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Volume 22 No. 12
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Ticketing strategies that work

Team ticketing executives highlight effective strategies and pass along some of the earliest lessons they learned about the ticketing business. Highlights of their responses, which were submitted via email, have been edited for clarity and brevity.

— Compiled by John Bauernfeind
A ticketing strategy or program that worked

MIKE CLOUGH
VP of ticket sales and service, Minnesota Twins

Last season, we launched a mobile access flex plan which provided 20 “vouchers” redeemable via the MLB Ballpark App for any non-elite-tier home game. Two pricing scales were available: Field Box (lower level), Home Plate View (upper level behind the plate). The goal of this plan was to meet the demand of our fans for flexibility and spontaneity in their schedules. An additional benefit of this program was the continued growth and adoption of mobile ticketing through the MLB Ballpark App. We also launched an unlimited Ticket Exchange program for the majority of our season-ticket holders to also meet the need to have a more flexible schedule. With this new benefit our season-ticket holders can now exchange any future game in their plan for a same or lesser-tier game later in the season.

Early lessons learned on the art, science of selling tickets

Mike Clough
Minnesota Twins

Minimize the focus on the what you don’t control, like team performance, whether good or bad. Master and perfect what you do control. Place the emphasis on understanding why the prospect is considering a relationship with your team and what you can offer them to meet their needs and wants. If you are able to meet their needs and show positive results, then what happens from a team performance standpoint becomes secondary in the relationship.

Jim Popovich
Pittsburgh Pirates

Do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it. When you give someone your word, you better follow through with that promise. Most times, you only get one opportunity.

Charlie Slonaker
Philadelphia Union

It’s important to do a full needs analysis with your prospect. Asking open-ended qualifying questions allows you to get a better sense of what to recommend. Prospects can find all of your ticket package information on the website, so spewing information without a recommendation doesn’t add value.

Tom Pistore
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment

When developing a premium concept, the focus always needs to be bigger and better than originally thought or conceived. Teams and venues need to dream bigger and broader than ever before. Our premium fans are asking for it. If we focus on pricing, we commoditized our product. If we focus on amenities and experience and service, the yield grows exponentially.

Nat Harden
Senior VP, ticket sales and youth hockey,
Nashville Predators

I learned early on that it is very tough to sell tickets if there is not an emotional connection between the team/organization and its fan base. Building this bond is not necessarily about winning games, it is more about putting your fans’ interest first while creating a memorable experience every time they walk through your doors. Over time this is recognized and appreciated while creating a stronger bond and larger fan base that will buy tickets through the wins and losses.

Gregg Allen
Sporting KC

One of the best lessons in tickets sales I ever learned was to focus on the process. I could never control the many variables of a client that could dictate them buying or not, but I could control how I ran my day and how I interacted with potential clients. I learned very early in my career that if I consistently worked on my craft, the sales would come. This allowed me to worry less about a certain sale, and more about doing the right things consistently day in and day out. That consistency built my confidence quickly, which turned into more sales.

Drew Ribarchak
Columbus Blue Jackets

It’s not about what you are selling but rather what the buyer needs. Ask thoughtful, open-ended questions and listen to the prospect. In an environment where salespeople may sell a full menu of products, they must be able to uncover needs of each client and then tailor recommendations. Sometimes your focus gets lost in the campaign you are currently working on.

Gretchen Sheirr
Houston Rockets

We try not to sell tickets to a 2 1/2-hour basketball game. We have the unique privilege in this industry to become intertwined into the stories of our fans’ lives as they create memories with their friends and family that last a lifetime. Kids remember their first Rockets game, everyone remembers who they were with during the championship games or more recently the Game 7 win to advance to the Western Conference Finals. A ticket is thrown away; these memories literally become a part of who we are as fans and as a city. It’s the beauty of sports and why it’s so much more than a ticket.

Jamie Morningstar
Milwaukee Bucks

Don’t make assumptions. Don’t assume the person you’re speaking with can’t afford the best seats in the house, don’t assume there is only one way to sell, etc. Assumptions can kill deals and your career if you let them.

John Markiewicz
Florida Panthers

An early lesson that I learned and we talk a lot about with our staff is putting your “Fan Hat” on and to stop thinking like an executive that works for the team. We stress to our staff to be persistent and think about the fact that we are not the first thing on a lot of our fans’ minds.

Chris D’Orso
Orlando Magic

The person who helped me get my foot in the door at the Orlando Magic also instilled in me the importance of relationships through his book, “I Feel Great and You Will Too!” by Pat Croce. The quote within his book that I live by each and every day is, “Relationships Determine Results.” Connections can be made on a daily basis, but if you don’t strive to create meaningful relationships then you will be limiting your opportunities personally and professionally.

James Armold
D.C. United

I find that most successful ticket sales professionals in the industry take a “relationships first” mindset. If you are inquisitive and genuinely looking to “get to know” your potential prospect/clients the revenue results will follow.

JIM POPOVICH
Senior director, membership and retention, Pittsburgh Pirates

We now use an online/live ticketing relocation platform through Ballena. With us being an open/cold-weather venue, we wanted to provide our members with a better experience than coming down to our ballpark to pull tags from a seat. This allows our members based on tenure to see live inventory from the comforts of their home or office. We had over a 50 percent increase in traffic to our site compared to our old select-a-seat events. We still follow up with handwritten notes and phone calls to our members.

CHARLIE SLONAKER
VP, ticket sales and fan services, Philadelphia Union

School Fundraiser Program. This is a hybrid model between your traditional school group outing and a fundraiser that fourth or fifth graders naturally partake in where the product they’re selling is typically candy, wrapping paper, etc. In this case, they have order forms to sell tickets for three to four different games. Essentially, you are creating an additional sales force. Credit Jason Cohen (Washington Nationals) and Barry Gibson (Indiana Pacers) with where I first heard the idea.

TOM PISTORE
VP, sales and service, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment

As the Maple Leafs launched into our centennial season, we knew our marquee game between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings would be a high-demand marquee property with a top-tier price point. In parallel, we launched our Maple Leafs and Red Wings alumni game and resisted the urge to bundle — a common practice for events like this. While bundled selling often achieves revenue goals, the leveraging isn’t typically enjoyed by fans and attendance suffers along with per caps. With strategic and thorough full pricing and scaling … the game will sell over 25,000 seats and expose a new fan base to our centennial celebration without the awkwardness or negativity of leveraged selling.

GREGG ALLEN
VP, ticket sales and service, Sporting KC

Rolling over clients’ single-match suite and group deposits for extra future events at Children’s Mercy Park has helped us at Sporting KC greatly. Instead of a client of ours using their deposit to go toward the total price of their tickets for a set match, we show them the benefit of leaving that deposit on their account for another future event, thus bumping them up on our priority list for the next new event scheduled, playoffs, or the following season. This simple process essentially renews multiple clients for additional events repeatedly, which helps drive scarcity and demand.

The Columbus Blue Jackets take a more customizable approach to group sales.
DREW RIBARCHAK
Senior director, ticket sales, Columbus Blue Jackets

We adjusted our group sales incentive program from a generic gift such as a hat for every group of 50 or more to a tailored gift based on the specific group. The purpose was to tap into more casual buyers who may be attending a Blue Jackets game for the first time as part of this larger initiative. The items are an additional driver for a fan to attend that specific game beyond a ticket discount. A few examples are a First Responders commemorative coin, Educators Night tote bag, Jewish Heritage Night dreidel and STEM student notebooks.

GRETCHEN SHEIRR
Chief revenue officer, Houston Rockets

We shifted to a digital and paperless entry into Toyota Center several years ago. … Not only has this provided a seamless way for our members to transfer their seats to their guests, but it has also helped us to create a relationship with the actual game attendee and communicate important information to the end user — such as game time, parking and traffic information, promotional items, and unique game-specific food and merchandise offerings. The game-day experience starts from the moment a fan decides to attend the game until he or she arrives home postgame, and this connection allows us to cater to their needs throughout the entire process.

JAMIE MORNINGSTAR
VP, ticket sales and service, Milwaukee Bucks

Our Starting 5 plan, where you get to choose the best matchup for each of our starters, and our flex plan, which allows you to get creative with the games you attend by choosing any games (minimum of 12) throughout the season.

JOHN MARKIEWICZ
Director, premium seating, Florida Panthers

One ticketing strategy that has brought us great success is using our data for more targeted emails and ticket packages. Using current customer data, we have been able to get specific game opponents, times and days of the week emails out to our clients. This approach has helped us bring more people into the area and has given our sales executives stronger leads to call and move our clients into more packages that best fit their needs.

JEFF MORANDER
Executive VP, ticket sales and strategy, Arizona Coyotes

A recent ticketing strategy that continues to work for the Arizona Coyotes is a “ticket plan for every fan.” By extending alternatives to a season ticket, fans have a choice with respect to seating, price and number of games. … The most flexible option in our product mix is the Flex Pack. It consists of 10 ticket vouchers that can be used in any increment and upgraded for traditional, premium and platinum games. This is a critical second step in getting fans up the sales escalator.

The Pitchside Seating Club brought new business for New York City FC.
MIKE QUARINO
VP, ticket sales and fan services, New York City FC

We rolled out the new Pitchside Seating Club this past season, allowing fans to walk through Monument Park and the Yankees bullpen before finding their seats just feet away from the teams’ benches and playing field. … This product helped the club start many new relationships,

with half of all Pitchside accounts representing new business.

CHRIS D’ORSO
Senior VP, sales and operations, Orlando Magic

We continue to create and implement strategies on how to develop new fans while leveraging expiring inventory within the Amway Center. One way we achieve this goal is to sell access to the building rather than a specific seat. This strategy has revolutionized how we increase the amount of fans at our games and create a pipeline of future full-season ticket purchasers. The Magic Fast Break Pass is a partial plan that is sold exclusively online and on our app. Tickets are loaded into your account, accessible from your mobile phone, when you are within one mile of our building and one hour prior to game time. Tickets cannot be transferred or resold. This has assisted us in increasing our attendance by thousands of fans during certain times of the year. And most importantly, Magic Fast Break purchasers have become one of our top leads for upgrading to full seasons for next season.

PAIGE FARRAGUT
Senior VP, ticket sales and service, Texas Rangers

Fans sport Rangers caps in Texas A&M colors during the MLB team’s University Days.
We’ve seen tremendous success with our University Days initiative that promotes ticket sales with a Rangers hat branded with the university’s colors. We started in 2014 with six universities and ended 2016 with 11. … Not only does the nearly 20,000 tickets sold benefit us for the current season, we’re also making contact with students who might be interested in season tickets post-graduation. We started a similar initiative with local high schools which sold almost 2,000 tickets in 2016.

JAMES ARMOLD
Group ticket sales manager, D.C. United

We make it a focus with all of our outbound touch points to get our prospects/clients face-to-face via events at RFK Stadium or our new preview center, stadium tours, one-on-one meetings, etc. This strategy isn’t rocket science but it helps us continue to build stronger relationships and ultimately create more revenue-generating opportunities.

John Bauernfeind writes for sister publication SportsBusiness Daily.