SBJ/May 2-8, 2011/Facilities

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  • Rays’ group among those seeking South Florida ticket sales job

    Don Muret
    Tampa Bay Rays subsidiary Sunburst Entertainment Group and the University of South Florida are having discussions to decide whether it makes sense for Sunburst to help the school sell season tickets for football and basketball games.

    Officials from the two groups met last Monday, the second of two meetings, said Bill McGillis, South Florida’s senior associate athletic director. So far, talks are “purely exploratory” with no deal signed, said Mark Fernandez, Sunburst’s senior vice president.

    Sunburst, a two-year-old firm, is similar to Fenway Sports Group and Silver Chalice, companies formed by the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox to develop new business ventures outside of their respective MLB operations.

    In central Florida, Sunburst has sold group tickets and been involved in facility operations for the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl the past two years at Tropicana Field, where the Rays play their home games. In January, Sunburst took on a greater role in its first year with the Under Armour All-America football game at the Trop, selling tickets and producing the halftime show with hip-hop artist Fabolous.

    SUNBURST ENTERTAINMENT GROUP
    Sunburst Entertainment Group has been involved with sales for the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl.
    Newer clients include the CONCACAF Gold Cup game June 11 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa and the East-West Shrine Game, an annual event relocating to Tropicana Field from Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando.

    Sunburst employees have previously helped South Florida’s athletic department with some video production at the Sun Dome on campus and approached Bulls officials about further opportunities, keeping in mind NCAA restrictions on partnerships between pro teams and college athletics. South Florida and Sunburst officials have crossed paths before on the Rays’ side of the business, as well. The MLB team funds a school scholarship and schedules an annual USF Alumni Night at Tropicana Field.

    South Florida filled about half the seats at the 10,411-seat Sun Dome for men’s basketball last season. Average attendance for six Bulls football games in 2010 was 40,849 at Raymond James, down 22 percent from the previous year.

    “We are not selling enough tickets, and I am taking a hard look at how we can do that better,” McGillis said.

    When asked why it made sense to talk with Sunburst when the Rays struggle to fill the Trop for baseball games, McGillis said it was a valid point — but he can’t fault the MLB club for the “enormous challenge” it faces selling tickets in a 21-year-old indoor stadium across the bay from its core audience.

    “If someone can sell another ticket for us and we pay 30 percent to 40 percent commission, I’m not sure if it’s a downside,” he said.

    For 14 years, South Florida has marketed its football and basketball programs in-house using the professional model for outbound sales tied to paid commissions. It is the same model used by The Aspire Group and by IMG College after it acquired The DiFebo Co. in January. McGillis has had discussions with those two companies about outsourcing ticket sales, and they are also being considered should South Florida decide to outsource, he said.

    USF IMG Sports Marketing, a partnership between South Florida and IMG College, owns the school’s multimedia rights.

    NEXT AT-BAT: The Houston Astros are the second MLB team to launch MLB At Bat’s concessions application for iPhones, starting next Monday at Minute Maid Park.

    The MLB At Bat food app was first used in Philadelphia.
    The Astros, in conjunction with Aramark, the stadium’s concessionaire, are adding single MLB At Bat Express Lines to three concession stands on the main concourse and two locations in the upper deck. To order food and drink, fans download the free application and find the menu under the At the Ballpark feature. They must enter a credit card to complete the order and are sent a text message in return with information on when and where to pick up their items.

    Fans who order alcohol through the app must submit proper identification at the stand to prove they are 21 years old, said Marty Price, the Astros’ senior vice president of events and guest services.

    The technology ties into a seven-figure investment the Astros and sponsor AT&T made to upgrade the ballpark’s Wi-Fi system and installation of a distributed antenna system to improve coverage for smartphones and other wireless devices.

    The Philadelphia Phillies were the first team to test MLB At Bat for concessions, in September 2010, and are using it again this year.

    The Arizona Diamondbacks announced last month that MLB At Bat’s food application would be ready to use at Chase Field later this year.

    Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @BreakGround.

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