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Volume 20 No. 42
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‘Wish list’ puts fans in corporate sponsor seats

Tennis was among the Olympic sports that had many open seats during the 2012 London Games, and served as inspiration for Seaters.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
For many sports industry executives, an empty seat is an annoyance, perhaps a public relations problem, and certainly a missed revenue opportunity. For Belgian entrepreneur Jean-Sébastien Gosuin, an empty seat is essentially intolerable. And he has sought to create a fix to the long-standing issue.

Gosuin, a former corporate marketer and sports hospitality executive, is the co-founder and chief executive of Seaters, a software platform that seeks to connect ordinary fans with ticket inventory typically provided to corporate sponsors as part of their team and league contracts.

He first found inspiration to build Seaters following the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, which suffered from thousands of empty seats, particularly those held by corporate sponsors, and corresponding negative publicity. A half decade later, Seaters counts large European companies such as banking giant BNP Paribas, temporary staffing outfit Adecco, Swiss watchmaker Tissot and Dutch telecom company KPN as clients.

Photo: GETTY IMAGES
You have all these empty seats, particularly in prime locations, and thousands of fans dreaming of sitting there. The basic idea for us is to put them together, but in a way that protects the property and the event and their ticket pricing integrity, and elevates the brand.”

JEAN-SÉBASTIEN GOSUIN

CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, SEATERS
And it is now beginning to make a push into North America, buttressed in part by the establishment of a new headquarters in New York and the recent hire of veteran sports marketer Scott MacLeod to lead business development. Five of Seaters’ 25 total employees, including Gosuin, are in New York, and the company is working with three as-yet-undisclosed American companies on domestic test deployments of the platform.

“You have all these empty seats, particularly in prime locations, and thousands of fans dreaming of sitting there,” Gosuin said. “The basic idea for us is to put them together, but in a way that protects the property and the event and their ticket pricing integrity, and elevates the brand.”

The Seaters platform works on a “wish list”-based system. Instead of dumping a block of sponsor-held tickets on the resale market or leaving it to department heads to redistribute internally, the company instead creates a wish list of fans who would be interested in those seats. The fans invited to join a wish list are often culled from lists of clients that a sponsor wants to target and reward.

There is no upfront guarantee a registrant to a wish list will get a ticket; rather they are simply signing up for a potential opportunity. And when seats become available, a mobile notification is sent alerting the fan to the available inventory and how long they have to claim it, with those seats often provided for free to the fan. If a fee is involved, it does not exceed face value price.

“It’s classic underpromise and overdeliver,” Gosuin said. “But the brand is able to further engage its customer base or its employees and build greater loyalty. With all these names coming into the system and engaging with you digitally, it also creates a significant data opportunity.”

By grouping a theoretically unlimited pool of registrants for finite ticket opportunities, the system also veers intentionally away from the traditional model of seeking to connect a single user with a single seat. BNP Paribas, for example, generated more than 60,000 registrations for about 2,000 available seats it held for this year’s French Open.
  
Seaters says among its client base of corporate sponsors, the amount of unused ticket inventory has fallen from more than 20 percent to less than 2 percent. The platform also is designed to work alongside existing corporate ticket management programs such as InviteManager, but improve the efficiency of managing the inventory.

“In a lot of sponsorship events, there are many tickets involved, and it is very tough for companies to get rid of them because it is a lot of work,” said Mark Versteegen, KPN head of sponsorships. “Seaters takes a lot of the hassle away from the staff people in charge of our tickets.”

Seaters works on a common software-as-a-service model, with costs ranging from $5,000 to $150,000 per month depending on the size of the intended projects. The company also has raised $8 million in venture capital funding, and counts veteran minor league team owner Dave Elmore and former Anheuser-Busch InBev Chief Marketing Officer Chris Burggraeve among its investors.

“We see a big opportunity in the U.S. market,” Gosuin said. “Obviously, it’s a much bigger territory, but it’s also more open to entrepreneurial businesses.”