soon." In the NBA, Rigby said Jazz fans “aren’t in one bucket,” and the team has a challenge to appeal to “numbers geeks,” along with families and people enjoying the social aspect of the game. Whitfield related how the Bobcats have “revamped game presentation” in the last several years, as the previous presentation style was “too urban” for the Charlotte market.

TICKET TO RIDE: Also during the opening session, Krezwick picked up right where yesterday’s Ticketing Symposium left off, saying he is “very worried about where ticketing is going.” Krezwick argued the current consumer culture has “so conditioned an online purchase to be a discount,” and that the secondary market and dynamic pricing have served to drive down the value of tickets. Krezwick: “Nobody buys at full price anymore. It’s all about waiting for an offer.” Kasten countered, “Long-term, you never lose money by giving your fans value. … The more value we provide for fans, we’re going to find a way to generate more business and get that excess money that’s going to third-party vendors back into us. There’s opportunity there.” Kenney said the “only thing I know for sure” when the club sets ticket prices at the start of the season is “we’re wrong.” Kenney said dynamic pricing plays a big role in “letting the market dictate where our prices will be.” Whitfield added, “Even when you go below (face value), you’re capturing that revenue. As long as you’re protecting your season-ticket holder pricing, at least you’re making an effort to fight that third party.” Krezwick asked, “Or are you driving your price further down?” He drew a parallel to the music business several years ago, when it began to lose control of distribution. Krezwick: “I’m not saying we can control it, but we have all seen the price of a ticket go down.” Kenney noted MLB “partnered with StubHub,” but now “a lot of people are looking back on that decision.” Kenney: “It was not a good long-term decision for us, and we get a chance to revisit that shortly.” Krezwick said he uses StubHub to continually monitor ticket value “like I use CBS MarketWatch to watch the stock market.” Kasten said teams and leagues “need to be in StubHub’s business.” Krezwick said, “I agree one thousand percent.” But he reiterated that there are “too many distribution channels” to control the market. Rigby said, “That’s why we went with the Veritix model, is we felt that we had more control. Their ownership is connected with team ownership.”



Ticketing Symposium panels talk social media, resale

Pirates Senior Dir of Ticket Sales & Service Chris Zaber yesterday said that all teams want to have some say in how their tickets are sold in secondary markets, but finding the correct balance is difficult. "From what we've been able to see, 10% of our seats are being moved in the secondary market," Zaber told Falcons VP/Sales & Service Dave Cohen, Veritix CEO Sam Gerace and StubHub President Chris Tsakalakis during the “Examining Ticket Resale Opportunities” panel that concluded the inaugural SBJ/SBD Ticketing Symposium at the W Hoboken in New Jersey, part of this week's AT&T Sports Facilities & Franchises conference. Cohen said teams should try and mine data from the secondary market to better position their own sales, but that secondary sellers "take away [tickets] from the guy on the street selling a ticket that you don't know is legit." Tsakalakis said StubHub has a major leg up on teams who try to oversee secondary sales themselves, and that StubHub has increased sales after taking over team-run secondary ticket operations. "We already have a bigger book of business than teams," Tsakalakis said. "We drive demand. For Florida State [University] we increased ticket sales 600 percent." Gerace said the popularity of secondary ticket sales is driving dynamic pricing for franchises because of the secondary market's natural fluctuations. "The sports industry is beginning to apply science that other industries have relied on for a while," Gerace said. The crowd reacted with applause and laughter after Tsakalakis and Gerace squared off over restrictions and fees on electronic tickets purchased in the secondary market. Gerace argued that Veritix's systems operated like an electronic stock market which charges a fee for ensuring the tickets are authentic. "This is not stock, it's a paper ticket that you can sell to a friend or to someone on craigslist," Tsakalakis said. "You're not Nasdaq."

For a slideshow from this panel, CLICK HERE.

Lazerow cautions teams against oversaturating
social media with too much ticketing noise

SOCIAL LIFE: Earlier yesterday afternoon, Buddy Media Chair & CEO Michael Lazerow cautioned teams against flooding Facebook and Twitter with too much ticketing "noise," and offered advice for helping reach fans via social media. “Respond to every comment on your Facebook wall. It will increase your edgerank [in the Facebook news feed] and help your information get through,” said Lazerow, who participated in the “Using Social Media to Sell Tickets” panel alongside Digital Royalty Manager of Sports & Entertainment Kristin Adams, Indians Dir of Communications & Creative Services Curtis Danburg and Flyers Senior VP/Business Operations Shawn Tilger. The panel agreed that teams should first use social media to create personal fan relationships, and that ticket sales and sponsorship dollars will follow. Tilger cautioned against discounting ticket prices too drastically over Facebook and Twitter, because the reach of social media can upset season ticket holders. “We’ll do a group discount and mask it behind a sponsorship rather than dynamic pricing,” he said. “We’re very careful about how frequent and often we bastardize any season ticket or partial plan price.” Danburg discussed the team’s “Social Suite” program at Progressive Field. The team invites fans into a converted suite where they can blog, tweet and lead social media discussions during the game. “We launched it at a time when we knew there was negativity in the market, and we wanted to be part of the conversation,” Danburg said. Danburg said the team also offers ticketing discounts via social media on Tuesdays and Fridays. The panel agreed that teams need at least one full-time staffer for social media. Tilger said sales representatives retain autonomy in their social media habits. “How much autonomy do we give them? Probably too much,” Tilger said. “Sometimes I get a letter [about social media conduct] and get yelled at, but we get through it.

For a slideshow from this panel, CLICK HERE.



Catching up: Brett Yormark

Starting at the bottom taught Brett Yorkmark, CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, the skills he needed to reach the top. In this video from the opening day of the Ticketing Symposium, Yormark talks about not taking no for an answer, coming up with unique sales opportunities and his team's move to Brooklyn.



Conference close-ups: Tuesday reception

Our roving camera caught conference attendees during the reception at the end of the Ticketing Symposium.

For a look at the slideshow, CLICK HERE.



Catching up: Bernie Mullin

Dynamic pricing and going paperless are the biggest issues facing the ticketing side of the sports industry, says veteran exec Bernie Mullin of The Aspire Group. And, in the end, those are just ways to help fans do what they most want to do – connect with their favorite teams.



Ticketing execs discuss the shift to mobile, opportunities overseas

Devils CMO and Senior VP/Ticket Sales & Marketing Michael Williams said overseas sports properties are a “good barometer” for the advancement of mobile ticketing practices, “especially some of the soccer clubs.” Williams spoke during “The Next Wave: Exploring Mobile Ticketing” panel at the inaugural SBJ/SBD Ticketing Symposium at the W Hoboken in New Jersey, part of this week's AT&T Sports Facilities & Franchises conference. Also on the panel were International Micro Systems CEO & President Jim Shrader and Royals VP/Marketing & Sales Mike Bucek, who echoed the theme of faster adaptation in foreign markets. Bucek: “As Michael said, in this country, it just takes a longer period of time, for whatever reason, for some of these technologies to be accepted.” Bucek also pointed out the demographic differences in adaptation speed within his own fan base: “The younger demos seem very comfortable with it. The older demo, they like having that hard ticket. … We’ve got a little bit of an older fan base, so we really have to work harder to gain awareness.” When asked if minorities are quicker to adapt new technologies, Williams said, “I wouldn’t speak necessarily from a team standpoint, but from the event and building standpoint, that’s absolutely true. When we have concerts and events that are probably more minority-driven … those promoters and those acts that we work with always have some sort of mobile technology, some sort of promotion to help push that.” But Bucek said the numbers he has seen from mobile ticketing data have been “relatively small, and I have not seen demographic breakdown on any of that.” Shrader said there are “a lot of operational issues” related to mobile purchasing models apart from the technology itself, and these issues pertain to “all of the constituents” of a sports property, including leagues, teams and concessionaires.

To see a slideshow from this panel, CLICK HERE.

 

TEAMING WITH THE LEAGUE: Bucek said the Royals “have worked very closely” with MLBAM on the development of their mobile site. MLBAM owns Tickets.com, the team’s mobile ticketing partner, and Bucek called that relationship “cohesive” and “seamless.” Bucek: “There’s a lot of experimentation going on. They tell us the development and kind of what they’re aiming to do, and they rely on the club to promote it.” Bucek cited the club’s at-ballpark promotion of the At Bat app as an example. This reiterates statements made in an earlier panel by Indians exec Curtis Danburg, who complimented MLBAM on its social media collaborations with the franchise. Meanwhile, Williams said the NHL has been “fantastic” working with teams on mobile ticketing. Williams: “The NHL is known for being very aggressive. … Other leagues kind of look to the NHL in taking some of those best practices.” Shrader said his company, a third-party vendor, is “starting to get a lot of play from the NFL” despite the league’s already strong season-ticket base.

 

WORKING ON A BUILDING: While franchises such as the Yankees have banned iPads from their venue, Williams said the Devils actually rent about 15-20 iPads to fans at Prudential Center for each home game. The team also has Mission Control, a fan-driven social media hub at Prudential Center that generates content and engages other fans. This plays into what Williams described as a “pre-, during and post-event” mobile marketing strategy around games. Bandwidth and network capacity represent other in-arena challenges for mobile marketing/purchasing. Bucek: “If we get to a point where we’ve got a crowd of 35,000, they’ve all got their iPhones on and they’re trying to upload pictures, we don’t have the pipe in the building to be able to handle that.” He said the team may install a WiFi system for the ’12 MLB All-Star Game. Bucek said despite being renovated in ‘09, Kauffman Stadium in this respect is “totally outdated by 2011.” Bucek: “It’s hard to believe, but the growth in this area is so rapid.”



Catching up: Jane Kleinberger

Social media is the next frontier in lead generation and the number one opportunity to bring new fans to teams and venues, says Paciolan founder Jane Kleinberger, a panelist during the inaugural Ticketing Symposium.



Catching up: Stan Kasten

The explosion in media rights isn't over, says former Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten, who appeared on the "Presidents' Perspective" panel to open the 11th annual Sports Facilities and Franchises conference. Kasten also talked about whether MLB's lower attendance this year is a blip or a trend.



Catching up: Mike Tomon

Mike Tomon of the Cleveland Cavaliers talks about how fans are ready for dynamic pricing. And, as far as the Cavaliers' off-season, he says, "What's not to like?"



Ticket executives offer inside look at dynamic pricing

Dynamic pricing has quickly proved itself to be a viable source of incremental ticket revenue, according to panelists at the inaugural SBJ/SBD Ticketing Symposium at the W Hoboken in New Jersey, part of this week's AT&T Sports Facilities & Franchises conference. But striking a proper balance between computer-generated analytics that feed dynamic pricing structures and real-world sales realities remains a work in progress.

For a slideshow from this panel, CLICK HERE.

Panelists Matthew Marolda (left) of StratBridge, Mike Tomon (center) of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Steve Smith of the Minnesota Twins

The discussion, “An Inside Look at Dynamic Pricing,” featured Rex Fisher, Digonex vice president of business development; StratBridge Founder & CEO Matt Marolda; Steve Smith, Twins vice president of ticket sales and service; and Mike Tomon, Cavaliers vice president of ticket sales and services. The Cavaliers, now in their third season of dynamically pricing tickets, made $10 in incremental revenue per ticket sold through the dynamic season, even with a last-place team. That sum is higher than the $9 per ticket in incremental revenue generated last year during LeBron James' last year in Cleveland, albeit on lower ticket volume this year. The incremental revenue averages are fairly typical for the fast-growing collection of clubs experimenting in the space. “We found we were educating the market poorly before,” said Tomon. “We want to change the booking curve and not just have people conditioned to just wait until the last minute to buy.”

But panelists found no fixed ground on the age-old data-versus-gut debate with regard to dynamic pricing. “We try to find balance,” said Marolda, whose firm works with numerous teams on ticket pricing mechanisms. “We bring the science, but recognize the input of the team and that human interaction.” Fisher added, “Different clubs have different tolerances on what they're willing to do. … Anytime you're manipulating clients' prices, there has to be a relationship and a real sense of trust.”



Ticketing Power Panel

Panel has some reservations the the concept of dynamic pricing.

In the second discussion this morning, The Aspire Group Chair and CEO Bernie Mullin told fellow panelists that sports franchises must develop database strategies to manage ticket sales. Joining Mullin on the “Ticketing Power Panel” were Paciolan founder Jane Kleinberger; Chad Estis, president of Legends Premium Sales; Chris Granger, NBA executive vice president team marketing and business operations; and Tickets.com President and CEO John Walker. “You don’t just need some kid to run your database, you need an analytics team,” Mullin said. “Most teams don’t have a [analytics] plan, they have a budget. What you need is an integrated ticket, marketing and sales plan.”

For a slideshow from this panel, CLICK HERE.

The panel was hesitant to fully endorse dynamic pricing, and warned against its pitfalls. “Thirteen teams that are clients of ours use [dynamic pricing] and their yields are up,” Walker said. “If your price goes below a season ticket price, you irritate ticket holders. That’s not a good place to be.” But he added a survey found that MLB Giants season-ticket holders did not mind if single tickets dropped below season ticket prices for “a game or two.” Kleinberger said advances in technology such as paperless tickets and tickets issued to mobile devices should be viewed with cautious optimism, and that teams should use incentives along with the technology. Granger said social media has also helped, but that teams should research which social sites work with different strategies. “You should have a holistic strategy," he said.



Yormark, Nuchow kick off inaugural ticketing symposium

Nuchow (left), Yormark discuss the start of their careers.
Nets CEO Brett Yormark today said the ticket sales business now is considered “just as glamorous” as sponsorship sales, and perception “has certainly changed over the years” since he entered sports business in the late ’80s. Yormark appeared alongside CAA Sports co-Head Howard Nuchow for the opening panel of the inaugural SBJ/SBD Ticketing Symposium at the W Hoboken in New Jersey, part of this week's AT&T Sports Facilities & Franchises conference. The session, titled “From the Boiler Room to the Board Room,” featured two execs who began their careers in sports business selling tickets for the Nets. Nuchow also acknowledged that the business has changed in some ways, but pointed to enduring lessons he learned in ticket sales, such as “how to position a product.” Nuchow: “You don’t approach selling Shaun White any different than you do having a creative marketing plan for individual tickets.” Yormark said “good process defines good results” in all sales endeavors. Nuchow also mentioned that a successful sales strategy is one that is “not depending on wins and losses,” and regardless of the team’s record, “you have access to things the world wants a piece of.”

CREATIVE, FORMATIVE: As an example of creative sales strategies, Nuchow recalled how he began a pregame speakers program with the Nets in order to drive corporate sales. The series, which featured speakers such as Harvey Mackay and Lou Holtz, provided a “huge return” financially, but it also made CEOs in the market “look at the Nets like we’re innovative and smart.” Yormark recalled making a $10,000 sale on his first day as a Nets ticket salesman, and Nuchow said by the time he joined the Nets several years later, the sales staff “aspired to be Brett.” Nuchow: “He made an impression on a lot of people in the hallways.” Yormark also described a vendor program with grocery chain Pathmark he initiated in ’95, then in his second stint with the Nets, which was a season-long partnership and the “first seven-figure deal in Nets history.” Both execs spoke about what it takes to be an entry-level salesman and to make the transition from that job to being a top-level exec. Nuchow said, “You better be selfless.” He pointed to leading by example and mentioned how Jon Spoelstra, who ran the Nets when he joined, would still go on sales calls and “put that big win on the board.” Yormark’s key word was “passion,” which he said “outweighs a lot of things.” He also noted that the Nets do not make hires based on a candidate’s simple desire to work in sports. Yormark: “We don’t hire sports fans. That’s not part of our DNA.”


NO SLEEP 'TIL BROOKLYN:
Yormark returned several times to the theme of the Nets’ impending move to Brooklyn. When asked via text question about the first things on his to-do list, Yormark said, “My focus is on Brooklyn.” When the subject of the Nets’ at-times controversial strategy of marketing opponents came up, Yormark said, “We’ll never do opponent marketing in Brooklyn.” And when asked about the biggest sports business story he is following, he said the move to Brooklyn will be “one of the biggest stories in sports for the next 25 years.”


Conference close-ups

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