College football powerhouses and the future of attendance

15 Oct 2019 11:15 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

On July 31st, The Athletic ran an article about how college athletics is looking to improve in ticket sales.  They reached out to me to talk about the subject. Here is a snippet of where I thought colleges had room to grow:

By: Nicole Auerbach

The Athletic

“Even at a major Power Five school … what they tend to do is say, ‘Jeez, I’m just going to go hire the next hotshot coach and keep my fingers crossed that that’s going to get everybody excited, and they’re going to turn around and go buy season tickets,” said Steve DeLay, who along with his business partner Jon Spoelstra revolutionized how tickets are marketed and sold in the NBA. “It doesn’t work anymore. Nowadays it’s yes, the hot shot coach might help. But there’s a little bit of a ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ mentality. So you’ve got to do all of it. You’ve got to aggressively market. That’s email marketing and digital marketing retargeting. You’ve got to track it all to know, if I’m spending one dollar, am I getting five dollars back in revenue? Schools are slowly catching up to where the professional sports realm was 20 years ago.

“They’re realizing now that they need to hire and train salespeople. They need to actually create group ticket products and smaller ticket packages — five-game plans, seven-game plans, especially for basketball. And they’ve got to drive sellouts. … It’s like colleges have woken up and said, ‘Oh my gosh, ticket sales are the lifeblood of our athletics. We need to put time, energy and effort into it.’”

Sellouts are particularly important. As DeLay puts it, the best sporting event you have ever been to was probably a sellout. That’s probably why you enjoyed it so much: You wanted to be there, everybody wanted to be there, and the atmosphere was electric because of it. Maybe it even convinced you to come back for another game. Small ticket packages, DeLay said, should not just include the least appealing games on a team’s schedule. They should include the best games, the ones that should become sellouts. This is where creative marketing comes in.

DeLay estimates that about 50 colleges have purchased The Ultimate Toolkit, a five-part program he and Spoelstra developed that promises to dramatically increase ticket sales. DeLay has consulted directly with about a dozen of those schools, including UNLV.

One creative marketing scheme UNLV used last season was an Eat All You Can Plan, which was paired with a multi-game ticket package. Instead of trying to market tickets as discounted, UNLV simply sold full-price tickets with unlimited hot dogs, nachos, popcorn and soda. Fans felt it was a worthwhile value proposition: UNLV sold about 400 three-game packs for football and a similar amount of five-game basketball packs.

DeLay recommends targeting specific consumer groups — hardcore fans, social fans, etc. — and creating specific strategies for each. Email marketing and digital retargeting (with ads that show up after potential customers have visited your sales site) have made that process easier by providing organizations with a more accurate return on investment for each campaign. The effects of a billboard or an ad read on a radio show on revenue are not as easily measured.

To do all of that effectively, university athletic departments need to hire, train and expand their sales and marketing staffs to understand how to think creatively, market aggressively and track behavior closely. “Tickets don’t sell themselves unless you go to the Sweet 16 or something like that,” DeLay said. “If you’re going to sit back and rely on that, you’re living in a fantasyland.”

Schools often say they can’t use salespeople because they can’t pay them commission, but DeLay said there are ways to get approval to do so, much like coaches get bonuses tied to performance. (He’s worked with schools that have done this.) Alternatively, athletic departments could hire and train students to do the work without earning commission. (He’s also worked with schools that have done this.)

Marketing strategies and stadium amenities are just pieces of the response to declining college football attendance, but they’re significant pieces. And they can be improved even as game-related factors like quality of opponent or kickoff time fluctuate.

It all boils down to something much more complex than simply squeezing tens of thousands of people into concrete coliseums. It’s not simply about the capacity. It’s not simply about the cost. And it’s definitely not just about the access to Wi-Fi.

To view the full article, click here.

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