Nets Ticket Deal Defies Marketing Principles

Below is an adaption of the previous post with edits and more structured arguments:

Nobody will ever accuse Nets CEO Brett Yormark of lacking creativity or innovation. However, the recently announced “Match-Up” 10-game ticket plan raised eyebrows and drew some criticism. The plan bundles arguably the ten biggest draws on the Nets schedule – Lakers, Celtics, Cavs twice, Magic, Spurs, Heat, among others – plus, fans receive five reversible jerseys with Nets player on one side and an opposing superstar on the other.

Team marketing veterans will question marketing other team’s players through a ticket promotion because it defies building brand loyalty and not using marquee games to increase sales for less attractive matchups, for instance forcing fans to buy Indiana and Sacramento tickets in order to see Lebron’s Cavs.

Before overtly criticizing the Nets on these points, teams must come to accept and act on the following facts: 1) success is the top driver of sustainable attendance, not ticket deals; 2) marketing’s top fear should be price cuts (applies to any business); 3) fans will buy jerseys of top players, often regardless of what team they root for. Now, look at New Jersey’s situation, who like many teams is rebuilding. Off two straight seasons out of the playoffs, it traded its marquee superstar in Vince Carter (though Devin Harris is a rising star), and have all but deserted its current fans with the planned move to Brooklyn. Further, they play across the river from Madison Square Garden, in the worst NBA arena. Few jobs could be tougher than selling Nets tickets, especially in the current economy.

Given these circumstances, why not market some of the teams and superstars the Nets play to get fans out to the arena. The annual list of top jersey sellers indicate fans value certain individuals, so the Nets are leveraging that to add value to potential customers. In fact, the team improved its own marketing by attaching a Nets jersey on the reverse side, rather than having fans go to the NBA Store and just buy the Kobe jersey with no Nets branding.

Packaging the ten best games into the same package is another way the Nets differentiated the offer. Teams have trained fans to expect the Cavs and Lakers games tied to Charlotte, Minnesota, Memphis, and the rest of the NBA Lottery. It does not excite fans, and they face a tough decision deciding whether to buy that package. The Nets eliminated any question about the value – every game in this deal has an attraction, so fans feel like they are getting a deal, rather than judging if one ticket to see Kobe is worth buying four games I do not care about. Ticket offers have become a dime a dozen, but this package rises above the clutter, and gives fans that “wow” moment. By combining the best teams with the most sought after jerseys, the Nets added value for customers and increased the fan’s willingness to pay for the offer. This approach should boost sales above what teams typically see for ticket deals.

Further, the Nets did not slash prices by bundling ten games they are selling quarter-season ticket packages at or near full price, a quick way to boost your full-season equivalents. Arguably, the team will net more revenue than had they separated these games, paired them with less attractive opponents that drive fans away, and been forced to cut prices later on.

Teams need to accept reality, as the Nets have, that fans want to see Kobe and Lebron and want to buy their jerseys, and some fans only want to see the NBA stars, not a watered down package of lottery teams. Rather than continue to ignore these facts, teams need to find ways to capitalize on it, earn brand favorability, maintain a sustainable business, and be ready to maximize profits when your team is on the short list of NBA elite. Each team holds a monopoly or duopoly in its market, so jointly promoting your team and an opponent will not lose that fan in the future. For all those who criticize the Nets, I will place my bets on their average ticket price and overall attendance for those ten games, the true measures of success.

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Nets Ticket Deal: Inappropriate or Innovative?

The Nets set off a buzz around NBA and sports marketing circles last week when they released the Match-Up ticket plan – 10 games against the NBA’s biggest attractions and 5 reversible jerseys with Nets player on one side and opposing superstar on the other side. Traditionalists didn’t know where to start, with promoting opposing teams players or attaching all the big games to the same ticket plan instead of forcing fans to buy the unsellable games in order to see Lebron. Brett Yormark broke basic ticket sales and marketing rules NBA teams have followed for years in one announcement.

Nobody has ever accused the Nets or their CEO for lack of creativity and innovation, but that only proves even the best salesmen can’t fill the arena with a bad team and a bad arena. That said, this deal makes sense for the team. Before addressing the potential negatives, some positives. Immediate awareness of the ticket plan with a splashy, unique offering, so everyone knows it exists. It’s generated interest. Though not scientific and not a large sample, I’ve heard numerous people say, “Wow, I’m thinking about buying that.” For how many ticket plans, and ticket price cuts scroll through, rarely does it actually elicit excitement – this one has.

On the flip side, the Nets are promoting other team’s players, not the best way of marketing your own team. Before digging in, keep two important points in mind that have proven themselves over time: 1) team success drives sustainable attendance, not ticket deals; 2) marketing’s top fear is cutting prices (applies to any business). New Jersey is coming off two straight seasons out of the playoffs, traded away its marquee superstar in Vince Carter (though arguably Devin Harris is a better player now), and have all but deserted its current fans by threatening to move to Brooklyn. Oh yeah, they play across the river from Madison Square Garden in the worst arena in the NBA. Like showing up for a gun duel with two fists, they have no chance to succeed under these circumstances.

Given these circumstances, why not market some of the teams the Nets are playing to get fans out to the arena. I have always felt small market teams struggling for attendance should leverage opposing teams and opposing stars more than they do. Face reality, a giveaway for the 5 Nets uniforms would not generate any excitement (nor would that same giveaway in most arenas). Add in Kobe, Lebron, KG, Dwight, and Wade, and you have added value for your fans, you increased their willingness to pay with the promotion. [I argue teams should consider marketing alliances to push travel packages in opponent cities, i.e. Nets market to Cleveland fans, or Boston fans, to capture revenue from fans with peak interest when a team’s own fan base can’t fill the arena – another subject for another day.]

Without running an analysis on sales numbers it’s hard to draw conclusions about the bundling all quality games together in one package vs. leveraging each game to upsell less attractive games. At a high-level, fans are now trained to expect the Cavs game packaged with Sacramento, Indiana, and Memphis. They don’t get excited about that, its still a tough decision to buy that package. The Nets took away any question – every game in this deal has an attraction, so fans feel like they are actually getting a deal, and are not left to judge if buying 4 games I don’t care about is worth the ticket to see Kobe play. This approach should boost sales for this package above what teams typically see for ticket deals.

Further, the Nets didn’t slash prices and they bundled 10 games together, so they are selling quarter-season ticket packages at or near full price. From that perspective, it’s a quick way to boost your full-season equivalents. Arguably, a bigger revenue bump than would have been received by separating these games and pairing them with less attractive opponents that drive fans away.

Time will tell if the plan succeeds, as measure by attendance numbers and revenue generated. Teams need to accept reality, as the Nets have, that fans want to see Kobe and Lebron and want to buy their jersey’s not necessarily those of the home team. And some fans only want to see the NBA stars, not a watered down package of lottery teams. Rather than continue to ignore these facts, teams need to find ways to capitalize on it, earn brand favorability for your team, maintain a sustainable business, and be ready to maximize profits when your team is one of those on the short list of NBA elite. For all those who criticize the Nets, I’ll place my bets on their average ticket price and overall attendance for those 10 games.

NBA Proves Impact in China with Jersey Sales

It’s amazing to see the in-roads the NBA has made in China in the past generation. The league has a perennial All-Star from the world’s biggest country, is part of a deal with AEG to open basketball arena’s across the country, and operates an immensely successful business unit in NBA China. However, the list of top selling jersey’s in China provides concrete evidence of just how successful the NBA’s initiative is.

Yao Ming, one of the most well-known people in the entire country, ranks 10th. That’s right, nine other NBA players sold more jersey’s last year than Yao. Forget revenue, a big part of the NBA’s barometer for success is impact. The Top 10 list, thanks to Darren Rovell, indicates the Chinese are not just Yao fans, not just basketball fans, but NBA fans.

Could it be that everyone already has a Yao jersey after five seasons in the league, and not other Chinese player has made an impact. Possible, but unlikely. Take one look at the crowd reaction to Kobe Bryant, more fanatical than he sees in most NBA cities.

With popularity rising fast and furiously, is it possible that player’s are actually underexposed in China? Could agents and marketing representatives be leaving endorsement money on the table overseas? Big endorsement money. Instead of flirting with $50 million contracts to play in Europe, players could expand their brand to the far east to earn that extra money.

Obviously shoe companies, like Nike and addidas are already global. Look past that, each country has wireless carriers, car companies, the fast food and soda companies all have international exposure. Why not capitalize on the merchandise success and create that global brand that Lebron discussed when he mentioned the merits of playing overseas. Just maybe he doesn’t have to play overseas to reap the benefits.

NBA Superstars Talk Euroleague, Send Message To Stern

Josh Childress is one thing, LeBron James is a completely different story. Following Childress’ unprecedented move for an American player in his prime years signing to play in Europe, James and fellow current NBA royalty Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony openly welcomed the possibility of playing in Europe when they become free agents.

All three players were quoted saying it would be difficult to turn down a salary as high as $50 million per season. Hint to David Stern, that’s obviously a league with no salary cap. Realistically, take the comments for what they’re worth. It’s unlikely to see a mega NBA star walk to Europe in his prime, leaving the endorsements, the life, and the chance for a championship. But, in no uncertain terms, the players sound prepared to fight for removing the maximum salary.

Whether James and Kobe speak in jest or not, Commissioner Stern can’t be happy. His two biggest meal tickets for the next decade overtly speaking out against the league during the Olympics, with the whole world listening. Second, the league can interpre the comments as a threat to remove the maximum player salary and team salary cap in the next CBA or face potential consequences. Responding to the Childress situation was easy, this response requires thought, but Stern must respond in some way. Since most of these players spoke about going to Europe in the future, expect the issue to blow into the background when the season starts. However, it’s not going away, and has the potential to become a big story as 2010 approaches.

James remarked how playing in Europe would transform Lebron into a global brand. AN interesting question, how valuable as an endorser is an NBA star playing in Europe? It’s a win-loss situation. Global companies and sponsors local to the area will salivate, while US companies unable to exploit the athlete to the same level nationally may step back. Superstars are superstars, but how valuable is Kobe if he plays and lives in Italy all season. His Q-rating in the country will likely decrease by virtue of the cameras not being on him day in and day out. Sponsors would lose the high recognition rate and association with players that are not playing domestically. In the end it might be a wash, Lebron and Kobe could conquer Europe, but take a step back in the US.

On the court, the NBA clearly needs James and Bryant more than they need the league. Basketball has always been a star-driven game, more so than any other major sport. Losing either of the two would be a serious blow in popularity and revenue. It also could start a mass exodus. If they can do it, why can’t others. On the other hand, removing the salary cap or maximum salary has numerous other ramifications. Either way, Europe is now a serious NBA competitor. If the NBA takes care of its stars, the large middle class of the league, like Childress, stand to earn substantially more in Europe than here, while if the league dismisses its superstars threats, Euroleague can make someone an offer they can’t refuse.

Stern needs to play his cards right. He has time, but should not try to avoid it. Meantime, many fans and players will keep an eye on Childress throughout the season to see how the experiment goes.

No Manu, No Win

Forget the non-foul call on Brent Barry in the final seconds – seriously, when was the last time you saw that call made in that situation – the Spurs role players and spark plug lost this game. That they stayed as close as two points midway into the fourth quarter amazed me way more than the fact they lost. Yes, Manu Ginobili did actually play in this game before the end of the fourth quarter. If you missed him, you weren’t alone. Whether hampered by injury, or having a bad night, the Argentine was a non-factor, scoring two points the first 3 1/2 quarters of the game, finishing with only seven points.

The usual suspects, Parker and Duncan, played solid games. Barry had the playoff game of his life, almost single-handedly accounting for the team’s 3-pt production. As for the rest of the team – in a word, pathetic. How many games do you win when two starters, Michael FInley and Fabricio Oberto in this case, fail to score. Robert Horry officially traded in the Big Shot Bob moniker for No Shot Robby. Poppovich was forced to stick with his top three and the hot Barry almost the entire second half to erase the Lakers lead. By the fourth quarter, the Spurs looked winded and old.

Unlike the Spurs role players, LA received solid contributions across the board. Lamar Odom scored 8 of his 16 in the fourth, and grabbed nine rebounds in the game. Down the stretch, it appeared that Odom could score at will, or at least get to the basket whenever he wanted, no matter who was guarding him. That’s the type of scary talent he has. It’s the inconsistency, like his Game 3 performance that prevents him from becoming a star. Derek Fischer recovered from a poor outing to play a solid game, combining with backup
point guard Jordan Farmer for only two turnovers in 47 combined minutes. Not flashy, just solid, fundamental playoff basketball.

Almost unnoticed, Pau Gasol played decent defense on Duncan for the first time all series. The Big Fundamental shot 10-26 from the field, bothered by Gasol’s length and extra aggression. He still dumped in 29 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, but was not much of a factor late in the game, and had to work much harder for those points than the first three games. On offense, Gasol only took seven shots to score his ten points. The unselfish big man finally dug his hells in, grinding inside with Duncan, fighting for position and forcing Duncan to commit fouls. Then adeptly, when his shot was not there, he setup his teammates. Not many 7-footers notch 6 assists.

All this without mentioning Kobe. You assume those 28 points from Bryant almost every night. Everyone is investigating the zero foul shots – first postseason game since 2004 without a free throw. It’s no surprise, he didn’t attack the hole often, mostly settling for jumpers. His big stat was ten rebounds. LA killed San Antonio on the glass, especially the offensive boards. Poppovich said as much in his timeout huddle that aired on TNT. Allowing second chance opportunities build leads and kill comebacks. Each time the Spurs made a defensive stop and the Lakers grabbed an offensive board, more time off the clock, more energy spent on defense, less momentum. A vicious cycle. Detroit suffered the same fate in Game 3 against Boston and never came back. San Antonio tied the game five times, but never took the lead.

Up against the wall, the defending champs need to pull a rabbit out of their hat to win this series. Thursday night is shaping into the next step for this Lakers team. The Spurs are never dead until they lose four times, but the casket is in the ground.

Spurs Give One Away

San Antonio had a myriad of excuses heading into this game. A tough seven game series ended with a draining road win only two nights earlier, the lack of rest, the wear and tear on the aging team, then throw in the airplane debacle that cost them a good night’s sleep before a cross-country flight. With the rested top seed Lakers waiting at home, why even play game one.

Well, they played, and San Antonio jumped Kobe’s crew, a 20 point blowout into the third quarter. Then the walls crumbled. LA mounted the second biggest playoff comeback since 1998, overcoming the deficit to win by four. Actually, LA did not comeback so much as the Spurs retreated and Kobe, by himself, charged ahead.

13 points in the fourth quarter in a playoff game is terrible. Call it fatigue, call it good defense, the reason the Spurs scored 13 points was Phil Jackson adjusted to Duncan’s dominance, and nobody stepped up. Ginobili, who carried the team in the New Orleans series as Duncan faced a tough matchup, played awful, shooting 3-13 for only 10 points. He missed big shots down the stretch, and turned it over four times. The Sixth Man of the Year turned starter must play well for San Antonio to win. Once LA adapted to Duncan inside, the Spurs offense shutdown.

Contrary to Game Seven on Monday night, the bench produced a meager 11 points for San Antonio. No clutch shots from the Finleys, the Horrys, and the Udokas of the world. No 3-point barrage. No big secondary performance. Duncan will not go quietly this series, proving last night with a vintage 30 point, 18 rebound effort that nobody on the Lakers can guard him in single coverage. The rest of the team needs to step up now. If Ginobili shoots 3-13 and can’t get to the line, San Antonio has no chance, none what so ever. He is the spark plug for this team.

Not to be outdone by Lebron, Kobe showed that he is still the best playoff performer in the league. After a quiet 2-point first half, he decided to take over – yes, he actually said, he knew he could just flip the switch on at will, how great is that. Bryant scored with ease in the second half, the Lakers as a team played under control but at their pace. They never panicked and they operated like a well oiled machine on both ends of the floor.

If any team can overcome blowing this game, its the Spurs. The same way we said the Spurs could overcome the 0-2 hole against New Orleans. The loss hurts, hurts a lot, Poppovich said as much. With Ginobili struggling the Spurs offense disappeared, reverting exclusively to Duncan in the post. When the Lakers finally took that away with double teams the Spurs fizzled – and it showed. The Argentine, and backcourt compadre Tony Parker hold the key. Bryant will get his every game, Duncan will get his, Parker and Ginobili need to make the difference or the Spurs are in trouble.

Kobe Bryant Grab First MVP

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant officially won his first NBA Most Valuable Player Award, confirming reports that leaked out late last week. Commissioner David Stern will present the Maurice Podoloff Trophy to Bryant prior to Wednesday’s Western Conference Semifinal Game Two against Utah at the Staples Center.

Bryant finished the season averaging 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.4 assists, playing all 82 games despite battling a torn ligament in his pinky finger since February. He becomes the first Laker to win the award since former teammate Shaquille O’Neal was the unanimous selection in 1999-2000. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson are the only other Lakers to win MVP awards – each with two.

The 29-year-old collected 82 of the 126 first place votes, finishing with 1105 points beating out New Orleans guard Chris Paul (889 points) and Boston forward Kevin Garnett (670 points). Cleveland’s LeBron James (438 points) and Orlando’s Dwight Howard (60 points) round out the top five. Bryant led the NBA in scoring the past two seasons, but his best previous MVP finish was third place, both last year and in 2002-2003.

After a well-publicized trade demand following last season’s playoff loss, Bryant led the Lakers back to the top of the competitive Western Conference. The Lakers swept Denver in the first round of the playoffs, their first series win since the 2003-2004 playoffs, O’Neal’s last season. Los Angeles holds a 1-0 series advantage heading into tomorrow’s game with Utah.

Aside from winning an NBA Title without Shaq, the MVP award is the culmination of a great comeback for Bryant. Five years after rape charges cost him five major endorsement deals, Bryant has completely reinvented his image. His jersey is atop the NBA in sales again, he’s featured in Vitamin Water ads, and manned the cover of EA Sports NBA video game last season. In transforming from team killer to model teammate, and disappearing from the public eye off the court, Bryant is once again a coveted marketing tool for brands to associate with, especially the NBA.