SBJ/September 30 - October 6, 2002/This Weeks Issue

WUSA likes San Diego's customer-friendly, season-ticket-selling Spirit

The WUSA's San Diego Spirit, despite never having made it to the league's playoffs, is making its mark as a leader off the field with its season-ticket marketing plans and fan interaction activities.

"The Spirit is at the forefront with their planning when it comes to season-ticket renewals," WUSA spokesman Dan Courtemanche said. "Clearly the best sales tool we have as a league is our players. And I think the Spirit have recognized that in their decision to use them to call upon season-ticket holders."

The team, which finished its season last month, recently had each of its players call season-ticket holders to thank them for supporting the Spirit.

The Spirit this season sold more than 2,000 season tickets to a group of about 700 season-ticket holders, which meant each player had about 50 calls to make, said Vicky Lynch, director of operations and fan development for the Spirit.

Shannon MacMillan signs for a fan in San Diego, where the Spirit specializes in interacting.

"We had a great response," she said. "Some fans didn't believe they were getting the phone calls. Some wanted to chat for a few moments and some wanted players to also call their daughters at so-and-so house."

In addition to the player thank-yous, the Spirit has rolled out two new season-ticket incentive plans in hopes of increasing its base by another couple of hundred tickets this year, Lynch said.

"We knew that even though we led the league in season tickets in the second year, we couldn't rest on our laurels," Lynch said.

The new plans are a way to give back to the fans and show them that the team is committed to producing a winning on-field product, she said.

One plan rewards season-ticket holders who get others to sign up for season tickets. Under that program, which the team calls "Teammates," season-ticket holders who refer new season-ticket buyers to the team will be entered into a contest to win a private soccer clinic with Spirit players at their home field, Torero Stadium.

The second plan, which is similar to plans recently put in place by other pro teams, promises season-ticket holders that the team will make it to the playoffs in 2003. If it does not make the playoffs, the team will sell its 2004 season tickets at 2001 prices, a move that Lynch said would mean a price reduction of 15 percent to 20 percent.

STARS AND BOUNDS: Stars and Strategies Inc., the women's sports agency run by Sue Rodin, has been hired as the exclusive sponsorship sales agency for a new women's sports documentary and educational program called "In Leaps and Bounds."

"In Leaps and Bounds," which is still in its development phase, will be a two-hour PBS special on the achievements of American female athletes, Rodin said. The program will include an education and outreach program for distribution to schools nationwide.

The project is being produced by Los Angeles-based Samwill Inc. and led by Rebecca Carpenter and Emmy Award-winning producer Alan Blomquist. Emmy nominee Craig Rice will direct the project. Stars & Strategies will be responsible for seeking one or more corporate sponsors for the program.

The earliest release date of the project would be sometime next year, either late summer or fall, Rodin said. The timing of the release depends on when a sponsor or sponsors can be secured.

Rodin, whose firm is being paid a monthly retainer as well as commission, said a title sponsorship to the project would run about $1.75 million.

SO LONG TO SPRING: The Longs Drug Challenge, an LPGA Tour event in Sacramento, announced it would move from its traditional spring tournament date to a fall date next season.

The tournament, which is in its eighth year, will move to a Sept. 29-Oct. 5 slot next season to be part of the tour's fall West Coast swing. The event, which is owned and operated by Raycom Sports, also will increase its purse to $1 million from $900,000 this year.

The Longs Drugs Challenge has been scheduled between two open weeks before the tour's Southeast swing.

The changes are hoped to bring stronger player fields to the tournament and better weather, tournament officials said. The event has been a victim of inclement weather in each of the last five years. Stormy weather shortened the tournament to three rounds last year.

Jennifer Lee can be reached at jlee@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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