SBJ/May 2-8, 2011/Colleges

IMG College signs Duke for ticket sales

IMG College’s new ticketing solutions division has signed its first new client: Duke University.

The arrangement, which goes into effect July 1, will put IMG College in charge of Duke’s ticket sales. A full-time sales force, which includes a general manager and four staffers, is being hired by IMG College and will be based in the Duke athletic department at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Derek Cheung, a former ticketing executive with the Tampa Bay Rays and the Atlanta Hawks, will be IMG College’s general manager on the Duke property.

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IMG College’s ticketing solutions division will try to fill seats for Duke football.
Duke will continue to handle the processing and fulfillment of the orders with a ticket support staff of five employees. No downsizing is expected from the Duke ticket staff as a result of this deal.

“This is a way for us to move things forward, both from a revenue standpoint and bodies in the stands, especially in football,” said Mike Sobb, Duke’s associate athletic director, external affairs.

This marks IMG College’s first deal since it acquired Matt DiFebo’s ticketing consultancy last year and created a ticket solutions division. Temple University, which originally was signed by DiFebo, came over as part of the acquisition and has just signed a two-year extension to stay with IMG College.

Duke’s decision to outsource ticket sales is part of an emerging trend among athletic departments. Georgia Tech started it two years ago when it outsourced its ticketing to the Atlanta-based Aspire Group, and Rutgers recently signed a similar agreement with Aspire.

Both IMG College and Aspire say they’re on the verge of several more.

“There are just certain things that we’re better positioned to do than a university,” said Mark Dyer, IMG College’s senior vice president for the business ventures group, which includes ticket solutions. “Schools typically do a very good job of handling the tickets and getting them processed in a timely way, but it’s hard for them to pay a sales staff bonuses or commissions, the kinds of things that make an effective sales staff.”

Duke’s Sobb said the school interviewed other candidates before selecting IMG College, but didn’t identify who they were. Dyer said IMG College and Aspire are the two most prevalent ticket consultancies in the college space meeting with schools, but other entities such as minor league baseball teams also are trying to move into the space.

“The list of schools that don’t face challenges in selling tickets is pretty short,” Dyer said. “Whether it’s football, basketball, baseball, women’s basketball — almost every school has a need.”

IMG College will be paid based on a percentage of sales, and that payment will increase as ticket sales hit certain thresholds.

As a private school, Duke doesn’t release information like financial arrangements or its season-ticket base, but the school did say the deal with IMG College runs three years. It is a separate contract from Duke’s multimedia rights agreement with IMG College.

“What we really need to do is extend the reach and have more people out there working to increase our base,” Sobb said. “Gone are the days when you just send out the renewal form and people send in their season-ticket orders.”

Football ticket sales have traditionally been a struggle for Duke football, which has played second fiddle to the basketball program for most of the past 30 years. The Blue Devils have posted just one winning season since the Steve Spurrier years in the late 1980s.

Attendance during last season’s 3-9 campaign averaged 28,750, up from 26,314 the previous year, and the 2010 numbers were bolstered by a crowd of 39,042 for Alabama’s visit.

Even with the increase, Duke’s average was next-to-last among the 65 football schools from the big six conferences. Only Washington State averaged fewer fans per game with 24,532.

Moving those numbers higher is partially a function of winning, but Duke also will target areas such as group sales to make a larger impression. Group sales might include corporate outings, companies that are recruiting on campus, other schools within the university or any area businesses that want to buy a cluster of tickets and tailgate.

Duke has had a staffer, Chris Kautza, responsible for group sales in the past. He will stay with the athletic department and assist IMG College in the transition.

Sobb said he’d also like to see the new IMG College ticket sales staff build deeper relationships with the fans already buying season tickets.

“There are a base of people who have been with you forever, but people want to be serviced, they want to have a deeper tie to the school,” Sobb said. “Donors have ties, sponsors have ties, but there are a lot of ticket holders that don’t fall into those categories.”

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