Renewal Mailer Scores for SuperSonics

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The Seattle SuperSonics don't start the 2003-04 season until later this month, but the team already has posted a direct marketing win.

The National Basketball Association franchise, after having struggled for years with its ticket-package renewal efforts, broke through this year with a redesigned package.

"This was a very different format," said Brett Ballbach, the team's senior director of marketing and events. "It was a more traditional direct mail approach. We had sent letters, invoices and fliers and a number of different things over the years, but this was the most traditional direct mail piece we had done for ticket packages.

"It was radical to some degree since we hadn't moved the needle in the past four or five years."

The team's typical response rate had been in the mid-teens in recent years, reaching only 12 percent last season. The league average is in "the teens to low 20s."

Seattle's solution: personalization.

DDB Direct, the direct marketing division of DDB Seattle, devised a piece that featured the back of a team jersey on the envelope. But instead of a jersey with a player's name, the last name of the recipient was printed on it. The bottom-right corner of the envelope read: "Guess who we'd like to sign."

"Early in the summer we set a completely unrealistic goal of a 40 percent renewal rate," Ballbach said. "It was staggering when we beat it."

The response rate was 41 percent.

"The sheer creative absolutely stood out," he said. "We had a bunch of people in our office that, once they saw this piece, they wanted to get on the list so they could have their name on the back of a jersey."

The other side of the envelope included the image of a T-shirt, which was touted as a "Thank You" gift for being a season-ticket holder. It mailed Aug. 18.

"We were thrilled and surprised," he said. "It was the power of personalization, the ability to say 'thank you' and recognize past behavior that made it work."

The target audience included 2,300 account holders with partial season-ticket packages and 2,200 accounts holding full-season tickets. The average account holder purchased four tickets per game.

"The goal was to renew as many ticket packages as possible, and to get full-season ticket holders to supplement their tickets for the season," Ballbach said.

The pitch letter mentions that: "many season ticket holders choose to buy incremental ticket packages for a collection of big or weekend games to accommodate a larger group near their seats." A 16-game pack with two bonus games and two six-game packs, each with one bonus game, were offered along with the fact that packages would be offered to the general public starting Sept. 8.

The piece also includes an insert that lists opponents, dates and times for each of the three plans along with a seating chart and ticket prices that range from $129 to $17 per seat per game.

Recipients could order via phone, or by mailing a form in the enclosed business reply envelope.

"In the past it was a mail response," Ballbach said. "This year the additional options helped with response."

The same creative with a different pitch letter also was used for the team's acquisition package, for which results have not been totaled. About 48,000 past single-ticket buyers and others identified as NBA fans were targeted with direct mail pieces that are going in multiple drops from Sept. 24 through Oct. 21.

The expense for both the renewal and acquisition efforts was $20,000 to $50,000 with the free T-shirt not included in the total cost.

"By more than tripling our renewal rate, it sets a terrific foundation for the season," he said.

DDB Direct was selected as the team's agency in June.

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