by Kyle Stack / @KyleStack
In a time when NBA franchises are clamoring to sustain their existing list of season ticket holders, they’ve identified unique benefits to engage those customers.
The need to focus on season ticket holders (STHs) is very real. The League experienced a 1.7 percent dip in overall fan attendance for the ‘09-10 season compared to the prior campaign, an NBA official told SLAMonline. Yet teams have done a commendable job keeping the customers they have while attracting more. A Sports Business Journal report in June reported season-ticket revenue at the time was running 5 percent higher than at the same point last year. The same NBA official who cited the 1.7 percent dip in overall fan attendance last year noted that season-ticket renewals are over 80 percent and rising. A record number of full-season tickets were sold and that overall number is up 40 percent over last season. Two-thirds of the teams have over 1,000 new full-season tickets sold.
In order to sustain their STH base, teams have been providing benefits to show appreciation for their customers. Two franchises in particular, the Magic and Trailblazers, illustrate the desire to impress STHs and to retain their loyalty for future seasons.
With Amway Center in Orlando set to open in October, the Magic will treat 1,200 STHs full access to a new lounge in concert with team sponsor Mercedes-Benz. In a phone conversation with SLAMonline, Chip Bowers, VP of Corporate Partnerships for the Magic, explained the features of the Mercedes-Benz Star Lounge. Located on the Event Level (the ground level) of Amway Center, the lavish suite is open to STHs in the first three rows of courtside seats and the first seven rows of the lower bowl all around the court.
The 13,000-square foot lounge offers all-inclusive food and beverages, seating and dining areas, a full-service bar, tiled floors, mahogany wood finishes and visual access to both locker room areas. Perhaps more importantly to the Magic, it gives Mercedes-Benz folks from four local dealerships an opportunity to mingle with prospective buyers.
“Certainly that particular ilk of clientale [that has access to this suite] is the right demographic fit for Mercedes,” Bowers said.
The relationship among the local Mercedes-Benz dealership, the Magic and the team’s season-ticket holders is one built with successful past promotions. Last season, Magic STHs visited a local Mercedes dealership on a Magic gameday where they were presented with a catered event to see renderings of the Star Lounge. Afterward, dealership representatives drove STHs to the Magic game in various Mercedes-Benz vehicles, thus giving potential buyers a first-hand look at the cars. Events such as that proved valuable enough for the local dealerships that Star Lounge sponsorship seemed like a natural fit.
“As we headed into the new building, Mercedes wanted to take a step back, look at the success they had marketing to that particular group of Magic fans and then expand upon the association with the team and the interactivity with the fans,” Bowers said.
The Star Lounge can be accessed 90 minutes before and after a game, furthering the opportunity for STHs to lounge in luxury and for Mercedes-Benz folks to develop more connections.
Bowers emphasized that the type of sponsors they develop relationships with helps project an image of the franchise they’d prefer their fans to have.
“As we try to increase the perception of our brand, winning championships helps that,” Bowers said. “But our play on the court and the things we’re doing around Central Florida really helps people look at us in a different light. It helps to have a corporate partner like Mercedes, a high-end brand, for people to not think of us as your average team.”
Like the Magic, the Trail Blazers have a unique way to target their season-ticket holders. Each team plays in what is essentially a one-sport city; no other professional team in the four major sports leagues (NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL) exists in either place. But the Trail Blazers hold two distinct advantages over the Magic.
Their 40-season history in the NBA almost doubles the 21-season history of the Magic. In fact, the Trail Blazers sustained a playoff run from ‘82-83 to ‘02-03 which equaled the amount of time the Magic have been apart of the NBA. And the Trail Blazers are dealing with a better-compensated population. Portland had a median household income in 2008 of $50,979 against Orlando’s figure of $43,127, according to city-data.com. That’s a significant difference which, when coupled with the decades of loyalty the team has built with Portlanders, provides the team a fantastic base of prospective STHs.
Enter Rip City United, a STH program in its second year of existence. Five distinct benefits are assigned: Loyalty Rewards, exclusive events, special offers, unique promotions and first-ticket access. The Blazers market the program as one built through devotion and loyalty. Michele Daterman, VP of Tickets and Marketing for the Trail Blazers, echoed that message in a phone conversation with SLAMonline.
“Its purpose is to express that enduring connection between the team and our number one fans,” Daterman said. “Our season-ticket holders have always showed us loyalty and devotion and we wanted to reciprocate that.”
Loyalty Rewards, a benefit which Daterman said the Blazers were the first NBA team to introduce, offers more savings for the team’s more tenured STHs. Exclusive events are designed to introduce them to current and past Trail Blazers. Special offers permit STHs 20 percent discounts at the Fan Shop along with special offers and services from team partners. Unique promotions offer weekly contests to win trips, summer league access, autographed merchandise — even the chance to high-five players as they run on to the floor.
What Daterman stated that was especially valuable to the team was the ability for STHs to interact amongst each other. The team has an area of its website set up for them to talk with one another.
“It’s a social network,” Daterman said. “The greater thing has been to watch the season ticket holders talk to one another online about the events that are coming up.”
With 6,300 members of Rip City United and 12,500 season ticket holders overall, it’s vital for the Trail Blazers to show their fans their continued support is valued. The same can be said for every NBA squad. Following is one benefit to season-ticket holders for each team in the League.