Last month, we started a series detailing what goes on in an MiLB front office at various points of the year, specifically focusing on the off-season.
Currently, the season has ended, and front offices are full steam ahead planning for next season. As a reminder, this is written as if the team is not in the playoffs, nor did they have a chance to make it.
Each team has their own way to quantify their goals for the following year.
One team I worked for blindly set their budget 20% higher per month then that same month the previous year. For example, if they generated $100k in March 2017, their budget would automatically be $120k in March 2018.
While this is aspirational and a good internal challenge, here are a few challenges with this mandate:
1) Fans, and most importantly, sponsors, can sense when there is a ‘push’ at the end of each month. Remember, people that spend money in the off-season aren’t purchasing single game tickets, they are buying season tickets, suites and large sponsorship packages. They are spending a lot of money.
The team loses negotiating leverage if they cannot wait a few months for a great deal. They need to bring in money NOW. A sponsor who knows this picks up discussions the last week of the month knowing they could get a great deal for sometimes as low as $0.50 on the dollar. It is very similar to dealing with the rumours around car dealerships.
Is that the best strategy for the team? I have heard differing opinions from inside organizations, but from the outside, partners always answer with a sly “cat who ate the canary” grin that makes it seem like they know how to play the game.
2) Teams have to get creative to reduce prices and roll out flash sales to incite fans to buy. This cannibalizes existing price integrity and creates an accounting nightmare, and really bothers fans who have already purchased! For example, When I was an intern, off-season ticket sales came to a screeching halt. Our GM at the time decided to donate 20% of the revenue for every season ticket purchased in the following six weeks to a local charity.
We partnered with a restaurant to offer free dinners, made a small media purchase to help amplify the message. The charity would call their vast list of donors to buy tickets, and we had ourselves a promotion!
That is, until one night a season ticket holder for 47 years called my cell at 9pm to tell me he was shocked that the team had not offered him the same benefits. He was livid. I went to the stadium the next day with my tail between my legs and talked to our GM, who was equally as embarrassed. We had to call all of our existing season ticket holders to send them dinner vouchers and explain the charitable initiative. We spent so much time going backwards that the promotion failed, and we also humiliated ourselves to the charity that was expecting a financial and PR windfall.
Sales and Renewals
Like I mentioned, the end of the previous season is the time to gage ticketing options. In my experience, the best promotion was our Holiday Special, which lasted until December 19th every year. Any fan purchasing a ticket package got to give two free additional vouchers to anybody on their holiday list. The catch was that the team mailed the vouchers with a nice letter stating “Happy Holidays, Gary would like to invite you to a game next season…”
Here are a few reasons it was, and continues to be, so successful:
- Mini plans were our most popular ticket package, so we leveraged their success. Season Tickets might be a bit arduous and tough to manage, so we always promoted our mini plans as more bite-sized ways to enjoy a few games per season, and save a few dollars.
- This promotion brought in revenue in a slower portion of the off-season, and when there was not an impetus to buy ticket packages until the season would start. This was the incentive fans needed.
- It gave us relevance in the off-season. We used some of our radio and TV inventory to promote it. During the season, paid media might get lost because there is a lot of it. In the off-season, however, it sticks out because it is not expected and stands alone. In business terms, paid advertising’s marginal utility is greater in the off-season.
- We acquired a new fan ‘to touch’. The recipient of the gift has to call or come to the stadium to reserve their tickets and game before the season. This new fan gets great customer service and the experience of anticipating and then attending a game, and seeing the magic first hand. We ask them if they want to be called in the off-season. It is delicate to start contacting recipients of gifts because it comes off as disingenuous and dilutes the meaning of the gift, so we carefully ask them.
- It energizes the staff and gives them a strong, fun message to disseminate after the season.
- Over the year, the promotion evolved to an entire Christmas Party at the ballpark! We opened up merchandise specials, bouncy castles and donations available to a local food bank.
World Series Parties
A nice tradition that most MiLB clubs do is host their Season Ticket holders and sponsors in a suite, the clubhouse, or the concourse to watch a few World Series Games.This nice gesture is designed to thank people for their support and to host them in a place they hold dear.
Another big advantage sports teams have over traditional media is that their venue is important, and is a place where people have created memories with family and friends over the years. Every company in the world has an enclosed boardroom with a projector and a big table, but not every company has an outdoor field where kids ask their heroes for autographs, people pay to watch players work, and memories are made.
Smart teams correctly take every opportunity they can to host their fans in this valued space, especially during the off-season. At this time of year, the team is gathering the names of everybody, ordering food, and setting up the invites for these parties.
At this point of the off-season, there is a bit of downtime and the adrenaline rush from having thousands of fans in your stadium everyday has dissipated, but there is still a lot of work to do preparing for the next season.
Lead Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports