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Group sales help teams fill the house, create fan experiences

Group sales help teams fill the house, create fan experiences

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In my textbook “Sport Marketing (3rd edition),” there is a diagram we call the ticket sales sandwich, which depicts all of the ingredients necessary to have a successful ticket sales effort. Group sales are a critical ingredient in that sandwich, and I will explain why.

Group sales are usually referred to as a sale to a group of 20 or more people (this number varies from franchise to franchise). The group may or may not have been to this particular sporting event before, but the prime motivator is spending a night out with friends and enjoying an activity together. Day of the week, cost and activities are usually much more important than how the team is playing and the opponent. Group sales can help make the house look fuller and drive revenue while at the same time offering a fantastic sampling opportunity and lead generator for future sales.

Whenever I have a question about group sales, I usually turn to Murray Cohn, vice president of team ticket sales with the NBA’s team marketing and business operations department. Cohn is a former student of mine and a colleague with whom I worked closely on NBA and WNBA ticket sales. There are not many people that you can describe as the best in the world at what they do, but that is how I describe Cohn and his 25 years of experience in ticket sales, and group sales in particular.

I asked Cohn to share his thoughts on group sales and asked for an approach that could be successful at any level, regardless of staff size or resources. Here are his thoughts.

What is a common misperception about group sales?

Cohn
COHN: Group sales are not about selling cheap, discounted tickets. It is the most stable ticket sales channel to drive revenue and tickets regardless of team performance. Over the past three seasons we have seen all-time NBA and WNBA group sales records in both group tickets sold and group sales revenue. In fact, this year, the San Antonio Spurs and their related properties, Silver Stars (WNBA), Rampage (AHL) and Austin Toros of the NBA D-League, all set franchise group sales records.

Based upon those results, what would you recommend to sport organizations to become more proficient and successful in this area?

COHN: There are eight key things that have driven these record results that every group sales director can duplicate.

1. Hire relationship-oriented sellers that recruit group leaders to work for them and focus more on face-to-face selling.

2. Teach a five-step, fundamental group sales process that allows sellers to use their personalities to better relate to the prospects.

• Make a connection: Where are you from? How long have you been with the company?

• Understand the size and scope. Always ask. What are your goals? What are you doing to accomplish your goals? For example, a company may be looking to entertain their top clients in a unique way that may be perfect for a VIP package with great seats and a picture on the court, while a karate studio might wish to showcase its students at halftime in the hopes of recruiting new students.

• Success: How does the prospect define and measure success? What have they done and why has it been successful?

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The sale of group tickets is the most stable channel to drive revenue, regardless of team record.
• How do you communicate successful benefits and events? How does the prospect convey success to people that might be interested in a similar experience?

• Close. Use the pattern of yes. Strong recommendation: “Based upon what you told me, we should do ... ” Take the feelings and thoughts of the prospect and offer a solution based upon what they said was important.

3. Treat group sales renewals with the same focus as a season-ticket renewal campaign.

4. Variable pricing. Create a ticket plan for every fan by pricing your highest demand games up and lowest demand games down.

5. Mini-events. Our teams have witnessed amazing success by hosting events with business groups, churches, nonprofits, youth sports and schools. Sharing our programs and having buy-now incentives for that night only. This new way of selling is changing our business and making us much more efficient using our time and resources.

6. Selling fan experience packages. How cool would it be to high-five all the players or play hoops on an NBA-WNBA court? We create these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to make the customer part of the cast. The average NBA and WNBA team generates 1,500 group tickets per game just by selling out their fan experiences, such as fan tunnels, honorary captains, anthem singers and so forth. The newest WNBA fan experience is to bring an entire team to your gym as part of a traveling practice. The Atlanta Dream has done this better then anyone and it will generate over 10,000 tickets for them this season.

7. Creating a winning culture. The teams that are the best in group sales have created the best sales cultures where everyone sells groups, not just the group sales staff of five to seven sellers. These teams make selling fun by rewarding both results and efforts and making their sellers feel respected and appreciated.

8. Acknowledge and reward the group leaders for their role in helping to create and execute the event. Group leaders function as recruiters, promoters and excitement/interest generators. Showing them some appreciation and giving them a thank you gift in front of the group shows the benefits of being a group leader and might help recruit other people from that same group, who might be members of other groups, to bring their groups out for a game.

Group sales need to be an active part of your ticket sales strategy regardless of team performance. I have seen a number of cases where a team becomes successful and tries to sell out its entire ticket inventory through full-season tickets or a combination of full-season tickets and half-season tickets. This is a short-term solution to selling inventory. The long-term downside is not having a pipeline of interested fans wanting the opportunity to purchase tickets and increasing the avidity of that fan base, thus ultimately increasing ticket demand even more. n

Bill Sutton (wsutton@bus.ucf.edu) is a professor and associate director of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_Impact.

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