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Season Ticket Sales Change But They Remain Backbone Of Attendance

NBA and NFL ticket executives are bullish that season tickets will remain the bedrock of ticket sales for foreseeable future.

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The sports landscape is changing but expect season tickets to remain the backbone of professional sports attendance well into the future.

At least that’s the case in the NFL, where 85 percent of ticket sales are season packages, according to San Francisco 49ers Vice President of Sales and Services Jamie Brandt. 

“The NFL season ticket is still kicking, something we’ll see for a long time,” Brandt said at a panel on the subject at South by Southwest. “The communal aspect of the NFL [with just eight games]  is hard to generate in other leagues. We’re blessed in the NFL to have that tradition of every Sunday having the same 80 percent of the house being the same.”

READ MORE: How Teams Are Using Technology to Increase Ticket Sales

Writers from publications like The Ringer and the San Francisco Business Times have written about the impending death of the season-ticket model. Jamie Morningstar, senior vice president of ticket sales and services with the Milwaukee Bucks, says otherwise, and points to that narrative arising from some teams changing their sales strategies. Morningstar knows firsthand the power of how perception can impact sales. A few seasons ago, the Bucks experienced a decades-low in sales due to a failed strategy by the team to market season tickets as elite luxury items. 

“That backfired a bit,” she said. “Our biggest thing was recommitting to creating experiences that make season ticket holders feel like they’re part of the family.” Buoyed by improvement on the court, Milwaukee hit a record this season of more than 10,000 season-ticket packages sold.

Brandt believes that perhaps the season ticket’s greatest power lies in its emotional appeal. “Season tickets are a genuine link to an organization,” he said. “People aren’t looking to disassociate.” Meanwhile, the factors that most often cause fans to detach — time and affordability — each can be surmounted with flexibility. By providing more flexible plans, a team also creates a funnel for future season ticket holders. With that in mind, everything from pricing to length to how tickets can be transferred should be able to be customized. 

“You’re never renewing every season ticket holder,” Morningstar said. “We need to cultivate that dynamic so we have them in the building.”

That sense of belonging can also extend into promotional strategy. Eric Platte, Atlanta Hawks vice president of ticket sales, prefers a strategy of fostering community through exclusivity. This year, the team invited 10 to 20 Hawks season ticket holders for a pregame chalk talk with the coaching staff. The team also holds town halls with CEO Steve Koonin with 200 to 300.

“It’s just trying to find a way to differentiate season ticket holders versus general fan to build that FOMO,” he said. “You can’t buy that cool, unique experience.”

The next frontier could be buildings. Brandt was bullish on the seat license model often seen in new stadium and arena builds, which offer a bigger price upfront to help fund the construction but guarantee ownership of the season tickets at lower prices for however long the fan continues to buy them.

“A seat license has benefits that extend beyond the financial security of the team,” Brandt says. “It retains value and protects pricing long term while helping get that building built.”

With so many factors to consider, sales teams must be nimble and efficient. Morningstar stressed the importance of setting up a good culture while instilling a deep sense of accountability. It all sets up with a strong strategy to sell a vision of what team is — short and long term — outside of success on the court, at least in the Bucks’ case.

READ MORE: Oakland A’s Focus on Group Sales Paying Dividends 

“Focusing on people and processes you have to prepare for the tipping point,” she said. “Over the last few years [the tipping point] is Giannis [Antetokounmpo]. The team has come together, a new building, all these little things, and for us, we were selling that story five years ago.”

But the one thing that should never get lost in the shuffle is the magic of the games themselves. As teams and leagues continue to compete with seemingly endless streams of content and increasingly selective media consumers, Platte said it’s important to sell the unscripted, live action with unknown finishes.

“Trae Young dropped 50 in a quadruple overtime game the other night,” Platte said. “People in the crowd will never get that again, 50 points from a 19-year-old kid. People remember that. That’s how we grow affinity.”

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

Fan Experience

Dodgers Continue Community Connection with Mexican Heritage Night

The Los Angeles Dodgers sold more than 20,000 Mexican Heritage Night tickets in the team’s latest effort to foster authentic community connections.

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Photo Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Dodgers promotional team came prepared for this for this season’s Mexican Heritage Night — or so they thought. They created 15,000 special Dodgers jerseys adorned with the colors of the Mexican flag for giveaways, a number they presumed would be more than enough to service each fan who wanted one to snag one. Turns out, they were light,  as more than 20,000 ticket packages were sold for the night.

The giveaway jersey has green and red sleeves with the word “Dodgers” in green script, and was borne out of Dodgers employees spotting plenty of Mexico jerseys during the World Baseball Classic. So they married Mexico’s colors with the Dodgers brand. Rather than cut off the sales or leave fans empty-handed, the team issued vouchers and will ship out extras by July 31.

The success of this season’s Mexican Heritage Night has been years in the making and part of an “authentic community connection” the team has developed, said Erik Braverman, Dodgers senior vice president of marketing, broadcasting and communications.

READ MORE: Dodgers Foundation Hopes to Bolster RBI Program Through Coaching Investment

The “record-breaking” ticket package sales are in part known because Braverman said the Dodgers regularly offer their full-stadium promotions at 40,000 while other teams cap theirs around 20,000. Still, the 20,000 number was a shock to the Dodgers front office.

“I think it surprised all of us internally,” Braverman said. “We said, ‘Let’s throttle this and continue to promote it and see how wildly popular it gets.’ It was a pleasant surprise.”

Braverman said Dodger Stadium’s location and “what is widely recognized as the largest Mexican fanbase in baseball” both play into why the night was such a roaring success. But he believes a much bigger key is it’s not just a one-night play for a segment of the team’s fanbase. Other, more regular events include Viva Los Dodgers and Dia De Los Dodgers, the later of which includes a bobblehead that regularly runs out quickly.

“We recognize who our fans are,” Braverman said. “Did we take a night to celebrate? Absolutely. But it’s a year-round commitment to the community.”

Along with the giveaway, there was plenty of pre- and in-game celebration. Prior to the game, comedian and LA native Gabriel Iglesias threw out the first pitch, while Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandez performed. During the game, Dodger great and current broadcaster Fernando Valenzuela was honored during the fourth inning legends video before being shown live from the broadcast booth.

“The reaction and the volume in the stadium reacting to that was pretty great,” Braverman said.

The current Dodgers team also features two key players with Mexican roots in pitcher Julio Urias and outfielder Alex Verdugo, which Braverman said helped make the night even more special.

The jersey, like the rest of the night’s activations, were a collaborative effort among the Dodgers’ marketing, community relations and in-game programming teams. Braverman said a part of the success in their promotional schedule is the diversity within the internal team, which helps make the games memorable and positive.

Later this month, the Dodgers will host the team’s annual LGBT Night and next month the team will host the 10th annual Filipino Night, with a similar jersey highlighted with the Filipino flag colors. Braverman expects record numbers that night as well.

READ MORE: How the Atlanta Hawks Are Growing a Winning Fanbase Through Love

“The formula comes back to the success we have on any special event or marketing initiative,” he said. “It’s because the Dodgers’ authentic commitment to the community. It’s a year-round effort, not just one night.”

For each of their events celebrating segments of their fanbase, Braverman said he hopes they stretch beyond that segment.

“What we’re finding is, as I walked around it’s not just Mexican fans, it’s fans of all different nationalities that wanted to be a part of it,” he said. “That’s what we’re hoping to foster.”

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Fan Experience

Tokyo Olympics Braced for Complex Ticketing Operation

Each of the last two summer Olympic Games have weathered a major ticketing scandal. Can Tokyo succeed where London and Rio failed?

Aaron Bauer

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Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The first phase in one of the world’s most extensive sports ticketing operations is now underway

May 9 is the first day for anyone living in Japan to sign up for the lottery to get tickets to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Up for grabs is the first crack at the approximately 7.8 million 2020 Olympics tickets being made available to the public. But domestic ticketing is just the initial step in the massive operation to lure sports fans from across the globe to the Games.

The second, beginning on June 15, is international sales. While there is no lottery, something far more important will be on the line: The chance for Tokyo 2020 to break the cycle of major ticketing scandals occurring before the Olympics begin.

READ MORE: I Thought This Was a Good Deal”: AAF Vendors Speak Out

The IOC handles international sales via an Authorized Ticket Reseller (ATR) program. It’s an incredibly lucrative operation: In addition to the tickets themselves, ATRs are also able to market multi-day hospitality and travel packages that combine ticket sales with hotel and flight packages plus other unique experiences.

Currently, there are 31 approved ATRs listed on the Tokyo 2020 website. To become an ATR, a company must first win approval from different National Olympic Committees before submitting themselves to Tokyo 2020. Once Tokyo 2020 has approved the ATR, the company can begin rolling out hospitality and ticketing plans according to the organizing committee’s timeline.

Companies that traditionally win contracts from NOCs are established companies with experience in the sports hospitality sector. Once approved, ATRs then have free reign to work to create unique hospitality and travel packages that cater to the countries they have exclusive rights to sell in. Neither Tokyo 2020 nor the IOC has any hand in creating these packages or how they are offered to the general public.

The lack of standardization allows packages to retain their competitiveness in the consumer market, but it has also exposed the Olympics to multiple high-profile scandals during the London and Rio Olympics.

In 2012, the IOC investigated claims that up to 54 countries and resellers were floating Olympics tickets on the black market for up to 10 times face value right before the London Games.

Four years later, Brazilian authorities confiscated hundreds of tickets that had originally been allocated to the Olympic Council of Ireland allegedly being sold on the black market. The raid eventually led to the arrest of an Irish IOC Member named Patrick Hickey, who was charged with ticketing touting and forming a cartel together with the owner of THG Sports, Marcus Evans and THG executive Kevin Mallon. THG was also named in connection with the London 2012 investigations, and was not an ATR for Rio 2016.

“There are some messages between Evans and Hickey that mentions [Mallon], and that he would collect the tickets in Brazil to sell for THG,” Aloysio Falcao, a Rio Civil Police Investigator told Around the Rings after Hickey was arrested.

It was those correspondences upon which Rio de Janeiro prosecutors built their case, which remains mired in the Brazilian legal system almost three years later.     

Hickey stepped down from his post as president of the OCI, which last year renamed itself the Olympic Federation of Ireland. Following the Rio 2016 scandal, the OFI severed all ties with THG Sports, which also is currently not an approved ATR for Tokyo 2020. Finnish company Elämys Group was appointed for the 2018 Winter Olympics and won a contract to be an ATR for Tokyo 2020.

“[Tokyo 2020] rules give very clear instructions of do’s and don’t do’s. We will follow these rules from A to Z,” Jussi Viskari, CEO of Elämys Group told Front Office Sports. “The cooperation and communication with the National Olympic Committee has been very open and clear regarding the ticketing program. I think that one reason why OFI chose Elämys was our transparent and credible track record.”

Viskari said that “[Tokyo 2020 tickets] are just one small part of a broader service” in its hospitality and travel packages. The goal is to “reach the all Irish sports fans and invite them to join us in Tokyo.”

Both scandals were embarrassments for the IOC that dominated headlines during the Olympics. Both also underscored that the IOC largely delegates responsibility for ticketing to host city organizers, and its National Olympic Committees around the world.

“The monitoring is directly handled by Tokyo 2020 and each Organizing Committee has its own tools to monitor the activities of each ATR,” an IOC Spokesperson confirmed to Front Office Sports. “However, the IOC supports such monitoring by providing information from past Games to allow each [Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games] to adapt their monitoring accordingly.”

For its part, Japan is taking a number of measures to curtail any chance of a scandal before it starts. It passed a law banning the online resale of marked-up tickets for high-profile events like the Olympics. The law also extends to ticket brokers who purchase tickets for the express purpose of resale.

Tokyo 2020 also told Front Office Sports it would be communicating the rules against resale both online and the physical tickets distributed for the Games in an effort to combat illegal sales online. Organizers will also be working with ATRs and local police in monitoring resale activity while “[requesting] the cooperation of existing reselling platform providers, asking them not to list Tokyo 2020 tickets and to monitor reselling activities.”As an added security measure, the names of purchasers of Olympic tickets will be printed on physical tickets and verified at venues. That means the resale of tickets can only happen through Tokyo 2020’s official platform.

READ MORE: Wilson Leverages FIBA Deal to Expand 3×3 Presence

Tokyo’s status as a global, cosmopolitan city is expected  to be a big draw for foreign tourists and Olympic fans. ATRs have been aware of the high demand for Tokyo 2020 tickets, so much so that some began selling hospitality packages before the approved start date. ATRs were allowed to begin promotion of packages in March but must abide by Tokyo 2020 rules or risk losing reseller status.

“ATRs can launch their ticket sales in respective territories only after all sales components are approved by Tokyo 2020,” the Tokyo 2020 spokesperson added. “ATRs have to comply with the rules and regulations of the Tokyo 2020’s ticketing program. If violations are discovered, we will take strict action as needed in cooperation with the IOC.”

While the Olympic ticketing system is designed to maximize the number of spectators from across the world to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics, Tokyo ultimately is at the mercy of ATRs following the rules in place and avoiding the temptation to float tickets on the black market to succeed where London and Rio failed. Implementing domestic ticket touting laws and robust monitoring efforts should plug as many gaps as possible, but the big question remains: will these summer Olympics be subject to a third straight ticketing scandal, or finally halt the trend?

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Fan Experience

Inside The Huddle: Group Expectations With Josh Feinberg

Feinberg and his group sales staff at the Oakland Athletics have increased their revenue generated by 45% in the last year.

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In the buildup to Front Office Sports’ Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on May 10, we’re introducing you to the huddle leaders who will be lending their expertise to the conversation.

Today, meet Josh Feinberg: Director of Group Sales & Hospitality at the Oakland Athletics. Feinberg will be one of the leaders of the huddle “Squad Goals: The Evolution of Group Expectations”.

READ MORE: Inside The Huddle: Premium Sales With Brett Zalaski

Feinberg made the decision to turn his passion for sports into a career during college and began working internships shortly after his graduation in 2008. Feinberg transitioned into sales shortly thereafter and quickly found his way into group sales specifically. When it comes to his subsection of the industry, he enjoys how multifaceted it can be mixing elements of sales, event planning, and marketing.

“I think what I enjoy about group sales is just being able to work with so many different people. Group sales gives you the opportunity to collaborate with every facet of the business operations team from marketing to community relations to stadium operations,” Feinberg says, reflecting on his decade-long career in sports to date.

In his current role in Oakland, Feinberg inherited a staff of just three people in group sales. He has been able to grow that staff to 15 people, however, and that staff increased their revenue generated by 45% in the last year. He describes this as one of his proudest professional accomplishments.

As a leader of young reps, Feinberg notices a handful of teachable moments. The biggest mistakes he notices younger reps making is forgetting the more human elements of sales and working in sports as a whole.

“Sometimes younger reps get too caught up in the day to day sales process and may not see the big picture of their career,” Feinberg explains. “I remind them to continue to network within the industry, along with the people inside the A’s organization. You never know how a relationship may pay back over time. We want to see our team grow as sales leaders but also as well rounded sports business professionals.”

Outside observers may not realize just how different group sales is from other subsections of ticket sales because it incorporates so many different elements and demands so many different skill sets.

“There are some sports organizations that check a box with their group sales staff. There are other teams that really dive deep with a purpose,” Feinberg states. “It can go in so many directions to maximize a market by having a larger, more focused group sales team. We’ve quadrupled our group sales team and it has allowed us grow our outreach and ultimately, increase revenue.

READ MORE: Inside The Huddle: Selling A New Team With Ted Glick

Like any subsection of ticket sales or the sports industry in general, putting yourself out there and making connections plays a huge role in achieving success. Feinberg advises young professionals just starting out to take this seriously.

“Personal branding and networking have been important for a long time now. Putting more effort into your personal brand, networking at a high level, and it can take you places.”

Meet Josh and hear more of his thoughts on the current ticketing space at the Front Office Sports Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, CA on May 10. For tickets and additional info, click here.

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