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Volume 21 No. 2


Sacramento Kings marketing chief Jeff David sees promotional opportunity in selling tickets for the team’s remaining 15 home games in what could be the club’s last season in California.

Make that, opportunity lost.

The Kings are proving a tough sell in what may be their last season in Sacramento.
n though David and the Kings find themselves struggling to sell tickets for a team that might not be in town much longer, don’t look for any “last chance” marketing efforts from the club. Any “save our team” messages seen or heard: those aren’t coming from David’s group.

“We are in an awkward position,” said David, the Kings’ senior vice president of sales and marketing. “We cannot capitalize on ways that are the most obvious.”

The Kings await NBA approval of an agreement that would see a group led by Chris Hansen buy 65 percent of the team for $341 million and move the franchise to Seattle. The deal must be approved by the NBA’s relocation committee by March 1 and then win approval from NBA ownership, which could come at the owners’ April meeting.

While local groups rally around thoughts of keeping the Kings in Sacramento and while a local investment group looks to counter Hansen’s offer, the Kings stand silent. Already the team has taken a lockout-like approach to its season-ticket renewal efforts for next season (see story, Jan. 28-Feb. 3 issue). On the matter of selling tickets for the second half of this season, the team is similarly treading lightly.

The Kings ranked last in attendance in the 30-team NBA as of last week, averaging 13,418 fans a game.

A recent community-based “Here We Buy” effort helped drive up attendance for the team’s Feb. 9 game against Utah, bringing 16,193 fans to Sleep Train Arena, but David made sure the team was not involved in any of those outside-organized efforts. No special group-sales discounts were offered, and no television ads supporting the group’s grassroots efforts on Kings radio and television broadcasts were accepted.

David is trying to boost ticket sales with other promotions as the team plays out its remaining home games. A three-game “Beat LA” ticket package includes two home games against the Clippers and one against the Lakers. The Kings also are offering a promotion on March 4 that waives the purchase fee on tickets for coming games.

David additionally is challenged to sell five suites on a game-by-game basis, priced between $3,000 and $8,000 a night.

As chief operating officer of Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Rachel Lewis has overseen the club’s transition to MLS, where it has competed the past two seasons, after a long history of soccer in the city in other leagues. More recently, Lewis was instrumental in development of the club’s partnership with the British Columbia government and University of British Columbia to build the National Soccer Development Centre, where the Whitecaps will train this spring when the first phase of construction is complete.

Lewis and her colleagues decided in early 2012 to take all of the Whitecaps’ marketing and advertising work in-house. The group subsequently received an ADchievement award from the National Sports Forum for Web-based campaigns, competing against other franchises across North America.

Rachel Lewis and the Whitecaps took their marketing work in-house.
But there is more work to be done. While Casacadia rivals Seattle and Portland saw gains in attendance last season (averaging 43,144 and 20,438 fans per game, respectively) Vancouver (19,475 average) posted a 5 percent decline.

Soccer writer Christopher Botta spoke with the 39-year-old Lewis, who started with the Whitecaps in event management in August 2003 and was promoted to COO in 2007.

You’ve taken all of your marketing in-house and had success with it, creating your 2013 campaign and winning an award for your digital advertising last season. Why did you make the move away from agencies?

LEWIS: It’s something we talked about for a while. We thought creating sort of an internal agency would help us be more nimble. That’s not to say we won’t use specialty agencies from time to time if we have a concept that needs support, but we really feel that our own people know our brand best. Creating something as a team, your level of investment in it and your ability to deliver it and think it and breathe it every day — it’s really exciting for us.

What’s the meaning behind the theme of this season’s campaign, “Our all. Our honour”?

New ads feature scenes projected on players such as Jay DeMerit.
LEWIS: We reset our mission statement, which had been the same for years when we were in the USL. Back then, it was about growing the franchise, becoming a significant asset. Now it’s about all those things plus being winners on and off the pitch and having values. … For the Whitecaps, the litmus test is FC Barcelona. They’re champions and they do it in an honorable way.

After your first years in MLS, what’s next on your agenda?

LEWIS: We want to fill BC Place on a consistent basis. We see what’s happening in Seattle and Portland, and we don’t see any reason why the market here can’t support that kind of growth. Our development programs are also an important focus. We want to see Canada’s national team ultimately be successful on the world stage. We’re only going to see that if we continue to invest in young Canadian athletes.

You’ve been with the club for almost 10 years. Do you envision staying with the club for many more?

LEWIS: You never say never, but as long as the work continues to be interesting and challenging, I don’t have any desire to go anywhere else. It never ceases to amaze me: In 10 years here, no two days have been the same.

You’re one of few female chief operating officers in North American team sports. Do you feel any sense of responsibility with that?

LEWIS: I’m really proud of what I do, but I honestly don’t think in that way. I have a responsibility to do the best job possible. If that somehow creates more opportunities for women, then that is fantastic.

Ticketmaster says its new secondary ticketing partnership with the New York Yankees to create Yankees Ticket Exchange will be profitable, despite its slashing of seller commissions from the 15 percent industry norm to 5 percent for season-ticket holders.

Last week’s announcement of Yankees Ticket Exchange represented the first formal manifestation of the Yankees opting out of the five-year contract extension between MLB Advanced Media and StubHub announced in December. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim also opted out of the league deal and are expected to announce a similar partnership with Ticketmaster in the coming days.

Ticketmaster and StubHub have been fierce competitors for more than a decade, but the arrival of Yankees Ticket Exchange introduces a price war between the two in the key New York market and for one of the most dominant brands in all of pro sports.

“As a stand-alone entity, this will be profitable,” said Nathan Hubbard, Ticketmaster chief executive. “The margins of the secondary business at traditional levels have been very healthy at scale, and we expect success here, too.”

Buyers will pay a 10 percent commission on Yankees Ticket Exchange purchases, in line with other sites such as StubHub. And the club’s platform will feature electronic integration with its primary ticketing, also serviced by Ticketmaster.

But the club and Ticketmaster said the profit-and-loss projections for Yankees Ticket Exchange were not the driving motivation for the partnership. Rather, both entities are trying to stem the tide of short-selling by brokers not yet owning Yankees tickets and other price manipulations in the resale market. The Yankees have not put in price floors in their resale market, but are still considering doing that at least for certain games or seating sections. Yankees Ticket Exchange will also require sellers to have verified tickets in their possession, eliminating any speculative listings.

“Artificial manipulations in the market don’t help buyers. Will [Yankees Ticket Exchange] stop it? I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s stoppable. We’ll have to see,” Hubbard said. “But what we do know is that we can provide a better experience for buyers and sellers, and we absolutely, definitely know that teams have to be an active part of the solution. You can’t be like the record companies and Napster before, sit back and not do anything about it.

“Cheap tickets, and the noise around cheap tickets, are just the freckle on an elephant’s backside here. It’s really about creating a truer, more pure market and doing something about all the arbitrage.”

The Yankees and Angels also provide Ticketmaster an entry into baseball secondary ticketing that had been closed to them since 2007, when MLBAM and StubHub signed their first deal.

“We’re very happy to have major tentpole brands like the Yankees and Angels experimenting with something new,” Hubbard said.

Even with the establishment of Yankees Ticket Exchange and the deepened alignment with Ticketmaster, the club’s battles with StubHub aren’t over. StubHub after more than 10 years of operation and growth enjoys a high degree of consumer awareness, and the company plans to aggressively promote its service in the New York market.

StubHub also recently signed a lease to open a pickup location at 68 E. 161st St. in the Bronx, directly across the River Avenue-161st Street intersection from Yankee Stadium. The Yankees are exploring whether that office violates New York state law prohibiting ticket resale within 1,500 feet of a venue with more than 5,000 permanent seats. StubHub operates dozens of similar ticket pickup spots around the country, including other states and cities with similar statutes, and believes the law is on its side because the locations are for retrieval of prior orders.

“We’re reviewing our options, and we’ll respond accordingly as needed,” Yankees Chief Operating Officer Lonn Trost said.