I had initially wanted to write a blog on Gopher basketball season ticket sales, however, after seeing the turnout for the Gopher football game against Purdue last weekend, I figured I needed to address the lagging sales for both programs. Some of you may read my previous article on the lack of student tickets sold (www.startribune.com/local/yourvoices/166589686.html), and ideas on how to rectify that situation. Students are incredibly important to a college game, and they are the ones that create the atmosphere, and give you a home field/court advantage. However, it's no secret that public season ticket holders are the ones that pay the bills, making it imperative to sell those tickets.
For those of you who say winning will cure everything, you are right – it will. Jerry Kill said that at his press conference on Tuesday, and he is correct. However, we've had some down years in both football and basketball, and the truth is, you can't always rely on winning because you won't always win (unless your name is Tom Izzo and this is Michigan State basketball). So you need to implement other ideas to sustain and grow your fan base.
In football, we're actually having a decent year, we're 5-3, one game away from being bowl game eligible, and just got our first Big 10 win against Purdue on Saturday. After the past few years, this is a pleasant change. However, if you were at the Purdue game on Saturday, you would have noticed that the glaringly low attendance. TCF Bank sold the fewest tickets in its short history, selling only 41,062. For those of you who are more visual, the stadium looked like this at kickoff:
And this during the last few minutes of the 4th quarter:
As you can see in the graph below, there has also been a decline in the number of basketball season tickets sold over the past several years. The public season tickets are in gold, student season tickets are in maroon, and their coordinating number totals are also color coded. Despite the excitement surrounding Tubby Smith’s initial years at Minnesota, the graph shows the grim reality of ticket sales during his tenure. While I fully expect more student season tickets to be sold (as students are lot more last minute), I don't see the public ticket numbers going up drastically, meaning the ticket office will have to rely on specials and various promotions to fill Williams Arena this coming season.
2007: 9343 Public & 1295 Student
2008: 8926 Public & 2105 Student
2009: 9,147 Public & 2,011 Student
2010: 8,931 Public & 1,456 Student
2011: 8,382 Public & 1,285 Student
2012: 7,411 Public & 810 Student (as of 10/29/12), anticipating more will be sold for the year)
So, what incentive to be a season ticket holder? Obviously supporting your school, getting the seats you want, and sitting by the same group each game. However, if you don't care about those things and just want to attend the game, you would take advantage of specials the U of MN is putting out there. I do not have priority seating for football, I do order a chair back, and my season tickets were a total of $340.00 ($275 for the ticket, $45 for seat cushion, $20 for handling), instead of $50 had I purchased all the games individually through the specials the U offered:
New Hampshire - Groupon for $10
Western Michigan - All alums, and anyone with the link 2 free tickets
Syracuse - $10 special
Northwestern (Homecoming) - $20 tickets to start, went down to $10
Purdue - $10 tickets
Michigan - $10 special for tickets posted on the Gopher Sports Facebook
The ticket office also offered a number of specials last year for basketball as well. Many disagree with me, and like the short term solution of offering a discounted or free ticket, but I would rather think long term and focus marketing efforts on season ticket holders. A long term solution would result in more overall revenue, and less work for the ticket and marketing offices as they struggle to fill the stadium and arena week to week.
Public basketball ticket sales have dropped 20.68% and student season ticket sales are down 37.45% since 2007. This past year was the most significant drop partially due to the fact that the Gophers finished 9th in the Big 10 conference, and decided to go ahead with Gopher Points and reseated Williams Arena resulting in new seat fees for many season ticketholders. Rolling out Gopher Points this past summer was poorly timed, and should have been postponed until there was some demand for basketball tickets, and the team was doing well.
When you even take a look at the first exhibition game against Minnesota State - Mankato, the attendance was 8,907 Last year's lowest attended exhibition game was against Augustana (S.D.) had an announced attendance of 10,644. That's over a 1700 person difference from one year to the next. That’s 1700 fewer tickets sold, but also 1700 fewer people buying concessions, merchandise, game programs, parking spots, as well as 1700 fewer people adding to the game day atmosphere in Williams Arena.
Looking at the raw numbers of the ticket sales over the last few years, it’s clear there is a problem. The more difficult part is coming up with some solutions. Here are a few of mine; some are from posters on GopherHole.com, others are from friends, and many are my own.
Appreciate your current season ticket holders. It's much easier to retain a customer, than find a new one (that’s an entirely different blog). Unfortunately, the U is not able to keep loyal fans happy. How are some ways you can do this:
- Give a discount to season ticket holders. Right now, season ticket holders are paying a lot more than non-season ticket holders. When you're purchasing 18 - 20 games a year, you should get a better value than someone that's going to 3 games. That means either lowering the price of season tickets, or raising the price of single game tickets. That can be determined with supply and demand. Right now, there is little demand, so giving people a discount makes more sense. It's better to get $28 for each game, and have a seat sold all season, than $35 for a few Big 10 games.
- If you cannot give discounts to season ticket holders, offer them other coupons or discounts. Give out 2 free parking passes per year, $5 coupons for the concessions, a free club room pass a year, there are a lot of things you can do that won't cost the U much, but will make people feel more appreciated.
- Have special season ticket holder open practices, that have 30 minutes of Q &A with the players and Tubby either before or after. Make this an exclusive event that only season ticket holders can attend.
- Give out passes to the club room a few times a year for season ticket holders. Let them enjoy a VIP experience. This costs the U nothing, as everything in there is a cash/food bar.
- Send each season ticket holder a media guide with their tickets, or a panoramic poster of The Barn, similar to what they U did with TCF Bank after the inaugural game. A gold t-shirt would be outstanding too, or distribute one on each season ticket holder's seat during a "gold out."
- Before you even give out coupons for a game, or run specials, give season ticket holders the 1st chance to buy up those tickets at a discounted price.
- Have a reception for season ticket holders before a few games at McNamara. You can have a cash bar, and a few hors d'oeuvres – not a huge cost, but a nice touch.
- Let season ticket holder trade their tickets in. Theaters do this, as do some of the Twins and Timberwolves season ticket holders. If you can't make it to one game, be able to trade in a pair of tickets for another game to bring 2 guests (that could turn into future season ticket holders), as long as there is availability for the other game (you can also make a handful games exempt from this, like a Wisconsin game).
- Begin some kind of loyalty program. After the first year, you get a t-shirt, after five years, a sweatshirt, after 10 years, a piece of the Williams Arena floor, etc. Also, award them with Gopher Points for each milestone. Gopher points should also reward student season ticket holders. If a student has gone to games for four years, and been a die-hard fan, they should get more points than a student that never went to a game.
- For those season ticket holders that have already left, invite them back for a reception. Have people come to Williams Arena after work, and have food and drinks for them. Mark each seat in The Barn that's available, so people can see what great seats there are still left. Have Tubby and the players there. If you get just a few people to come back to the Gophers, you make up for all your food and drink costs. I know I dropped my season tickets last year, and the only marketing outreach I've received this year was one phone call from the ticket office. After spending over $600 a season on tickets for quite a few years, you'd think they'd want me (or anyone) back as a customer.
- As the season goes on, pro-rate the season tickets. If we're halfway through the season, let people buy just 1/2 of the season, instead of single game tickets. That encourages new season ticket holders all season long, especially if the team gets hot (which we're looking to do this year).
- For these poorly attended non-conference games, give guest passes out to your season ticket holders. It can be a last minute thing, but a day or two before, if it looks like there will be 5000 empty seats, send out an email to let people bring friends to the game. If you aren’t going to sell that seat, you may as well at least have a butt in it, and possible future customer.
These are some simple ideas. Is giving someone a media guide going to get them to renew their season tickets? No. But if you can a number of small, and inexpensive thing to make people feel appreciated as season ticket holders, and receive some benefits, they will be a lot less likely to drop them. Bottom line is, stop focusing on giving away or running inexpensive specials to sell one or two games, that's a short term fix. Focus on your season ticket holder, and the thousands you've lost over the past few years is a great place to start.
Twitter: @NadineBabu www.twitter.com/nadinebabu
Nadine Babu is the CEO and Social Media Strategist at Babu Social Networks and completed her undergraduate degree and MBA at the Carlson School of Management. She manages and writes for GopherHole.com