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Volume 20 No. 42

Franchises

The Phoenix Suns are adding virtual reality to their season-ticket renewal strategy to spark fan interest and investment in one of the league’s worst teams.

The team is sending VR kits to all 2,500 full-season-ticket accounts as Suns executives roll out their 2017-18 renewal campaign.

The team is sending virtual reality kits to all 2,500 full-season-ticket accounts as it rolls out its renewal efforts.
Photos by: PHOENIX SUNS
Included in the kits is a cardboard box with VR goggles in which fans can insert their mobile phone and view a three-minute VR video produced by the team. The video features game and practice footage, and a message from Suns star Devin Booker urging fans to renew their season-ticket packages.

The Suns are the first team in the NBA to include VR into an overall renewal campaign and the innovative effort stands as the latest use of VR as teams search for ways to incorporate the technology into their marketing efforts.


“I think the wow factor will be significant,” said Suns President Jason Rowley. “We need to find ways to show fans the value proposition and this is one way to do it. Being able to personalize it with one of our players speaking directly to fans appeals to a lot of people. We need to find a way to stand apart.”

The NBA confirmed that the Suns are the only NBA team to include VR kits in a renewal campaign. The VR-based campaign was showcased at the NBA marketing meetings held in Orlando last week.

“We talked about different ways different teams are testing VR applications,” said Amy Brooks, executive vice president of the NBA’s team marketing and business operations department. “We think it has potential and differentiates team communications from all the other messaging that fans get. It is a unique and interactive way to talk about renewals.”

Rowley did not disclose the cost of the VR kit or the price of the entire renewal campaign, but said the cost was minimized because the team created the VR content in-house. Phoenix-based Prisma Graphic produced the box while the goggles came from Mesa, Ariz.-based Chunk Media.

“We saved a significant amount by not going to a third party to film it,” Rowley said. “Our content department has VR capabilities and we have already invested in the software and equipment.”

The Suns and other NBA teams increasingly are using VR headsets to market to individual ticket and sponsorship prospects. But adding a VR component into a widespread renewal campaign is a novel approach for the franchise.

The team’s struggles over the past few years continue and through Jan. 10 the Suns had a 12-26 record, among the worst in the NBA. Average home attendance for the Suns through Jan. 10 was 17,039, down 1.3 percent to-date from last year, and the team ranked 18th among the 30 NBA teams at the gate as of Jan. 10.

Just how effective the VR renewal campaign will be in motivating season-ticket holders to renew remains to be seen.

Last year, the Suns had an 80 percent renewal rate and this year’s on-court struggles won’t help drive renewals.

Adding to the challenge, some insiders said, will be persuading season-ticket holders to use the VR technology. But should the Suns see an uptick in renewals, expect other teams to follow their VR strategy.

“It’s a cookie-cutter league,” said Bill Sutton, who runs Bill Sutton & Associates, a sports consultant company that counts NBA teams, including the Suns, as clients.

Proving there’s no blueprint yet for investing in esports, the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks owner Wes Edens both announced acquisitions last week with starkly different models.

The Heat bought a minority share of Miami-based esports franchise Misfits, and will fully integrate the property into its operations. The Heat’s marketing, merchandising and production teams are already helping Misfits, releasing a new logo that changes the Misfits’ orange lettering to Heat red and adopts the Heat’s stylized “t” in their wordmark.

On the other hand, Edens purchased an existing League of Legends team from Cloud9 and has rebranded it FlyQuest. In a statement, FlyQuest said Edens would bring his sports business resources to bear on the team, but the statement was otherwise vague on details. The new team will begin play Jan. 20 in Riot Games’ League of Legends spring tournament.

Also last week, movie studio Lionsgate joined the investment group behind Immortals, a team backed by a coalition of investors that includes Memphis Grizzlies co-owner Stephen Kaplan.

The Misfits franchise, formed in June 2016 by Miami native Ben Spoont, has grown rapidly but is in need of expertise as the esports world approaches an inflection point.

“Now, you have a little more fragmented of an ecosystem than I think you will see develop in the next 12 to 36 months,” Spoont said. “And when that fragmentation subsides, having partners like [Executive Vice President] Michael [McCullough] and the other execs at the Heat on our side to help us navigate those waters will help us make smart competitive and financial decisions.”

McCollough said the Heat didn’t think it was necessary to acquire a controlling stake to benefit from esports. “We think Ben has done a fantastic job of creating this Misfits brand up to this point, and we don’t have that expertise,” he said. “We do have expertise in a lot of other areas, and we’ll bring to bear what we’re good at.”

The Heat’s model is most comparable to the Philadelphia 76ers’ acquisition of Team Apex and Dignitas in September and the subsequent merging of those two teams. In that case, the Sixers teamed up with NextEquity to buy the teams but also hired a new CEO to oversee the division.

Edens’ deal is most similar to aXiomatic, the new investment vehicle created by Ted Leonsis, Peter Guber and others to acquire and control Team Liquid.