SBJ/June 4-10, 2012/Colleges

Survey: More schools beefing up ticket efforts

More than a third of Division I athletic departments plan to implement an outbound ticket sales program this year, and many of them are instituting a customer-relations program to better track who is buying and who the prospects are.

Whether schools outsource their ticket sales and marketing to a third party or build a team in-house, research shows that schools are becoming more sophisticated and proactive in their methods.

Michigan has found success using social media platforms to sell tickets to individual games.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Those ticketing trends were part of a research study initiated by Paciolan and performed by Turnkey Intelligence, which surveyed 105 of Paciolan’s school clients across NCAA Division I. Schools told Turnkey that they intend to adopt many of the sales and marketing tools currently used by professional teams, and developing a customer-relations center is a major part of that.

“The manpower varies by school, but what you’re seeing is that many schools are being more proactive with their sales and they’re generating new revenue from it,” said Craig Ricks, vice president of marketing at Paciolan, which provides the software that supports the ticketing, marketing and fundraising for close to 500 clients.

The survey, which began questioning athletic administrators in January, was designed to take the pulse of the college community, Ricks said, and to identify the trends in the ticketing space.

Turnkey focused on outbound sales, customer relations, profiling, databases, dynamic pricing, the secondary market, retargeting and social media.

“As schools get more sophisticated and more savvy with their sales and marketing, they become predisposed to being more aggressive in their tactics, like database profiling,” Ricks said. “Athletic departments are realizing the opportunity to capture incremental revenue.”

College ticketing, Ricks said, continues to evolve as schools use more of their digital assets, like the official website, text messaging and social media platforms, all of which make it easy to measure return.

The University of Michigan, for example, ran a Facebook promotion to sell individual football tickets last year and in one day generated $86,000 in sales. Fans simply “liked” the Michigan football page and received a discount code to use when purchasing the tickets.

The school also has amassed 32,000 subscribers to text alerts, which gives the ticket office a deep pool of potential ticket buyers when they run specials. Most schools, however, haven’t developed all of these selling tools, Paciolan said, whereas this would be considered basic blocking and tackling for pro teams.

“From what I’ve seen, I’d say the college space is two to three years behind the pros,” said Jordan Maleh, Michigan’s director of digital marketing who joined the Wolverines a year ago from the New York Knicks. “It seems to be a matter of resources, which are just more limited for colleges.”

It was just a few years ago that most schools simply took ticket orders by phone or the Web. There was minimal effort to actually initiate ticket sales, except for the season-ticket renewal form that annually went out in the mail or email.

Some schools began outsourcing their ticket sales and marketing to companies like The Aspire Group, IMG Learfield Ticketing or Get Real Sports Sales within the past two years, all of which have expanded their client base each quarter. The companies shoulder the expense of setting up the sales center and paying the associates, while sharing revenue with the school.

Other schools have put resources against in-house sales teams, bearing all of the cost, but keeping all of the revenue. That could mean a hired team of sales professionals or it could mean using students to make the calls.

That trend is catching on, with 37 percent of athletic departments saying they’ll implement an outbound sales program this year, either in-house or outsourced. Of the schools that say they currently have outbound sales, 26 percent say they outsource. Those who outsource cite lower cost and a more experienced sales staff as reasons why.

Digging deeper, 24 percent of the schools said they were at least moderately likely to start using a customer-relations system this year. That means profiling customers — everything from their cell phone number to their spouse’s birthday — and tailoring specific messages to potential buyers.

Retargeting, a marketing tool that allows the school to pursue a potential buyer, is one method that many schools are exploring. Nearly three-fourths of all schools with a customer-relations program use retargeting.

It comes into play when a viewer goes to the school’s ticket website, views a game to potentially buy and chooses not to make the purchase. The school can then follow up with an online advertisement by tracking the cookies from that user’s computer, and serve up a unique ad tailored to that game.

“It captures people who have showed an interest,” Ricks said. “It’s easily the best return on investment that you can make and it’s going gangbusters in college athletics.”

Mobile marketing — the text alerts to prospective buyers — has been another large growth area. Schools in 2012 will spend 16 percent of their marketing budget on social media and 11 percent on mobile marketing, on average.

And more than half of the schools surveyed — 55 percent — said they should be spending more on mobile this year, showing that mobile is catching up to social media for sales and marketing purposes.

Other survey information included:
98 percent of the schools post regularly on Facebook and 94 percent post on Twitter.
77 percent of the respondents say their school should do more with social media.
39 percent of the schools are participating in the secondary ticket market and of those, 69 percent partnered with StubHub.
Dynamic pricing hasn’t yet taken hold in college sports. Only 19 percent of the schools are at least moderately likely to adopt dynamic pricing this year.

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