SBJ/May 19-25, 2014/Research and Ratings

Padres first, Tigers surge in sales survey

Detroit Tigers fans looking to buy season tickets in the spring of 2013 were likely to have experienced a take-it-or-leave-it approach with the team’s sales agents if they balked at buying a full-season package. Those agents, according to ticket-seeking fans, also were unlikely to offer any selling points to entice the sale.

One year later, the story is quite different. Potential Tigers ticket buyers this spring interacted with a sales staff that made personal connections to the callers and aimed to help the sales process along the way. It added up to Detroit’s ticket-sales staff grading out as one of the best in Major League Baseball for 2014, according to the results of this year’s mystery shopper survey conducted by research firm IntelliShop exclusively for SportsBusiness Journal.

The survey, now in its fourth year, features two dozen professional mystery shoppers calling each MLB club multiple times over a six-week period during spring training to inquire about buying season tickets. The shoppers evaluate how well the agents perform throughout the sales process (see methodology, below).

At the top of the ranking, the San Diego Padres’ sales staff unseated the folks in the Cincinnati Reds’ front office this spring, reclaiming the top spot the Padres had held in 2011 and 2012. The Reds saw an overall decline of three percentage points and fell to No. 3, although the club’s ascent of more than 30 percentage points since 2011 trails only the improvement made by the Tigers (up 33 percentage points) and Colorado Rockies (up 35 points). Rounding out the top three, the New York Yankees moved from sixth place in last year’s study to No. 2 this year.

The Detroit Tigers, formerly among the bottom three clubs, jumped into the top 10.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

In Detroit, the Tigers finished among the bottom three clubs in each of the first three studies, but this year, Detroit earned an overall favorable score of more than 60 percent among the mystery shoppers, putting them into MLB’s top 10.

While the Tigers declined to discuss what, if any, changes were made during the offseason that may have helped spark the improvement in the survey, Scot Pett, the team’s vice president of ticket and suite sales, said via email, “We’re pleased with how our sales representatives continue to emphasize the important fundamentals in selling and servicing our ticket buyers, especially when it comes to season-ticket holders.”

The Tigers’ 2014 score was almost even with that of the Rockies and the Seattle Mariners, two clubs that have followed a parallel upward path since 2011. Each finished in the bottom quartile in the inaugural study, then were in the middle of the pack the past two years, and were among the leaders this year.

To get to the top tier, the Tigers excelled in several areas. In 89 percent of the calls made to the team for the survey, the team’s agent mentioned at least one “selling point” as a lure (such as reserved parking or access to premium areas in the ballpark). The team also scored well for its agents personalizing the conversations beyond the immediate discussion of ticket sales.

The top-ranked Padres are not the only club to do well consistently. The New York Mets (No. 8 this year) and Oakland A’s (No. 10) join San Diego as clubs that have ranked among the top 10 all four years of the survey.

The league as a whole has seen an improvement in its marks over the four-year span, with its overall average increasing each season. Also, in 2011, only two of the clubs monitored finished with an overall score above 57 percent. This year, eight clubs topped that threshold. Conversely, three clubs scored below 40 percent this spring compared to nine clubs in 2011.

Chris Denove, IntelliShop senior vice president, said the overall gap between the top and bottom performers is narrowing, but he did also note that only 9 percent of respondents this year ranked their sales experience as one of the best they’d ever had, a figure that stood at 15 percent in 2012 and 2013.

  
Methodology

IntelliShop, an Ohio-based market research company, provides customer-focused research services such as mystery shopping and customer satisfaction surveys. The company has an in-house staff of about 50 employees, and it retains and manages panels of nearly 400,000 “mystery shoppers” brought in as topic-specific independent contractors.

From March 3 to April 3, IntelliShop representatives contacted each MLB club indicating that they wanted to buy season tickets. The Chicago Cubs were excluded from the survey after team representatives indicated on the first call received that such tickets were no longer available. A minimum of nine calls were completed to each of the remaining 29 clubs, with each call marking a survey opportunity.

IntelliShop educated its “shoppers” on the teams and on the physical layout of each team’s ballpark. It also trained the shoppers to sound disappointed that the season seats they wanted would cost as much as they did once they learned that the quoted price was more than their budget. This allowed IntelliShop to measure which alternatives the sales agents used to overcome the price objection. The time and day of each call was randomized; the goal was to speak to as many different agents at each club as possible.

The survey consists of 27 questions; some of the subjects are noted in the chart below.

IntelliShop conducts about 200,000 mystery shops and 230,000 customer surveys a year. The firm does have the Cubs as a client but has no other MLB team clients.


mystery shoppers rate call experience (TOP 10 TEAMS)

 

PADRES YANKEES REDS TWINS MARINERS TIGERS ROCKIES METS GIANTS ATHLETICS MLB AVG.
Agent mentioned at least one “selling point” as reason to buy season/partial-season tickets* 89% 62% 66% 66% 44% 89% 44% 75% 78% 56% 57%
Made an effort to engage in small talk outside the immediate discussion of the ticket sale 89% 87% 67% 56% 67% 78% 11% 50% 33% 56% 42%
Expressed a positive outlook for the team 33% 50% 22% 22% 33% 33% 33% 62% 33% 22% 24%
Strong effort to convince the caller to come to the stadium and sit in the seats before buying 78% 63% 56% 78% 44% 33% 56% 75% 11% 44% 34%
Strong effort to convince the caller of the benefits of alternative ticket options once determined the caller couldn’t afford the full-season plan in the seats desired 78% 88% 56% 56% 78% 44% 67% 63% 78% 67% 50%
Asked who will be going to the games with him/her (spouse, kids, clients, etc.) 67% 25% 56% 67% 56% 67% 44% 38% 33% 44% 32%
Personality of the agent was “truly exceptional”** 67% 75% 44% 44% 22% 44% 33% 25% 22% 44% 24%
Considered an “above-average” experience compared to other telephone sales calls, or “one of the best” ever had 89% 88% 66% 66% 78% 78% 78% 51% 78% 55% 53%

* Agents were given credit for mentioning any one of 12 specific selling points, all of which could have been checked off by the caller. Among those options were “Get exclusive access to special areas in the stadium,” “Able to sit in the same seats for playoffs and/or World Series,” and “Have access to preferred parking.”
** Defined as being “unusually engaged and enthusiastic, someone who sounds like they really love their job and dealing with people.”




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