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Volume 22 No. 23
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Full menu selling and other thoughts for ticket sales success

I have long been a believer in full menu selling. I know this is contrary to what some of my industry friends and even my clients believe and practice, but in 2018 I really don’t see an alternative — and in fact I think it is a best practice. The internet and in particular, the secondary market, have made sure that potential consumers have a variety of options to consider prior to making a purchase. So let me make my case …

Selling only full-season tickets in many cases is forcing buyers to purchase more than they need or more than they want. I understand why many teams prefer to operate this way. Once a full seat is sold, it is sold. A half season requires two sales and a partial plan, depending upon the number of games in the season and in the plan, can require as many as eight people to buy that same seat. However, everyone that buys a full-season ticket and doesn’t use the full amount of tickets in the plan in effect becomes a broker selling those tickets through the team website or on a variety of ticket reselling sites. I have recently begun making the argument that the teams themselves are responsible for the creation of the secondary market, because the unwanted tickets that the purchasers are now selling constitute a large portion of the inventory that makes the secondary market a viable business.

In a related issue, the team is often selling against itself as its own season-ticket holders are selling their unwanted inventory, which in some cases can be better than that being offered by the team. In addition to the location possibly being better than what remains in the team inventory, the sellers might be motivated to sell those tickets below what they have originally paid for the ticket, making what they have a “bargain” and driving more bargain hunters to shop the secondary market.

If buyers feel they were forced to buy something they didn’t want and had difficulty selling the excess inventory, they are less likely to renew that plan the following season, thus losing a customer and the lifetime value that could have been. Research shows that unused tickets are one of the top reasons for non-renewals.

By not selling the full menu simultaneously and telling the interested buyer that those plans aren’t available for sale, the team runs the risk that the interested buyer who is ready to make the commitment to a smaller plan might find something else to do with those funds while waiting to be contacted at a later date. Car expenses, braces, unexpected expenses and even buying tickets to another sport are all possible outcomes when the team says that the product the consumer is willing to buy is unavailable. Why would you not take the money when it is offered?

Research shows that unused tickets are one of the top reasons for non-renewals.
Photo: getty images

There is a fear that by selling the full menu simultaneously that sales people will take the easy sale without asking for the bigger sale — the full-season ticket. There is probably some truth to this concern as sales people get paid on sales and if they can make the sale, some people will be happy with any amount rather than ending the conversation without a sale.

Finally, organizations place a higher emphasis on the full-season ticket, and at league and annual meetings teams are rewarded for the number of full-season tickets sold, not FSEs (full-season equivalencies or total ticket revenue). This causes sales training and day-to-day emphasis to be much heavier on the full-season sales.

Now that I have criticized this approach, I will offer what I think is a fair response. This situation addresses my concerns while providing a way for teams to continue to emphasize the sale of full-season tickets without missing other revenue.

Begin selling the full menu next season with the following parameters:

Begin the sales conversation as you have been instructed and trained in the past.

If the customer is not interested in the full-season ticket, ask how many games they might be interested in attending.

Based upon that response, explain that the seating locations are set based upon the number of games purchased — the larger the plan, the better the seats.

Go through the full menu, and try to close the plan that best fits what the consumer is most interested in.

Take payment in full or at least a deposit.

Explain to the buyer that you won’t be assigning a specific seating location until the game plans for the full-season ticket buyers (and the halves if you are selling a partial plan) have been assigned. At this point you should have a general idea of where the seats will be assigned because of the price associated with that ticket plan.

Create an in-person event for all of the non-full-season ticket buyers in order to select their seats.

At the event, the sales team has another chance to show partial-plan buyers other locations for larger game plans in case seeing the actual locations might influence their decision and willingness to buy more games for a better location.

You may now formally close the sale knowing that buyers are satisfied (at least initially) with what they have purchased and that the sales team has exhausted every opportunity to sell a larger plan.

Years ago my colleagues Bernie Mullin, Steve Hardy and I conceived of a model called the escalator in our textbook Sport Marketing. The key was getting a consumer on the escalator and endeavoring to move them up by increasing their frequency of attendance. I have come to believe that the model in 2018 is an elevator, because I feel it is acceptable if the frequency remains constant over a period of years and may actually fluctuate with performance and other factors. My essential premise is to get them in the building and retain them — focusing on lifetime value.

Bill Sutton (wsutton1@usf.edu) is the founding director of the sport and entertainment business management MBA at the University of South Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_ImpactU.