SBJ/May 23-29, 2011/In Depth

Social media sites redefine cheap seats

The use of social media to expose discount ticket offers in sports continues to grow at a rapid rate as teams target those websites to sell tickets for the least desirable seats and games at their facilities.

Groupon alone, the largest of these half-price sites, has partnered with more than 70 big league teams and 30-plus colleges to help them find buyers for unsold inventory. Since Groupon launched in 2008, it has drawn more than 70 million people to sign up and receive the company’s daily offers sent via email. More than 900 separate offers are sent out every day worldwide, according to Jim Sofranko, Groupon’s vice president of business development and a former marketing executive with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Living Social, Rue La La and Travel Zoo are three other discount sites that teams have used to sell tickets. In general, the teams share 50 percent of the revenue from every ticket sold through those sites with the companies running the discount offers.

Boston College has worked with Groupon for three years to sell tickets to athletics events.
Groupon is expanding its presence in sports and entertainment after forming GrouponLive, a joint venture with Live Nation Entertainment. As part of the deal, all sports ticket offers move over to GrouponLive, a separate outlet for both Ticketmaster and non-Ticketmaster venues. Arenas and stadiums that are Ticketmaster clients will have a smaller share taken from tickets sold through GrouponLive compared with non-Ticketmaster facilities, said Jared Smith, Ticketmaster’s chief operating officer.

Teams and schools participating in half-price offers see value in selling a ticket at a discount to a casual fan who may be buying a ticket for the first time. The idea is to get them through the gates with the hope that they will enjoy the game experience and buy tickets to more games, and ultimately turn into a season-ticket holder.

Texas Christian University Athletic Director Chris Del Conte describes those patrons as the “T-shirt fan,” the guy who wears Horned Frogs purple but is not an alum and prefers to watch the school’s football games on television instead of attending them in person.

To attract more of those individuals to help fill Amon G. Carter Stadium for two key dates in 2010, TCU signed a deal with Groupon, offering $30 upper-deck seats for $15. Fans had the option to buy tickets for one of two games: Air Force in late October, or San Diego State in mid-November, TCU’s final home game in the old stadium before it was slated for a $150 million renovation. The Groupon deal resulted in 999 tickets sold for Air Force and 1,896 tickets sold for San Diego State, said Scott Kull, TCU’s associate athletic director for external operations. Both games ended up as sellouts.

The school ran both offers for a 24-hour period on Oct. 11, about two weeks before the Air Force game, Kull said. It was important for TCU to have a full house for the final game in the “old” stadium configuration and the Groupon promotion helped make that happen.

“We wouldn’t want to offer those deals for every game because it would end up hurting season-ticket sales,” Kull said. “But it is a great branding opportunity for those who have never attended a TCU game to come in a lower price commitment.”

Boston College athletics has worked with Groupon for three years now to sell tickets for football and basketball games on campus. Last fall, the school sold a combined 2,700 half-price tickets for two nonconference games against Weber State and Kent State. To satisfy football season-ticket holders who may turn a cross eye to the lowball discounts, Boston College offered them a choice of two free end zone tickets for one of those two games, said Jamie DiLoreto, associate athletic director of external operations. Those tickets carried a face value of $15.

“We developed it over the last few years with our philosophy to ensure our most loyal fans have the best access to benefits,” DiLoreto said.

TCU
Texas Christian University used Groupon for two football games this past season.
Big league clubs also tread that fine line between finding the right ticket price to attract new business and at the same time protecting their best customers, the season-ticket holders. The Philadelphia 76ers tested Groupon for three games during the 2010-11 regular season and generated more than 1,000 new leads that team marketers can contact with an opportunity to purchase partial season-ticket plans, said Lara Price, the team’s senior vice president of business operations. Price would not disclose how many Groupon tickets were sold.

In Charlotte, the Bobcats sold 10,000 upper-deck tickets through Groupon and Living Social half-price deals for three games this past season. The Bobcats tested the concept on a limited basis before getting more aggressive by offering discount tickets on both sites. Those seats were marketed as group sales and the total represented 10 percent of the team’s 100,000 tickets sold in the group category, said Pete Guelli, the Bobcats’ executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer.

Bottom line, those seats most likely would have gone unsold without doing the Groupon deals, Guelli said. Of the 3,000 individuals purchasing those half-price seats, 1,500 showed interest in attending more games with the possibility of buying season tickets, he said.

“It’s not just about ticket sales and revenue but data capture as well,” he said.

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