Stack’s Stats: Nuggets of Wisdom
The Denver Nuggets change their ‘tude; Q+A with the Bobcats’ sales ticket director.
Seven Questions Or Less
Flavil Hampsten, Vice President of Ticket Sales and Database Marketing, Charlotte Bobcats, @Flavil
SLAM: What are your responsibilities?
Flavil Hampsten: My main responsibilities here are overseeing the ticket sales of the service teams, which include our luxury products. So, that’s suites and royal box offerings, group sales, retention and individual game sales. I also manage our direct-to-consumer database marketing plan. I manage the entire database here, which relies very heavily on analytics. That database right now has 1.2 million people.
We roughly have about 45 people on our staff. That includes all the sales and service people along with the database marketing manager. The way our teams are broken up is we have our premium sales team that sells our suites and our high-end products. You have our season-ticket sales team, which operates on a B2B and B2C level—business-to-consumer. We have our entry level inside sales team, which is our sales training program that normally has nine or ten people in it. We have our group sales segment. They will target groups of 15-plus people, and they also handle all our big theme nights, our family nights, our college nights, career in sports night, military nights.
Then we have our retention team, which is responsible for the database service of our current season ticket holders. But they’re also tasked with bringing those people back year after year.
SLAM: What did you learn from working in the NBA and with the Dallas Cowboys that you’ve been able to implement with the Bobcats?
FH: The one thing I would say that I dove into very heavily is analytics. Looking at who our current buyers are, what they look like, what their interests are, what they do, do they have families, do they have kids, what kind of house are they in, what’s their income level. And then basically finding more like-buyers, but then also diving a lot into research.
We’ve done our fair share of surveying…trying to figure out what kind of menu we should have in regards to product offerings. As an example of that, we surveyed our partial plan holders the summer when I got here, and we were asking them why they want to buy partials and not more games.
We found out through that research the reason they weren’t buying more. Because we had such static plans, meaning we gave them 20 games and they had to make those 20 games, we went to a flex plan to allow them to pick their games. Our sales back in that channel [during the '10-11 season] went from $100,000 to $1 million just in our half-season plan. And our partial-plan revenue almost tripled versus what we did the prior year. A big amount of that was two-fold: A) They can now pick their games around their schedule, so they come to more games. The other side of it that came out through surveying is they were willing to pay more for the flexibility. We’d actually even up-charge a little bit for the flexibility, and that plan just jumped through the roof.
That’s an example of where we’ve gone. We always survey our season-ticket holders. Even last year, we found out if they intended to come back. If the answer is ‘yes’ then great. If the answer is ‘no’ then why aren’t they coming back, and we get a list of objections. We got those from a strategic standpoint to make it easier for them to say ‘yes’, that they want to renew. The more we know about the customers and what they’re thinking and feeling, the more we can react as a front office to their needs.
SLAM: Is the season ticket plan dead? Do people still want that?
FH: It’s funny, you read a lot of stuff that makes it seem like it’s dead. I couldn’t be further from that standpoint. I don’t think season tickets will ever die. I think it’s going to revolve around several different aspects. There’s a product differentiation there that we have to ensure the season tickets…those are your base customers, they make the biggest commitments both in time and financially, generally. I think there needs to be a product segmentation.
I think where teams get into the danger zone is when their partial plans and their individual games look too similar to their season ticket plans.
For us, for example, we just launched a program called Cats 365. What it is was families now have more options. There is more competition day in and day out for the discretionary dollar. Not only to consumers and their families but also to businesses. Everything spent is being analyzed by companies and the public, so Cats 365 is a year-round message platform. Now they actually have 12 months of Bobcats interaction rather than just the typical six months.
We beta-tested it last year. We ended up doing about 60 events above and beyond our basketball season. The events are targeted towards the interest of the individual. What I mean by that is if you have a business and you’re buying Bobcat season tickets, then you’re probably doing it for one of two reasons: to bring in revenue for your firm or you’re doing it as an employee retention type of tool as a type of employee perk.
What we’ve done is some B2B networking events, and we actually have a business pillar in our Cats 365 that will allow a business owner or a sales person to come in to meet other season ticket holders, and be able to do business with each other. That’s above and beyond the game because during the game you don’t know who you’re sitting next to or who’s in the club or who’s there. We’re helping facilitate those relationships. I’ve had numerous people come up to me saying they’ve paid for their season tickets from us having those business events, via the amount of revenue they’re generating.
Businesses will pay $10,000 or $15,000 to join a chamber or a business networking event. They can pay $10,000 or $15,000 here if we can provide the same types of amenities as that chamber or networking event, and we have the tickets on top of it, and a game. So, we’re a platform that, year-round, will help your solutions year-round.
SLAM: Do you know what forms of entertainment your new customers drop in order to go to Bobcats games?
FH: We have a general idea. Our reps with our (computer) system have different fields they can enter in. Every conversation they’re entering more information, and it’ll be surveyed to find what they’ve done or what they’ve had in years past. It depends on the buyer. We generally have an idea. We have our reps ask customers what they do around the city, what they do for fun, what they do for entertainment to get a feel for what’s related to a product we can offer and be able to enhance that.
SLAM: You made a point in one of your recent posts on your website that teams should always make it easy for prospective customers to say ‘yes’. Much of that was in the context of a league-wide work stoppage. How do you continue that philosophy in a post-work stoppage environment?
FH: The work stoppage…obviously nobody was happy about it or liked it, but it was the fact it allowed us a little bit to analyze our business. We had more time on our hands. From a business perspective, and in my world, we took [the lockout] to do a couple of exercises to see what we need to be doing year in and year out that maybe we just weren’t doing.
That’s when we launched Cats 365 and took a look at some of our product offerings, like flex plans to make it easier for the buyer to say ‘yes’. This year, we launch a 12-month plan where people split up their payments over 12 months and it kicks in like a cable bill, so then every month they’re paying ‘x’ and it keeps rolling and rolling as you get season tickets. It’s all about making it easy for that buyer to keep them around.
SLAM: Do you find often that people discover greater financial flexibility with the more varying types of plans the team offers them?
RH: Oh, 100 percent. Our motto internally is there’s a plan for every fan. You’ve heard that throughout the league, so it’s not our term to coin. But we have that. I think that if somebody is coming to one or two games and they’re paying ‘x’ amount, and if they actually end up going through one of our representatives, they can get more games, better value, better games, better seats and we can go through and find a plan that fits for them. They get more benefit out of that than just buying a game or two. But like I said, all the way up the ladder, even with our half-season plans we’ve upgraded at the highest percentages in the NBA as far as our partial plans coming in from Year 1.
The type of treatment that our season ticket holders get—the amenities, the benefits, Cats 365, partial plans actually are included in that and that goes back to my product differentiation I mentioned a little bit ago. When they take a look at the price to upgrade, the flexibility and the payments, you’ll find that anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of our partial plans upgrade every year. The full season tickets, not just upgrade from a small partial to a big partial but just the season ticket.
You get them in here, they find out what type of program they should get, they found out we actually care about them. They’re not just an account number. We help them achieve their goals. They find we want to know about them, that they’re taken care of.
SLAM: How much are you able to sell the identity of the team and have people buy tickets for the validity of the team and the ticket plans, and not necessarily for Michael Jordan being the reason they buy tickets?
RH: Michael is obviously the face of the franchise—a very recognizable name—but I would say that as far as the team aspect, I don’t know if there’s a specific number you put in there. They’re here for some teams that are good, for some teams that are bad. I think it goes back to the core principle, which is we always say we can never control the product or the outcome on the floor. But we can control the game experience.
There’s more than just basketball to the game. Take a look at Portland, for example. They do a great job at engaging their customers. They do a great job of game entertainment. Year in and year out, even if the team suffers a little bit, those customers are coming back because they were treated so well when they were there. If it’s got to be a full package. Unless your team is just drop-dead good or they’re just crushing people, you have to have that full package to sustain that model.