SBJ/October 24-30, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

Groupon more interested in breadth of offerings than exclusive deals with sports teams

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Ticketing executives undoubtedly have watched the rise of social commerce websites like Groupon and Living Social within sports business. The “daily deal” websites promote sharply discounted tickets within their social network. Staff writer Fred Dreier caught up with Greg Rudin, general manager of Groupon’s live events division, to discuss where the potential lies for social commerce.


What do you think the true value of social commerce websites is to sports?

GROUPON
Rudin
GRUDIN:
We believe we are introducing opportunities to attend sporting events to people who would otherwise not go. We think we are becoming a catalyst for more people going to watch sports. And we allow a social feature that allows people to buy in groups, and that is important for sports. If I can get five or 10 people together and we have a deal to go to a Cubs game, they are more likely to go than if someone was going independently.

Which league has given you the most success?

GRUDIN:
We have the greatest number of frequency with the NBA but we’ve worked with all of the major leagues, with the NFL showing the least representation to date, but not for lack of interest on our side. A lot of it depends on the relationship between the team and our specific sales rep. We’re not creating a ton of awareness for the sports that are mature in terms of exposure, such as MLB or NBA. But with MLS, for example, we have a unique opportunity to create awareness amongst people that maybe don’t know about the league.

The sharpest criticism I’ve heard of Groupon in sports is from executives who fear ruining the price integrity of tickets. How will you get past that hurdle?

GRUDIN:
We recognize that issue, which is why we don’t do deals with that much regularity, maybe once a month. We don’t want to upset season-ticket holders, and we don’t want people waiting around for the Groupon deal to buy. We want to maintain pricing integrity while broadening the population. But I think everyone realizes there is a fan who wouldn’t otherwise go unless they were presented with an offer that was fleeting.

Do you see more teams signing exclusive partnerships in this category?

GRUDIN:
We’re not averse to doing exclusive deals, but honestly we’re more interested in breadth and variety. I don’t know if it’s in the team’s best interest to do that kind of deal with a single partner. Then what, all of the fans with that team consistently look around for the deal? We are interested in surprising the customer and not necessarily saying we have this exclusive sponsorship with five teams and look out for deals with them.

Many teams see social sites primarily as a way to unload distressed inventory. Do you see the business evolving past that point?

GRUDIN:
We already have. We’re focused across the whole ticket sales cycle, not just distressed inventory and late-stage ticket sales. Teams use Groupon to create buzz in the marketplace even in the presale and midstream stages. We can package in unique experiences like access to warm-up. When we do pre- or midsale deals, we see full-priced ticket sales positively impacted.
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