SBJ/20090525/This Week's News

Ga. Tech hands ticket sales to Aspire Group

Georgia Tech has hired The Aspire Group to handle ticket sales for football and men’s basketball in what is believed to be the first case of a university outsourcing its ticket operations, a move that could start a significant trend as schools look to outsource more athletic department business.

Aspire is a sports marketing agency run by Bernie Mullin, former president of Atlanta Spirit, which owns the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers. Specifics of the deal were not available, but Dan Radakovich, Georgia Tech’s athletic director, said Tech pays Aspire a fee plus a variable amount based on sales. The multiyear deal includes an assessment period for both sides.

“We look at this as the next frontier for what we need to do to sell tickets,” Radakovich said. “We’re not doing a massive radio or TV campaign, we’re not going to advertise in the newspaper. This is how we’re going to do it.”

Aspire has hired a general manager — Bill Fagan, formerly the Charlotte Bobcats’ inside ticket sales director — to set up a full-time sales staff of 15 to 20 people who will work from Georgia Tech’s downtown Atlanta campus. Four people currently work in Tech’s ticket office, two administrators and two who handle premium sales.

Under the agreement, Georgia Tech will set the ticket prices and plans. Aspire will handle new full and partial season-ticket sales and renewals, and begin selling tickets by mid-June. It will not sell the premium seating for the university. Radakovich said premium seating and suites have traditionally sold well and there was not a need for Aspire to run that program. Most of those seats are allotted through Georgia Tech’s donor program, the Tech Fund, and will continue to be handled by that arm of the department.

The outsourcing of ticket sales follows the trend of major universities selling their licensing, sponsorship and broadcasting rights to outside marketing agencies like Learfield, Nelligan, ISP Sports, CBS Collegiate and IMG College. Georgia Tech’s marketing and media rights are owned by ISP Sports.

“Major universities are already outsourcing licensing and broadcasting rights so this is a natural progression to do it with ticket sales,” Mullin said. “It will be a more integrated and sophisticated approach. The first opportunity will be doing a better job of data collection.”

Greg Brown, president of Learfield Sports, said his agency has experimented with similar models in the past.

Tech’s top crowd at 55,000-seat Bobby Dodd
Stadium during 2008 was 53,528
for Florida State.

“We’re still considering whether it will work in our space and if so in what form,” Brown said.

Georgia Tech’s ticket sales in football “have had their ups and downs,” Radakovich said. Season-ticket sales have peaked at 26,000 in recent years and been as low as 23,000 for 55,000-seat Bobby Dodd Stadium. Traditionally, rivalry games against Georgia and Clemson sell out, while other games present more of a challenge for sales.

The Jackets drew average attendance of 47,489 in 2008, a season in which both the Georgia and Clemson games were on the road. Their crowd peaked at 53,528 for Florida State and was as low as 41,929 for a nonconference game against Gardner-Webb during a 9-4 season for first-year coach Paul Johnson.

“We have a lot of leads from people who bought partial season tickets or they’ve been a season-ticket holder in the past and they’re not now,” Radakovich said. “There are other alumni who haven’t bought tickets in the past and there are others in the Atlanta area who might just be college football fans. We’ve got to make sure we cast the net wide enough to include all of them. Professional teams have used this methodology for years.

“As we’ve looked at all of our available resources and all the advertising we’ve done over the years and seen the results, we thought (the Aspire partnership) would be an opportunity to use a different model to increase our season-ticket base and increase ticket sales in general.”

Radakovich stopped short of calling it a complete operational outsourcing because the department will maintain two administrators in its ticket office mainly to handle correspondence. Two others in Tech’s ticket office were laid off last month as the Yellow Jackets trimmed their athletic department by 13.

But it’s clear from talking to ticket managers and university administrators across the country that the school is breaking new ground by outsourcing its ticket sales.

Outside agencies have been used from time to time, but only for specific on-campus events, like concerts. Others, like Arizona State and Central Florida, have hired additional sales staff for busy periods, but those sales are still handled internally.

“It boils down to cost containment and efficiency,” Mullin said. “Traditionally, schools have a small number of year-round sales staff, but we can put more staff and resources behind the sales efforts. The school is providing the infrastructure and we are providing the management, systems, and procedures,” Mullin said.

 Wayne Hogan, associate athletic director, will be Tech’s day-to-day contact with Aspire and Fagan. Hogan handles the department’s outsourced vendors like Aspire and ISP.

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