SBJ/20081020/This Week's News

Panthers hope free tickets create new buyers

Looking to expand its fan base in recessionary times, the Florida Panthers are rolling out a sampling program that offers South Floridians two free tickets to an NHL game.

The team’s “First Timer” Program offers anyone with a Florida driver’s license a chance to see a Panthers game for free. Applicants register for the tickets on a Web site and the first 250 registrants per game receive the 500 tickets the team set aside for free. Tickets provided are based on availability, with some even being lower-level offerings.

The Panthers’ Michael
Yormark has free seats
for Floridians.

“We wanted something creative and easy that would entice [the casual sports fan] to sample us,” said Panthers President Michael Yormark.

Yormark hopes the sampling program can help the team increase attendance. Last year, the Panthers averaged 15,430 fans per game, putting it among the NHL’s bottom third in average attendance.

The “one time … on us” sampling campaign began with the team’s home opener when 100 people watched the Panthers play the Atlanta Thrashers on Oct. 11. The program continues through at least Nov. 28 when the New York Rangers visit.

The team is measuring the success of the program in three ways: database expansion, per cap increases and return visits.

Each applicant must provide name, address, phone number, e-mail and driver’s license number to be eligible to receive a ticket. The team adds that information to its database, and its ticket sales team calls each applicant within three to five days of attending the game, Yormark said.

“The data is a warm lead,” he said. “We can call and say, ‘Hey, how was the experience? Did you have a great time? What’s your feedback? By the way, I have a great opportunity for you to come back with a three-game plan.’”

The team also sees immediate benefits to its per cap. On the first night of the program, the team saw its per cap rise $1.50 from its opening game in 2007.

“It may not increase our actual per caps [long term], but it will increase our sales because an empty seat doesn’t generate anything for you,” Yormark said. “You put a warm body in a seat and they buy popcorn and beer, and that benefits you down the line.”

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