Web Holds Key to Sports Teams' Profits

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It is interesting to hear fans on sports talk radio say players should be given lucrative contracts to sign with their favorite teams. Someone in the front office of those teams would be challenged with the task of generating revenue to pay for those expensive contracts.


Many major league pro sports teams struggle to break even today and just hope for appreciating franchise value. The Internet offers new revenue opportunities and, in many cases, cost savings. Database marketing and permission-based e-mail are keys for teams to develop one-to-one customer relationships with segments, including premium season-ticket patrons, individual game-ticket customers and merchandise buyers. Let me share several ideas.


Continually build a database of customers and prospects. It may seem basic to direct marketing veterans, but building a database of customers is key to creating loyalty and repeat business. Of course, season-ticket customer lists are closely maintained, but capturing records of those who buy occasional tickets is a great opportunity for marketing up-sells. Obtaining e-mail addresses and permission to send e-mail communication is the key. New database members can be offered partial season- ticket plans, merchandise, travel promotions, newsletters, fantasy camps, etc.


Use team Web sites to attract customer registrations. Use spare broadcast time to encourage interested fans to look up the team's Web site and register themselves and their permission to receive information and special offers. Sports fans are a niche market, and it is important to keep a relationship with those who regularly buy tickets. Offers of newsletters and contests can attract attention to the registration vehicle. I liked a contest the New Jersey Devils ran last year offering Web site visitors the chance to win a ride on the Zamboni during a break in a hockey game at the Meadowlands.


Qualify your Web site registrations. Ideally, customers should be tiered, including season-ticket and luxury-box customers, partial-plan customers, individual game- ticket purchasers, merchandise purchasers and the public. It is important to capture address information to determine business vs. individual ticket use and local address vs. out of town.


Web site registration is a great way to capture customer preferences for seating location and visiting teams they like to see as well as the most convenient nights of the week and game times.


Premium customers. Teams constantly look for ways to recognize premium season-ticket customers. One way is to provide a special e-mail/Web site service to offer VIP customers access to exclusive information about the team and elite services. Team-issued e-mail and Web site communication often have to compete with more colorful and critical newspaper material.


Most teams have well-known and respected staff broadcasters who can offer an insider's perspective. Celebrity broadcasters might be asked to contribute timely articles e-mailed exclusively to the team's list of VIP and season-ticket holders.


Have a stream of communication sent to your e-mail list. It may be the new American pastime to track stocks daily on search engine home pages and receive e-mail newsletters from sports teams. Entertainment marketers face tremendous competition, and keeping marketing messages in front of customers is a key to repeat business.


E-mail provides a low-cost means to send regular communications to fans. Many teams send post-game summaries to their e-mail subscription lists. The key to revenue enhancement is to include offers such as tickets to upcoming games, new merchandise items, road game travel, etc.


Make it easy to do business with your team. Patricia Seybold emphasizes this point in her book "Customer.com." Outbound e-mail should provide prominent hyperlinks to take customers to Web sites that can take their ticket orders, merchandise requests and other team product offers. Make the purchase process seamless and efficient so the customer is not discouraged from making a purchase.


Last-minute ticket purchases. Teams talk in terms of gate - how much revenue they generate from a game. With the cost of player salaries, it is possible to lose money even selling out every game if the revenue yield is insufficient. Game tickets are like airline seats - once the game is over, the inventory is useless. When strong walk-up sales are needed to sell out, an e-mail sent within 48 hours of the game to local fans describing the attractiveness of the upcoming contest can provide the stimulus to sell the remaining seats.


Partial-plan programs. Many teams now market partial season-ticket plans based on including rivalry games or purchase rights to the postseason. Again we see the combination of database marketing and permission-based e-mail stimulating sales. Every customer who buys individual game tickets should be offered a partial plan that provides entry to a preferred relationship with the team.


Preseason-sold packages can be weighted with early season games, suggesting the addition of more games later in the season. In midseason, stretch-run packages can be sold. All of these offers can be offered inexpensively by e-mail to appropriate segments of the database. The mistake we have seen with several teams is to make the up-sell more expensive than the original purchase.
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