SBJ/August 22-28, 2011/Opinion

Successful ticket marketing plan requires breaking the silos

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The old adage “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” is as true as ever. When we are asked by prospective clients to review their ticket sales plan, what we invariably receive is a budget. As you might expect, these budget plans lack ticket marketing or sales DNA that integrates all sports business functions uniting them on driving “butts in seats.” Instead the sport properties’ marketing, ticket sales, corporate sponsor partnerships, development and community relations functions generally operate in silos with limited regard to driving attendance.

The lack of integration extends to our corporate sponsor partners. Their comprehensive marketing and sales activation plans revolve around driving their own sales but exclude any traffic-building efforts for the sports property itself. Marketing partner support in ticket sales has to be an equal priority, given that sponsor ROO and ROI achievement is so dependent on maximizing exposure and creating a better match with the partners’ own consumer demographics.

The Marketing Planning Process

One key to providing a sound foundation to the ticket marketing and sales plan is for the most-senior executive to establish a rigorous annual marketing planning process involving extensive market intelligence based on input from all core stakeholders. Sports’ major stakeholders are: the fans (ticket, merchandise, and other service buyers and users); corporate marketing partners/sponsors; broadcast rights holders; TV watchers and radio broadcast listeners/website and blog site surfers; the media covering the property; and the relevant community organizations and leaders. Additional input from the properties’ own staff involved in selling, developing and executing all marketing/sales/partner and community programs is also essential to success.

THE ASPIRE GROUP
Georgia Tech’s Fan Relationship Management Center talks to almost 100,000 people each year.
At Georgia Tech, our Fan Relationship Management Center staff talks to almost 100,000 Yellow Jacket fans, alumni and friends each year. The data collected on who buys and why, and who does not buy and why not, has massive value in crafting the plan.

A Ticket Marketing and Sales Plan

A six-point core marketing and sales plan is recommended that binds together all business functions and sponsor partner efforts in the same focus of filling all seats. What follows is an intelligent e-marketing/personal touch strategy that can be easily communicated, adopted and internalized by all functions.

Even when we are given a marketing and sales plan, the predominant focus is invariably on new-customer acquisition. Historical sales data clearly reveals that revenue growth in mature sports organizations is driven much more from incremental spending by existing fans/sponsors or partners rather than new sales. Consequently, the marketing plan needs to include three major strategies, listed below in order of priority, that are based on the “reach and frequency escalator philosophy.”

RETAIN (Keep ’em on): Keeping existing avid and highly involved stakeholders at the top of the frequency escalator as renewed season-ticket holders or premier or founding sponsors/partners is the primary job of all marketing and sales staff.

GROW (Move ’em up): Focusing on existing customers who are at the middle or lower end of the escalator, and adding extra tickets or inventory and/or up-selling them to a larger spend with the property, is the next most important marketing and sales activity.

ACQUIRE (Get ’em on): Acquiring new customers and getting them to sample and try the sports product is the third most important activity. The recommended approach to new customer acquisition is to use highly segmented and targeted direct marketing programs aimed at those prospects who are most likely to buy. Examples might be a program driving media fans (couch potatoes) to a website to buy tickets, or targeting youth participants in that same sport using social media-based promotions that resonate with them and their families, rather than relying predominantly on mass-media advertising campaigns.

The tactical execution needed for each of these three strategies must be equally simple yet rely on a sophisticated and seamless integration of technology, followed by a personal touch. Our approach is the 24-48-48 Intelligent Marketing Strategy, a five-day, rapid-response marketing discipline embracing the best of modern technology to obtain contact data, followed by data-mining, then a customized e-marketing message, and finally a relationship-building phone call.

24 — CAPTURE: Within 24 hours of a customer, guest or prospect touching the sports property (ticket buyer or user; TV viewer; website surfer; merchandise buyer; or premium seating product guest, etc.), sophisticated technology is used to capture fan and prospect contact data. The essential data is collected in a single CRM system where it is then cleaned and checked for duplication and run against privacy rules and do-not-contact lists.

48 — CONNECT: Within 48 hours of hitting the database, the new contact data is run through a series of mining filters and assigned an “interest/potential score” based on the well-established marketing model of RFM (recency, frequency and monetary value). The customer or prospect then receives a targeted and customized e-marketing message that is matched to their score and delivered via their preferred method (email/mobile/tweet/social media site/snail-mail, etc.)

48 — CLOSE: Within two days of delivery, regardless of whether the prospect responds to the message, the Fan Relationship Management Center staff initiates a sales or service call to build the relationship and attempts to close the sale, or produce an up-sell.

Any ticket marketing and sales plan that does not contain all six strategies and tactics, incorporating stakeholder and staff intelligence gathered during the marketing planning process, is almost certain to fail. This is true particularly in today’s frequently spammed-out world of millennials and aging boomers, who increasingly prefer to watch games on TV, particularly given the overcrowded sports and entertainment marketplace.

Bernie Mullin (bernie.mullin@theaspiregroupinc.com) is chairman/CEO of the Aspire Group. He was formerly CEO of the Atlanta Hawks, Thrashers and Philips Arena, and before that was senior vice president of the NBA’s team marketing and business operations department.


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