SBJ/September 30 - October 6, 2002/Marketingsponsorship

To sell on Web, find your customers and give them a reason to go online

Declining attendance. Unused tickets. Lower renewal rates.

These are just a few items on a growing list of headaches for team marketing executives as ticketing issues continue to plague teams of all levels.

What, many team executives ask, is the aspirin that will cure this ever-sharpening pain?

An Internet ticketing strategy.

Before this prescription becomes more bad medicine, the remedy calls for a simple three-step process.

1. Know your audience.

2. Get fans to take a test drive online.

3. Use in-game experience to sell tickets online.

The first challenge is to understand which consumers buy online and when they buy. Reaching consumers when they are likely to be online can also create incremental sales.

Two minor league baseball teams, the Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Renegades and Reading (Pa.) Phillies, used late-night-television buys to promote online sales and make money while they slept. Each team implemented this marketing strategy as a more cost-effective way to sell advertising while catching consumers at a time when they were more likely to be focused on just one activity.

"Selling tickets on the Web is all about convenience," said Steve Gliner, vice president and general manager of the Renegades. "It makes sense to do this at night when there's no distractions and they can do it from their computer."

The strategy paid immediate dividends for both teams in 2002. The Renegades sold 33 percent of all online tickets between midnight and 6 a.m. The Phillies were equally successful. The team sold 14,000 tickets online during the same time frame.

"Time of day is not something that a lot of marketers think of," said John Myers, vice president of eTix, the online ticketing company that handles the Renegades' online ticketing software. "It's very savvy and intelligent marketing to try to grow sales overnight."

After understanding when and whom to market to, it is essential to decide how to market online ticketing to consumers. The first philosophy is to duplicate how a restaurant markets itself. The goal of a restaurant's marketing efforts is to influence a consumer to try the restaurant once. Ideally, the customer will have an enjoyable experience, share that experience with others and return again and again.

One major league team that has effectively implemented this philosophy is the Philadelphia Phillies.

Individual game tickets for the Phillies (as for most MLB teams) go on sale on a specific date prior to spring training and after several months of dedicated season-ticket sales. To help fuel online sales from consumers sitting on the fence, the Phillies make individual tickets available online a week before tickets are available through traditional off-line channels like telephone and box-office orders.

The incentive is enough to drive fans of all technical abilities looking to buy specific game tickets while eliminating many Internet phobias for future purchases. These fans might share tales of ease and convenience with other fans.

The final trait is to build a relationship with fans already attending a game. One of the most effective techniques is to use in-game promotions to drive attendees to the Web site for future ticket purchases.

The Sacramento River Cats put a new twist on an old promotion. Instead of announcing a lucky seat number at the stadium for a winning fan, the team uses its public-address announcements to drive fans to its Web site to see if their ticket stub matches the ticket posted online.

These ideas have proved to relieve headaches created by the ticketing problems cited at the beginning of this column. The hope is that they will create the happier problem of trying to service an increase in orders.

Dan Migala (dmigala@sportsbusinessjournal.com) is the author of "Interactive Sports Strategies."

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