SBJ/April 3 - 9, 2006/From The Field Of

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  • Ultimate measure of brand success comes at the ticket office

    We’re going to spend over $1 million in advertising this season,” one major league sports team executive told me.

    How many tickets do you expect to sell with that million?

    “Tickets? We can’t measure that,” he said. “And besides, we’re spending that money for branding.”

    What does branding do?

    Ticket sales are the lifeblood of any team but
    often go unmentioned when branding talk begins.

    I heard the words “image” and “identity.” There were a bunch more advertising-like words, and I got confused. I don’t think I heard the words “revenue” or “sales.”

    There’s good reason to be confused about branding. If you go to Amazon.com and type “branding” in its search engine, you’ll find there are 568 books about branding.

    Most of them are written for big brands. Big brands are products at least half the population will buy and use.

    Shoes, for example. (Who brands better than Nike?). Or beer. (How could anybody dispute Budweiser’s 50-plus market share?). Or cars. (Hyundai went from awful to great in just two years with its 10-year bumper-to-bumper guarantee).

    Unfortunately for most pro sports teams, a much smaller percentage of people buy tickets to their games than buy shoes, beer or cars. Less than 10 percent of the population of a team’s marketing area will buy a ticket to the team’s games in any one season.

    Entertainment begins when fans receive their
    season-ticket renewal notice.

    Ticket buyers - where branding begins

    Our philosophy to boost season-ticket renewals:
    • Make it personal
    • Be cool
    • Surprise package
    • Get noticed
    • Generate buzz

    Tickets are the lifeblood of any team. To get new fans to buy tickets from our teams we do something that is truly old-fashioned: We go out and sell them face-to-face.

    One of our minor league baseball teams has 10 extensively trained salespeople who personally call on businesses. This staff has six other salespeople dedicated to calling on groups. Additionally, we have three inside salespeople who take orders over the phone from callers responding to our advertising.

    Yes, we do advertising, but it’s all direct-response oriented. You know: a lot of copy, very little white space, small picture. It’s sorta ugly. We try not to measure ugly; we try to measure results. If we can’t measure an ad, we don’t run it.

    Nineteen ticket salespeople and two sales managers for one team may seem like overkill. It seems like we could subtract a few sales members and add some TV branding. But our sales staff is something we can track and is identifiable.

    Our philosophy is that branding begins and ends with the people who are already ticket buyers. We believe that a fan or corporation buys tickets for the entertainment value.

    It’s either for themselves or to host somebody important at the game. So, our entertainment begins when our fans receive their season-ticket renewal invoice.

    Many teams will send out a renewal invoice with a cover letter that starts “Dear (team) fan.” It costs about 50 cents to put in the mail.

    Our renewal mailing is always a surprise in its format. One year, we sent out our invoice in a colorful cardboard envelope that could not fit in a mailbox.

    That was deliberate. We wanted to be noticed and talked about.

    Our letters are always personalized. In one, we had 17 variables. If it weren’t for computers, we’d have a thousand typists in the back room preparing the mailing.

    If you looked at our season-ticket invoice mailings from afar, you would think “fun.” It is.

    If you looked closer, you’d think “expensive.” It’s that, too. We spend about $3 an account. That’s six times more than just sending out an invoice in a business envelope.

    But the renewal is the most important mailing we have. And it’s part of our branding.

    We deliver the tickets in a cool container: a custom-made cigar box or a nifty tin box that Fossil Watch made for us. We spend a lot of money on our style of branding. Our mailings and our ticket printing costs more.

    If we’re successful at our version of branding, then a portion of our fans become willing advocates. They give us one form of advertising that is the most effective of all: word of mouth.

    These advocates talk kindly about us to others. In fact, those nice words reach people that our army of young ticket salespeople have just made an appointment with.

    Jon Spoelstra is president, Teams Division, of Mandalay Baseball Properties.

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