SBJ/20090727/This Week's News

Bulls latest in NBA offering partnering to season-ticket holders

The Chicago Bulls have become the fourth NBA franchise to offer season-ticket partnering services, the latest trend among the league’s 30 teams battling to retain season-ticket holders during the recession.

Once frowned upon, the practice of playing matchmaker for fans looking to share full season-ticket packages is now attracting interest from NBA clubs.

The Bulls’ season-ticket sharing program is called Ticket Partners. Accessed through Bulls.com, it allows full-season-ticket holders the opportunity to find partners looking to buy into those season packages.

A drop-down menu allows users to select from a minimum of five games up to 42 and from one seat to 20 seats. There is no charge for fans using the service, and the team expects that season-ticket holders will have anywhere from one to three partners.

SplitSeasonTickets runs the Bulls’ service.

“In the long run this will help us with retention and is a great service for our season-ticket holders,” said Steve Schanwald, executive vice president of business operations for the Bulls, in an e-mail exchange. “It makes season-ticket ownership more affordable, which is especially important in lean economic times.”

The new product differs from the menu of mini-plans sold by teams because it allows teams to retain their full-season-ticket base yet at the same time offer a way for full-season-ticket holders to cut costs by partnering with fans who want to buy a handful of games.

“Teams are looking for ways to reduce the economic pressures on their fans,” said Chris Granger, NBA senior vice president of team marketing and business operations. “One way to do this is by facilitating the practice of share partnering.”

Another benefit for the teams is the ability to gather data from all shared partners in order to upsell to more potential customers.

“Teams have never known much about who was sharing in ticket plans,” said Dan Bartlett, founder of SplitSeasonTickets, who is running the partnering service. “Now, they know who the partners are, what games they wanted, and what preferences they had. They benefit by getting a whole rich set of data.”

Last year, the NBA posted an 80 percent season-ticket renewal rate. League officials won’t disclose the current ticket renewal rate, but the league will be hard-pressed to hit the same rate for the 2009-10 season, given the economy.

“Teams used to look at it as selling against themselves, but now, given the economy, it is a way to keep customers,” said Bill Sutton, a sports marketing consultant who counts NBA teams as clients. “It helps teams keep their market share and maybe when things improve, it will mean more buyers.”

The Bulls join the Los Angeles Clippers, Charlotte Bobcats and New York Knicks in offering partnering services for the coming season. All have deals with Costa Mesa, Calif.-based SplitSeasonTickets.

 The company, which charges teams an undisclosed flat fee to run the service, also has deals with the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals in Major League Baseball and with four NHL teams.

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