SBJ/February 13-19, 2012/Franchises

Bobcats use off-court activities to lure renewals

The Charlotte Bobcats are the first NBA team this year to unveil a newly branded season-ticket renewal program to include nearly 60 non-game events as part of the price of a full season ticket.

Already rolling out ticket renewal packages for next season, the team has created its “Cats365” plan, which offers full-season ticket buyers the option of selecting from a wide menu of events available over the course of a year.

It’s a new and more tightly packaged approach to the growing trend among teams looking to increase the value of a full season ticket. But this approach is novel in that it ties into a deeper schedule of off-court events targeting various interests and all programmed under a specifically marketed renewal product.

“We had to find a way to stay connected and build stronger relationships with our most valued customers,” said Bobcats President Fred Whitfield. “We need to be as successful as possible in renewing customers who come to our games night in and night out regardless of how our team performs on the court.”

The “Cats365” product is offered only to renewing full-season ticket holders who can choose from five “pillars” of outside activities included in the price of the season ticket.

The “pillars” of activities offered by the team fall into “business networking,” “athletic focus,” “community involvement,” “family time,” and “out-on-the town” categories. Each category will have around 10 different events offered to buyers, who will have no limit on the number of events they can attend.

“We tested it last year throughout the lockout and that has manifested itself into the new program,” said Pete Guelli, executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer for the Bobcats.

The team presented its new product to the league during last month’s sales and marketing meetings.

Look for more teams to follow suit as they unveil renewal efforts within the next few weeks, especially struggling teams like the Bobcats who cannot market on-court success to drive season ticket sales. As of Feb. 9, the Bobcats had a 3-22 record as they unveiled their renewal campaign.

This new approach aligns with teams trying to appeal to fans’ lifestyle interests outside of the game experience.

“Our teams are increasingly catering to their season-ticket holders and their unique preferences on a year-round basis,” said Chris Granger, executive vice president of the NBA’s team marketing and business operations department. “[Cats365] is, in fact, more of a membership opportunity that provides access, experiences and educational opportunities to fans all year. It is less about being a ticket holder for 41 games and more about joining a club that enhances your life and experiences, inside and outside the arena.”

Among the myriad events the team will offer are golf lessons, movie nights at Time Warner Cable Arena, fantasy camps, UFC fight nights, volunteer opportunities, and business networking events.

The Bobcats did not disclose the cost of the “Cats365” plan, but teams are likely to defray the cost by using current partners to trade out inventory.

“Everyone has tried to give value to season tickets by adding access, but this is new because it is so branded and positioned and offers so many more things than in the past,” said Bill Sutton, principal of Bill Sutton & Associates, an industry consultant who counts a number of NBA teams as clients but not the Bobcats. “If a team is giving you other things to do other than 41 nights of games, then it is harder for a fan to leave. A fan may see that the team may not be playing well, but they like the bowling night or the golf, so the rationale is to renew and stay part of the team.”

The Bobcats are unveiling the new plan as they look to boost their full-season-ticket base that stands at about 6,500. Coming into the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 season, the team had a season-ticket renewal rate of about 80 percent.

Through Feb. 9, the Bobcats ranked 14th in the 30-team NBA with an average attendance of 16,982 fans per game, just under the league’s 17,105 average attendance.

The Bobcats are keeping season-ticket prices flat for next season.

“We can’t grow unless we can maintain our season-ticket base and that is the focus,” Whitfield said.

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