A More Effective Ticket Promotion Than Giveaways

Research shows that not even new ballparks can sell tickets after a year or two if team’s don’t perform. Winning sells tickets, which makes the marketing and ticket sales jobs at the Pirates, Royals, Reds, and other perennial non-playoff contenders, among the most difficult in sports. Filling up Yankee Stadium in its final season with a World Series contender on the field is one thing, drawing 40,000 for a mid-August game at PNC Park when the Pirates are 15 games out of first is another story.

Earlier this season I read an article that Pittsburgh had scheduled over 70 promotion nights this season. ALmost every night for the enitre season the Pirates gave something away. Sports Business Journal reports that 111 cap days are scheduled across all MLB teams this season, 95 shirt giveaways, and 94 bobblehead nights at the stadium. Checking the attendance, we find no outliers in the winning is the only predictor for ticket sales theory, so are these giveaways worth it?

The short answer, no. At least not this many. If teams giveaway items a few times a week it devalues the effect of a promotional night, a simple supply and demand concept – saturate the market with product and demand will decrease because consumers can get the product whenever they want. Translate, more promotional nights removes the fan urgency to attend Cap Day or Bat Night because any time they show up its likely to be fill in the blank night. Besides the over saturation, the more giveaways, the more likely the giveaways become cheaper and less valuable to the fans. SBJ references “Jar Gripper Night” at Yankee Stadium, sure to have the throngs running.

While teams have become creative and thoughtful, using gas and concession promotions to provide value for the customer, more teams should institute frequent buyer programs. Baseball games might not compare to selling coffee, but ticket departments can take that get 10th coffee free concept and apply it to games. If implemented successfully, the concept will bring more repeat customers, and build loyalty that one-time promotions fail to do.

Each buyer create an account online with the team, which they use to make purchases. Each ticket purchase credits their account with points. When the account reaches a certain point value fans can redeem the points for tickets. Teams can apply the usual game and seat location restrictions, but the program works like a frequent flyer program. Throw in an added-twist, assign different point values to different games. Coming to a game against the the Mariners is worth more points than a Yankees or Red Sox game since those teams will draw big crowds anyway. Build in the incentives to see the lesser teams by giving the customer value.

Taken a step further, following the frequent flyer model, allow fans to redeem points for other non-ticket prizes. One idea is to hold an after-season camp for kids and a dinner with the players for fans of all ages. Assign point values to each prize. Sell any remaining tickets after the season.

On the concession side, values meals are the current trend. For teams with a digital or wireless POP system, where users have accounts, give discounts out after purchases. Credit the account with coupons for each game they reach a pre-set spending level.

Finally, cut back the promotional giveaways. Revert to the days when Bat Day was special. Fans don’t need to open their own Bobblehead museums, one a year, or a small series of at most three, is sufficient. Use the giveaways to appeal more to the kids, while creating value that adults and families can appreciate. Better value will lead to repeat customers. As teams move to fully digital systems, it opens the door for more cross-promotions with sponsors, such as gas vendors and retail outlets, because its easier to track than handing out paper vouchers.

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