SBJ/October 3-9, 2011/Colleges

IMG College grabs ticket work at Penn State

IMG College’s growing ticketing business has gone into the backyard of its rival, Learfield Sports, to get Penn State’s business.

The Nittany Lions are one of four schools that have recently hired IMG College’s ticketing solutions arm to improve sales and enhance communication with customers. In addition to Penn State, IMG College has signed Syracuse, Richmond and UNLV.

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Penn State football has seen a few empty seats this season, a rarity in Happy Valley.
That brings to 10 the number of schools making use of the company’s ticketing service. Duke, Tennessee, San Jose State, Akron and Texas-San Antonio are among the additions this year. Temple already was a client in January when IMG acquired Matt DiFebo’s ticket sales consultancy and rolled it into the college division.

“We see a lot of similarities at Penn State to what we have at Tennessee,” said Mark Dyer, a senior vice president who oversees IMG College’s ancillary businesses like licensing, ticketing and seating solutions. “They’ve got a great fan base, a great alumni base and a very strong tradition to work from.”

Penn State, one of the crown jewels in the Learfield stable of schools, issued a request for proposal this past summer once it decided to outsource its ticket sales.

Learfield has explored entering the ticketing business, but has not fully committed to a strategy yet and did not compete for the ticket rights. As reported in April, Learfield has been seeking equity investors to raise capital so it can expand its business.

While Learfield and IMG College compete vigorously for multimedia rights, IMG College’s new ticketing business at Penn State won’t affect Learfield’s multimedia rights there, which include sponsorship and media advertising sales, signage and other rights.

But these ancillary businesses allow IMG College the chance to get its foot in the door at a school where it might have had little or no relationship previously. Penn State’s licensing agent is Collegiate Licensing Co., which also is an IMG College division.

The main competition in the college ticketing space is Bernie Mullin’s Aspire Group in Atlanta. Aspire has been on its own run of late as more schools seek to outsource their ticket business, adding Maryland, Rutgers, Memphis, Tulane, Western Michigan, Army, Louisiana Tech and Buffalo this year to go with its original signee, Georgia Tech.

These ticketing businesses typically strike a revenue-share arrangement with the school, based on tickets sold by the company.

“When you think about it, we weren’t even in the ticketing business nine or 10 months ago,” said IMG College President Ben Sutton, who estimates that the ticketing solutions arm can grow to 50 schools in the next three to four years. “It’s really a testament to Mark’s entrepreneurial expertise that we’re seeing this kind of growth already and we see the opportunity for exponential growth there in the future.”

While the Nittany Lions annually rank among the nation’s leaders in football attendance, they’ve had more than 11,000 empty seats at two of their first three home football games this season, which presents a limited opportunity for IMG College to make strides. The men’s and women’s basketball teams don’t have the history of success that football enjoys, so there’s more potential for sales gains there. Penn State also launches men’s and women’s ice hockey programs in 2012-13 in a new arena.

IMG College has hired a general manager and will hire a staff of anywhere from five to 10 sales associates each at Penn State, Syracuse and UNLV. Those IMG College employees will be embedded in the athletic department of each school and serve as its representatives. Brad Sexton, the new general manager at Penn State, has experience at Central Florida and South Alabama. Cory Rowe will lead the Syracuse property, while Mike Ostrowski will oversee UNLV.

Richmond’s ticketing operation will be run differently. Those sales will originate out of IMG College’s headquarters in Winston-Salem, N.C., where the company is adding a call center to its existing building.

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