SBJ/December 19-25, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NBA sports healthy ticket renewal rate

The NBA will begin the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season with its number of returning full-season-ticket customers on par with last year, a robust figure considering the labor battle that left teams in a marketing lurch.

As of last week, the league’s full-season-ticket renewal rate was running in the 80-plus percent range, about the same pace as at the start of last season, league officials said. The league was still compiling new season-ticket sales data, but the labor turmoil is expected to affect new full-season-tickets sales, and teams will be challenged to match last year’s sales of partial-season-ticket plans and group plans during its compressed 66-game season.

The NBA set a record last year by selling 50,000 new full-season-ticket plans for a whopping 40 percent increase going into the season. That record won’t be threatened this year following the labor strife that cost teams the first 16 games of their regular season.

“Last year is a difficult comparison because we sold more new full-season tickets [than ever before], but I would say that the sale of new full-season tickets will be in line with most normal years,” said Chris Granger, executive vice president of team marketing and business operations for the NBA.

Granger would not disclose the league’s current new full-season-ticket sales rate.

“The lockout is going to impact advance and walk-up sales, which will be slow,” said Bill Sutton, principal of Sutton & Associates, which counts NBA teams as clients. “Teams will also be doing more discounting. But historically, the toughest games to sell in the NBA are from right after opening the season through Christmas, and those games are already gone.”

During the lockout, NBA teams were challenged to stay relevant given that league rules prohibited the use of current players in any team marketing and promotional efforts. To date, though, the NBA has 10 of its 30 teams with 10,000 or more full-season ticket plans, the same number as last year.

While league officials would not disclose that list of teams, among the clubs reaching the 10,000 benchmark are Miami, Boston, Chicago, New York, New Orleans, and both the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers.

To help drive post-lockout sales, the league recently sent to its teams a list of marketing guidelines, including a required open scrimmage, as teams ramped up outreach efforts following the ratification of the league’s new collective-bargaining agreement.

“Teams have been extremely aggressive in their outreach,” Granger said. “We’re happy with the pace of sales given the compressed time frame.”

For example, the Washington Wizards, who at the end of last season announced a major rebranding effort only to market it against the lockout, offered season-ticket holders this year a three-year freeze on the price of season tickets bought before the start of the season. In addition, the Wizards will pay all convenience fees charged by Ticketmaster for individual tickets purchased during the first week of individual game sales. Waiving the convenience fees, which range from $5 to $35 per ticket, is a first for the franchise.

The Philadelphia 76ers adopted a similar offer by slashing online ticketing fees while the Atlanta Hawks eliminated all fees for every ticket sold this season at Philips Arena.
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