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With the Miami Heat in Chicago to face the Bulls on a Thursday night in February, a fan who needed a ticket would have found only a smattering of seats available, all of them scattered singles, on the team website. A click away, on StubHub, tickets were moving briskly, albeit expensively, as they usually are for a marquee matchup or show.
But something different was evolving that day at Bulls.com. The sprinkling of singles the Bulls had left on their own site were priced higher than most that were available on StubHub.
The February game between the Heat and the Bulls demonstrated how some NBA teams are trying to respond to the secondary ticket market.
Photo by:Getty Images
The Bulls had barely any seats available, but they made sure they got what the market would bear. In most cases, their singles were priced twice as high as similar seats that sold that day on StubHub.
A SportsBusiness Journal analysis of 12,259 tickets sold on StubHub for five NBA games this season showed robust profits for resellers of three marquee games, including Bulls-Heat, where sellers turned a profit of $333,413 on 3,012 tickets, assuming they bought at season-ticket prices and paid the standard StubHub commission of 15 percent. It also found brutal losses for those moving tickets for two lesser matchups (see chart).
That sort of extreme gap on the secondary market is one factor that has led teams to not only rethink their pricing models, but reconsider the way they communicate them. As a result, finding a price list for single-game tickets on most NBA team websites has become almost as difficult as finding a big man to build a roster around.
As the line between sale and resale has faded among consumers, many NBA teams have adjusted their tactics to better mirror the market. It’s easier to change the price of a ticket when you’ve never put a sticker on it in the first place.
“Ticket pricing is becoming more fluid and often changes daily based on supply and demand, along with other factors,” said Steve Schanwald, the Bulls’ executive vice president of business operations, who responded to questions via email.
“It’s becoming similar to other industries such as airfares and hotel rooms. Consumers typically aren’t aware of the exact pricing until they make a specific inquiry. We’ve found that fans are becoming much more familiar and comfortable with this trend. And they often benefit because there’s much greater ticket availability and many more pricing options.”
Best price and selection
The Bulls started the season with a single-game price list that showed prices for four different levels of games, which
Many teams no longer do that, instead using phrases like “Tickets as low as $24” and requiring fans to click on an individual game to find out what is available and at what price.
Unlike the many Major League Baseball clubs that change their prices daily, not many of the NBA teams that do so list a grid that allows buyers to see how prices vary from game to game. Removing the price tag is a trend that started among NBA teams two years ago and has taken hold this season, said Jared Smith, president of Ticketmaster North America, the ticket distributor for 24 of 30 NBA teams.
“I happen to think it’s a fantastic strategy,” Smith said. “I don’t think people are making decisions that early in the process. They typically don’t come in saying they want this game and that location at this price. You just need them to shop.”
Brian Byrnes, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Oklahoma City Thunder, said the consumer is a lot more sophisticated about shopping for the best prices. “With the proliferation of StubHub and eBay in the past five years, there has been a complete shift,” he said. “I don’t know if the fan even differentiates from the primary and secondary markets. They are just shopping for the best price.”
In the case of the hotter-selling teams, such as the Thunder, Heat, Bulls and, this year, the New York Knicks, it may be more a matter of selection than price. Once an on-sale date has passed, fans who search one of those teams’ sites rarely will find much, other than scattered singles and the upper rows of some sections.
Before the likes of StubHub emerged, they would have been left to either work the parking lots and street corners for scalpers or settle for the seats the team had left. Now, they’ll typically find upward of 1,000 tickets listed on StubHub in the days leading up to any game.
“People tend to go where they have lots of options,” Smith said. “In a lot of the cases [in the NBA] you have more options in the secondary market. They see a bunch of inventory and a bunch of prices. With a team like the Heat, you go to the primary and there’s hardly anything there. You go to the Hawks, it’s 300 level and that might not be what you want.
“A lot of fans have become conditioned to go to the secondary market to find what they want.”
That was one of two major factors that drove the NBA to launch its NBATickets.com website this season. While the typical buyer is focused on tickets to the local team and doesn’t really need a leaguewide landing page, the portal has allowed the league to drive awareness for its team resale sites with a national ad campaign, similarly to the way the NFL has in recent years for its NFL Ticket Exchange.
NBATickets.com launched this season to drive awareness of team resale sites.
While some teams initially resisted the move, fearing that they would be funneling consumers away from their own tickets and onto the resale market, the reality is that most fans were going that route anyway.
Increasing awareness of the teams’ own resale sites has helped the teams recapture some of those buyers, said Chris Granger, executive vice president of team management and business operations for the NBA.
“We have seen tremendous increases in traffic to our team ticketing pages, increased conversion rates, and significantly higher sales from team-controlled resale marketplaces,” Granger said in an email response to questions. “The site has exceeded even our most hopeful expectations.”
Granger would not be more specific about the increase. But a source said teams have seen sales on their resale sites go up by 50 to 100 percent since the switch.
Gaining an upper hand?
The Thunder has been among the more aggressive franchises in its attempt to exert more control over the secondary market. During the playoffs last year, the team restricted the sale of tickets to buyers with addresses in Oklahoma and parts of two other states. Team officials say they also have limited the number of tickets held by brokers, which they estimate to represent about 20 percent of season tickets.
Yet even with that, the resale market was robust when the Los Angeles Lakers came to town in March. On a Tuesday night, with the Lakers enduring a rare down season, StubHub sellers moved 1,540 tickets for $240,962.
The average ticket went for more than three times the season-ticket price, even after taking into account 608 tickets with $10 face values, on which the Thunder does not offer season-ticket discounts. Those seats actually offered sellers handsome rewards, at least on a percentage basis, selling for an average of $81 per ticket — or eight times the face. After paying the standard 15 percent StubHub commission, sellers turned a profit of $123,727 on $71,250 worth of inventory.
All of that happened without any significant StubHub sales at courtside. There were only five transactions involving 11 floor seats, and none were in the front row. A pair of second-row seats on the side fetched $3,100 and a pair on the baseline brought $3,000. Seats in the third and fourth rows ranged from $499 to $897 each.
“We micromanage it from a brand protection standpoint,” Byrnes said. “I don’t want a Boston Celtics fan wearing a Celtics jersey sitting in our front row during a home game.”
Clearly, the seats they did sell could have fetched a far higher price if the team had priced them dynamically, raising them steadily along with the market, or even priced them variably, setting them higher for a handful of marquee games.
However, the team chose to forgo the potential revenue gain in the hope that allowing room for profits on the resale market would drive season-ticket sales and renewals.
“It’s a philosophical decision,” Byrnes said. “I don’t differentiate between games like the Bobcats and the Lakers. I want games to be of the same value. It is hard to do, but [when] we look at the secondary market, we are seeing tickets sold above face value for every game. There is inherent value for subpar games.
“One of the suggestions in our market is that we should raise ticket prices. But I think it’s OK when a secondary ticket makes a few bucks. It is a better motivator for people to renew their season tickets.”
Like the Heat, the Thunder is a big draw on the road, and even more so when visiting Eastern Conference cities, where fans get to see the team no more than once a season and not at all in some years.
The Oklahoma City Thunder has made aggressive moves to try to exert more control over the secondary markets.
Photo by:NBAE / Getty Images
Even with that, we counted sales of 5,065 tickets for a whopping $1,542,534. Assuming the sellers paid season “subscriber” prices, as Madison Square Garden calls them, they laid out $591,255 for their tickets. After subtracting the standard 15 percent commission to StubHub, they turned a collective profit of $719,899.
Knicks executives would not discuss the secondary market or its impact on their strategies. But MSG long has been viewed as a hotbed for brokers. The Knicks, like many teams, recently have gone away from a published single-game price.
While NBA teams may see dynamic pricing as an attractive way to address the resale market, many price their tickets in ways that make those adjustments difficult, said Barry Kahn, founder and CEO of QCue, an Austin-based software company that specializes in dynamic pricing for teams.
Many NBA teams scale their arenas with lots of price points, Kahn said, giving them less room to maneuver. Cutting the price of a section that isn’t selling well threatens to undercut other, nearby sections. Teams that price variably for different categories of games run into even more complications.
“An NBA team will have 40 price points and sell 1,000 [single-game] tickets,” Kahn said. “It makes dynamic pricing much more difficult because there’s really nowhere to move with pricing. There is a far greater number of price points here than there are for baseball, and the venues are half the size.
“Our baseball clients sell more individual tickets on a homestand than an NBA team sells in a season, and they have way fewer price points. That whole model makes it harder for an NBA team to react to the secondary market in a meaningful way.”
Not all games — or even many, based on conversations with those who watch the market — perform the way those involving the Heat, Thunder, Lakers and Knicks did.
When the Atlanta Hawks visited the Denver Nuggets on a Monday night in March, the story was quite different.
The Nuggets were riding a 10-game home winning streak, with a 25-3 home record. While not one of the NBA’s marquee teams, the Hawks were a solid opponent, coming in at 33-25. Still, that wasn’t enough to overcome a large hurdle: It was a Monday night. The Nuggets announced attendance was 17,554, about 1,500 short of capacity.
Not counting eight courtside seats — six of which sold for less than half of face — StubHub sellers moved 1,673 tickets for $46,542. All but 30 went for less than the single-game face price. On average, StubHub buyers got a 40 percent discount on the Nuggets single-game price.
It’s impossible to know how bad a night it was for sellers, because brokers sometimes get large discounts from teams for buying season tickets in bulk and also pay lower StubHub commissions if they sell at a high volume. But assuming they paid season-ticket prices, it was a costly night for them, too. After paying the standard 15 percent in commissions to
StubHub, sellers would have lost $68,884 on $108,445 in inventory.
The scene was similar on a Wednesday night in Charlotte, where the Bobcats hosted the Detroit Pistons. Two struggling teams playing on a weeknight delivered the expected StubHub result: $19,154 in sales from 961 tickets, yielding $22,129 in losses for sellers.
Interestingly, a Bobcats season-ticket holder might not have viewed the result so dimly. Two years ago, the Bobcats began pricing season tickets variably, showing season-ticket holders a below-average face price for some games and an above-average face price for others. For the Pistons game, a $30 season ticket would have showed up as $15. The team went that route primarily to give itself leeway on its own pricing. It can now price a single-game ticket for less without undercutting the season-ticket holder. But, in the process, it also lessened some of the burn season-ticket holders felt in previous years, when they regularly saw StubHub prices below what they paid.
Calculating a return on investment based on that reduced price, sellers nearly broke even on the game, losing $3.43 per ticket after paying commissions.
Bobcats executives said they routinely analyze secondary sales and pricing and that, typically, tickets sell at or above season prices.
“When we do our pricing, we can’t get preoccupied with the individual game ticket availability for a Detroit game on a Tuesday night,” said Bobcats Executive Vice President Pete Guelli. “That’s not going to make our year. In our situation, we clearly have to leverage the high-demand games. There’s no way around it. That’s where we see the demand and our prices need to reflect that.”
Enduring a dismal season that’s followed the worst season in NBA history, the Bobcats still managed to set a single-game revenue record when the Heat came to town earlier this month, Guelli said.
Though he hasn’t studied enough data to say so with certainty, Kahn said he suspects that soft resale games far outnumber the hot ones in the NBA, and that in most cases turning a profit brokering NBA tickets may be a tougher go than many expect.
“Inevitably, somebody looks at secondary market data and says ‘Look at this game, we can get more for it,’” Kahn said. “They never talk about all the games where the seller on StubHub gets less [than face price]. And there are a lot of them.”
Kahn points to the time last season when dozens of tickets to the since-relocated New Jersey Nets were selling on StubHub for a penny, and many lower bowl seats could be had for less than $10.
“They were going for a penny a ticket and they still didn’t sell,” Kahn said. “Guess what? It’s not necessarily price that’s the issue. If it was, that Nets game would have been sold out. Tickets expire on StubHub at less than a dollar all the time.”
Leading up to this week’s Sports Facilities & Franchises/Ticketing Symposium in Brooklyn, we asked several panelists to tell us which trends they’re watching in ticketing, and to highlight some of their favorite ticket buying memories, whether it was their first show or another event. From dynamic pricing to U2 concerts, here are highlights of what they sent us:
Executive VP, business operations, Arizona Diamondbacks
Trends I’m watching: The move to paperless/digital tickets. Teams are motivated by the control and data it provides.
Panelists are keeping a close eye on paperless ticketing. The Boston Celtics offer such an option with their “Parquet Pass” card.
Photo by:Getty Images
My ticket memories: While in college at Arizona State University, my friends and I wanted to buy tickets to see Garth Brooks in concert. It was at the peak of his career so tickets were in high demand. The Internet was not used by the ticket outlets yet. In fact, ticket outlets within Dillard’s department stores served as the major sales outlets. Malls throughout the state hosted lotteries where we stood in a line of thousands in a parking lot to get our lottery number. If you were lucky enough to get a low number, which I was, you were invited back the next day to line up in order and buy tickets at the Dillard’s Box Office. All in, I probably invested five to six hours into that ticket purchase.
Chief operating officer, Legends Sales and Marketing
Trends I’m watching: Since 2008, the game has changed in terms of how corporations purchase hospitality and
Ondrejko’s sons have some fun at a Yankees game.
My ticket memories: As a kid I have fond memories of going to Syracuse games and the Big East Tournament with my dad and brother. As my own kids are starting to grow up, I love reliving the memories through them. Being fortunate enough to have great friends in the industry, my kids might have a different perspective, but regardless of the seats, to me it’s about spending the time to build the memories that live on.
Chief executive officer, ScoreBig
Trends I’m watching: The increasing sophistication around ticket distribution and pricing. The days of exclusive distribution are quickly disappearing and a new framework is emerging featuring third-party distribution channels and analytics expertise to help fill seats, optimize prices and reach new audiences. As many organizations face the ups and downs of team performance across seasons, teams need to utilize as many options as possible to fill seats and maximize yield, but do so in a manner that also protects their brand and their full-price ticket strategy.
My ticket memories: ZZ Top (Eliminator Tour) at the Worcester Centrum. “She’s got legs and she knows how to use them …”
Executive director, ticket sales and operations, Oakland A’s
Trends I’m watching: Data capture and analysis, mobile growth, and the continued adoption of digital ticketing. The
Fanelli (right) is shown with his brothers at a Phillies game.
My ticket memories: From Billy Joel’s last concert at Shea to the Stones here in Oakland, I think I’ve seen almost everything. While I can’t pinpoint one event that stands out, I look back on when I was a kid going to Phillies games at the Vet as the major reason I work in the industry. That time spent with family on random summer days are the type of
memories I hope our fans are creating each time they come to the ballpark.
VP, ticket sales and services, New York Mets
Trends I’m watching: Flexible season-ticket packages/membership packages that offer season-ticket holder experiences and benefits but with the flexibility of exchanging or using games only as needed. (Also) primary and secondary tickets being sold side-by-side, i.e. NBA model. When I first got in this business, I was selling tickets based on price and location. Now ... I teach my teams that we have to sell based on value and benefits. With easier access to better inventory and the easy reselling of tickets, we need to continue to push to find ways that show value to our clients and give them experiences and benefits that they can’t get by buying individual tickets or on the secondary market.
My ticket memories: While I was at UPenn, my friends and I wanted to see U2. There were six of us and we all planned on calling Ticketmaster as well as trying online. Tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. We knew it was going to be a tough ticket to get so I knew that I had to be creative. I started calling Ticketmaster numbers in Florida because the Philadelphia and New Jersey numbers were busy even an hour before they went on sale. I got through at 9:30 a.m. and kept the women on the line for 30 minutes asking about every other show in the area until it was 10 a.m. Then sheepishly asked her for six tickets to U2. It was a great show!
Executive VP, marketing and sales, MSG Sports
Trends I’m watching: The evolution and increased sophistication of digital ticketing and its ability to provide our fans with a flexible, reliable, efficient, immersive and personalized experience at MSG (and at all our venues). While traditional printed tickets will always be an option in New York, paperless entry will soon be a functionality that consumers will come to expect. The trick will be understanding what combination of content, valued-added services and connectivity to the live game experience (and to other fans) delivers real value for our fans.
My ticket memories: I stayed up all night to line up outside in below-freezing temperatures to buy tickets for Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band at the old Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto in 1981. It was a total frenzy to get to the box office when it opened, and the thrill (and relief) of getting to the window and securing fourth-row seats was something I will never forget, and was well worth the pneumonia I secured. The moment could only be surpassed by the concert itself, when Bruce entered the audience and stood on the two chairs right in front of my best friend and me and roared through “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” to the massive sway of the crowd.
Assistant athletic director, ticket sales and service, University of Washington
Trends I’m watching: Dynamic pricing. It is changing the fundamentals on how tickets are priced throughout the industry. Dynamic pricing helps overall pricing become more of a science than ever before — it provides valuable data to support pricing decisions. UW became only the third college athletics team to implement dynamic pricing this year. I envision dynamic pricing becoming an industry standard across all sports in the next 2-3 years.
My ticket memories: I’d say my top 3:
1992 Rose Bowl, Washington vs. Michigan. I was a college student and watched Washington finish off a national championship year with a resounding win over the Wolverines.
2001 MLB All-Star Game at Seattle. Working for the Mariners at the time and saw Cal Ripken Jr. hit a home run and win MVP in his final season.
2010 Winter Olympics, U.S. Hockey vs. Switzerland in Vancouver. Bought tickets off the street and watched the intensity of Olympic hockey.
President, CEO, Tickets.com
Trends I’m watching: The continued evolution of digital ticketing — now that we’ve actually got fans adopting “paperless,” vendors are kicking it into high gear with apps that add value to the digital experience, not just removing paper from the equation. … Teams and venues are trying to find ways to maximize the value proposition for primary buyers. Using dynamic pricing to ensure buyers can find tickets at “market value” is one way, but continuing to improve the buying experience and adding value to primary tickets that doesn’t necessarily transfer to secondary buyers is also being explored. The goal here is not to eliminate the secondary market, rather to improve the effectiveness of marketing and selling primary tickets.
Director, product management, Paciolan
Trends I’m watching: Mobile delivery, especially as it relates to mobile wallet technology. Some of the largest players in technology such as Apple, PayPal, Google and Square are all developing mobile wallet solutions to: Provide a simple way to display the ticket for scanning when the event time is near; store and/or render the ticket locally to avoid bandwidth issues at the venue; provide an easy way to distribute tickets to companions.
My ticket memories: My favorite event ever was the ’95 Final Four. A group of eight of us (all UCLA alums) made the trip up to Seattle and watched Ed O’Bannon lead the Bruins to their only post-Wooden championship. It was my first Final Four and the atmosphere, excitement and anticipation leading up to the tipoff in the Monday final was unforgettable.
Principal, Spring Valley Partners
Trends I’m watching: I’m paying attention at those in the industry that are looking at how to move unsold inventory via value or discount channels. From Groupon and Living Social to Scorebig and Redbox, and to dynamic pricing efforts by new entrants and industry stalwarts, this is the really fertile ground in ticketing.
My ticket memories: My first concert was Kiss in 1977 at the arena in St. Louis, but the first memorable buying experience was for the U2 Joshua Tree Tour in the mid-’80s. I remember hearing the announcement on WXRT in Chicago that wristbands were going to be given out and then sprinting out of my dorm room and running a mile and a half to Rose Records in Evanston. You could see others streaming out of their dorm rooms and apartments and joining in the race. It was as if we were following a pied piper. These methods seem wholly inefficient in an Internet era, but the energy created by the hysteria is hard to imagine today.
Chief executive officer, Veritix
Trends I’m watching: From the fan perspective, I’m watching two key trends: a sudden uptick in paperless tickets … and the rapid shift in fan behavior toward mobile-device use for event experience enhancement.
There are three trends from the team perspective that have my attention: The first is an increasing desire for actionable data — effectively the second wave of the “big data” trend, with the focus on relieving the frustration of not being able to generate real revenue from all the analytics. … The second is the need for a platform that will allow the team to engage fans 365 days a year, not just around game time or during the season. This goes hand in hand with the third trend — a shift in the relationship management paradigm toward membership versus traditional ticket commerce.
My ticket memories: My first memorable ticketing-buying experience was for Chuck Mangione at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh on July 31, 1981 — the first time I bought tickets with money I earned.
There is little industry debate that mobile ticketing will soon be a major industry force, with mass rates of adoption perhaps arriving within five years. What is less clear, however, is the precise role that Apple’s Passbook will have in this forthcoming change.
Apple announced Passbook last fall to great fanfare, with the feature within its iOS 6 mobile operating system offering a new digital wallet to store tickets, airline boarding passes, consumer loyalty programs and other similar materials.
Nearly seven months after Passbook launched, just 29 apps on iTunes are fully optimized for Passbook, and only entries in that group from MLB Advanced Media and Ticketmaster are significantly focused on live sports events. Mainstream consumer adoption for Passbook thus far remains much smaller and slower to grow than many other hardware or software products Apple has released in the past decade.
Still, long-term optimism surrounding Passbook remains high in many corners, in part due to the growing importance that mobile ticketing carries, growing awareness of the general concept around digital wallets, and the major role Apple plays in the smartphone industry. Competition will also likely spur greater development efforts into Passbook over the coming years, given that Android and other mobile platforms have and will continue to create rival products.
“Right now, Passbook is not yet as intuitive and fluid as it probably needs to be. It takes a fairly tech-savvy person to fully understand it, and there’s still room to get better,” said Glenn Lehrman, StubHub head of communications. “But it is going to get better. And for us, it represents a huge long-term opportunity to capture more last-minute demand.”
StubHub has enabled Passbook with seven team partners, with that number to grow to at least 33 by the end of year. The number includes baseball teams through its MLBAM partnership and college athletic programs via its alliance with Paciolan. Adoption rates for Passbook on StubHub have hovered around 7 percent of eligible orders, but that figure has arrived without significant marketing or full integration yet into StubHub’s mobile app. The company plans over the coming months to more overtly market the availability of Passbook as a delivery option.
MLBAM, similarly, is betting big on Passbook, not surprising given the company’s long relationship with Apple and
This season, that quartet of Passbook-enabled clubs has grown to 13, with many of the teams that have their primary ticketing serviced by MLBAM-owned Tickets.com now involved and beginning to trumpet the availability of Passbook functionality, and incorporate it into the company’s At The Ballpark app. MLBAM also used Passbook as a means of entry for its second annual Fan Upfront in February in New York in which it gave fans an early look at its 2013 suite of products. The All-Star Game FanFest at New York’s Javits Center in July will also be Passbook-enabled.
“We’ll continue to see a lot more integration and more growth going forward,” said Bob Bowman, MLBAM president and chief executive. “Beyond just Passbook, we’re going to see a lot more avenues placing mobile, the general notion of a digital wallet, as a significant place to conduct commerce. We think it’s a lead-pipe cinch where the world is going.”