SBJ/May 16-22, 2011/Facilities

MSG beefs up customer service in anticipation of renovation, seat relocation

Madison Square Garden has boosted its customer service infrastructure in preparation for its three-year renovation, which recent estimates value at $975 million. The arena has hired 15 “personal relationship managers,” created a website that features a 3-D virtual view of the arena from each seat and built a “relocation center” where staff can meet with ticket holders.

MSG President Scott O’Neil declined to say how much the organization has spent on its customer service improvements, but said he looked at the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Penguins, and New York Jets/Giants when creating a strategy.

“We couldn’t find any arena that had two major sports teams heading into the playoffs, with season-ticket bases north of 10,000, that had a short window to relocate them all,” O’Neil said, referring to the Knicks and Rangers.

Nearly every seat will shift location during the project, which in 2011 will renovate the lower bowl, expand the lower concourse and add 20 event-level suites, and in 2012 will renovate the upper bowl and add 58 lower-level suites. O’Neil said the customer service managers will place season-ticket holders into new seats that are as close to their current seats as possible.

“Almost everyone said sight-line preservation was their big concern,” said O’Neil, whose staff held focus groups in the lead-up to the project. “The second thing people said was recognize my tenure and communicate with [me].”

O’Neil said MSG will handle the relocation process in-house, and finished hiring its personal relationship managers late last year. The reps will relocate season-ticket holders in the lower bowl through the spring and summer of this year, and then work with upper-bowl ticket holders in 2012. The reps work out of the organization’s offices in midtown Manhattan and will stay on after construction stops in 2013 as part of the sales and services team.

MSG opened its relocation center in June 2009 in an office space just east of the arena’s entrance that was formerly Cosby Sporting Goods. MSG also manages the sale of its high-end suites out of the offices. Manhattan-based technology firm IOMedia created its Virtual Venue website where fans can observe the view from their new seats. Sources familiar with the technology valued it in the high five figures.

The arena alerted its season-ticket holders in March that seating positions would change for 2011-12 and that Knicks and Rangers ticket prices would increase by an average of 49 and 23 percent, respectively. The final deadline for renewing tickets is Friday. O’Neil said the current renewal rate is “well above 50 percent.”

MSG’s plan is similar to those of other major venue construction projects. The Penguins moved five sales managers to customer service roles when the team relocated approximately 7,000 season-ticket holders from Mellon Arena to the Consol Energy Center in 2010. “It was a gruelling seat-by-seat process,” said Chad Slencak, the Penguins’ vice president of ticket sales. The club, which was coming off its Stanley Cup victory, renewed at 99 percent.

In preparation for its move to New Meadowlands in 2010, the Giants alerted their 82,000 season-ticket holders starting in 2007 that their seats would likely change. The team hired 12 full-time representatives and contracted New Jersey-based Turnstyles Ticketing to handle customer service calls. The Jets brought in 20 temporary customer service reps, created a virtual model of the stadium online and built temporary offices on the site of the old stadium to handle meetings with season-ticket holders. Unlike MSG, the Jets based their ticket distribution on tenure. The longest-standing season-ticket holders could choose their seats first.

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