SBJ/January 9 - 15, 2006/Marketingsponsorship

Phoenix Suns to tout value of cheap seats

The Phoenix Suns are planning a major branding effort around US Airways Center’s cheap seats, the only seats still available for the team’s games.

The team is averaging 17,009 fans a game this
season. US Airways Center seats 18,422.

With 10,000 lower-bowl seats sold out through season-ticket sales, the Suns want to push their upper-bowl seats with a new strategy that will include a brand name for the upper bowl, the addition of at least two sponsors and more entertainment components to go along with an already aggressive marketing effort aimed at the far corners of their arena.

“We want to make the upper bowl more of a season-ticket destination,” said Suns President Rick Welts.

Since Robert Sarver bought the Suns last year for $401 million, the team has targeted premium-seating customers with new courtside clubs and additional courtside seating. This year, the team is turning its attention to the far reaches of its arena. The team has already added a 10,000-square-foot playground dubbed “The Jungle” sponsored by Verizon Wireless in the upper-level concourse geared toward children. Now comes the upstairs branding plan.

Welts would not disclose how much the sponsorships would cost, but Verizon reportedly paid $1 million for its three-year sponsorship of “The Jungle.”

Trying to drive fans upstairs is standard operating procedure for NBA teams with strong season-ticket sales. The San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, teams at the top of the NBA’s attendance list, all offer upper-level concourse entertainment.

“We have always been pretty full in the upper bowl and accordingly have always tried to pay attention to the fans who sit up there and let them know we appreciate them and don’t take them for granted,” said Steve Schanwald, executive vice president of business operations for the Bulls. “Accordingly, we seek to provide as much entertainment value to them as we do to fans downstairs.”

The Spurs have branded their entire 8,000-seat upper bowl in the SBC Center, calling it Club 200 sponsored by the HEB grocery chain, which is also the Spurs’ season presenting sponsor.

“Most teams have the inventory in the balcony and the challenge is that they feel left out,” said Bruce Guthrie, vice president of marketing for the Spurs. “We have brought up former players and our general manager to meet with those fans and we have special giveaways, and we find that it is working.”

The Miami Heat also provides upper-level arena entertainment, including a band and a radio station broadcast from the 300 level of AmericanAirlines Arena during games.

The Suns are averaging 17,009 fans a game this season at the recently renamed, 18,422-seat US Airways Center, up 2 percent from last year. Suns upper-bowl tickets are priced between $10 and $45 a game. The upper-bowl deals could be in place later this season.

“We are tweaking the name and are putting the various plans together,” Welts said. “We will have some pretty neat new inventory focused on the geography of the upper bowl. There is such a misrepresentation on the value proposition of NBA tickets in the upper bowl. We haven’t done a terrifically good job of it.”

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