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The Ultimate Toolkit Secrets Revealed

Stay up-to-date on everything going on in the world of ticketing, sponsorship and marketing

with one of the best: Steve DeLay

Congratulations to Jon Spoelstra for being named one of Sports Business Journal’s Champions of the Sports Business Industry.

Click here to view the article.

  • 02 Mar 2020 7:37 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    “Impossible.  We don’t control our concessions.  Our concessions operator will never agree to it.”

    That’s what I heard from dozens of sports executives after my last column on how we sold 7,000 5-game plans for the Staten Island Yankees using All-You-Can-Eat as a value-added benefit.  (Click here to read it if you missed it)

    “Not true,” I responded to each call or email.  “You can do it.  You just have to show your partner what’s in it for them.”

    First, we have to think about the mind-set of your concessions’ operator.  Put yourself in their shoes.  What are they constantly thinking about?

    • Their concessions per cap.  It’s as if they get paid huge bonuses based on their per cap and nothing else.  That’s okay.  We can show them how their per cap will go up.
    • Reducing costs to improve margins.  For a concessions’ operator, they have two types of costs.
    1. Cost of goods related to items sold such as their hotdogs, beer, popcorn, napkins.  These costs are pretty much 100% related to the amount of food they sell and people in the building.
    2. Fixed costs such as labor, overhead and utilities.  These costs are pretty much the same regardless of the number of people at the game.  Sure, they might have a few less game day staffers preparing food for a poorly attended Tuesday night game compared to a big Saturday night crowd but it’s not a huge variance as that staff is typically paid minimum wage.
    • How to make themselves look good to their bosses and move up the  corporate ladder to a bigger property.  This is normal for any employee anywhere so don’t act surprised.


    Considering these three factors, you have to think about your proposal from their viewpoint.  What’s in it for them?  It can’t just be, ‘Give me free food and we’ll draw more fans.’  That’s a risky proposition for any concessions manager and doesn’t really help them accomplish any of the above.  You have to think about your approach to the concessions’ manager as the most important sales pitch you’ll ever make.

    You have to show them:

    1.      How AYCE will increase per caps

    2.      How AYCE will improve margins

    3.      How AYCE will make them look like a hero to the home office.


    First, let’s make some basic assumptions for our team.  I’ll call them the Big City Kangaroos:

    • Concessions per cap is $6.00 per game
    • On a typical Saturday night, the team has 400 full season tickets, sells 100 mini-plans, 750 group tickets and 1000 single game tickets.  That’s 2250 tickets distributed.
    •   Let’s assume all 2,250 show up.  That means total concessions revenue of 2250 x 6 = $13,500

    Let’s also make some basic assumptions about food costs.  For example purposes, I’ll just the food costs we have at the Macon Bacon.  Your costs may be higher or lower by a few cents but if they vary a lot from these, you need to re-negotiate.

    • Hotdog - $.53.  (Includes the bun and wrapper and basic condiments)
    • Hamburger - $1.03
    • Chicken sandwich - $1.04
    • Can soda - $.32
    • 16.9oz bottled water - $.30
    • 16oz fountain soda - $.38 (cup, ice included)
    • Cookies - $.20 (two prepackaged cookies)

    Finally, we’ll use the Macon Bacon consumption history to calculate how much each fan might eat and drink.  Keep in mind that we only offer AYCE to people who buy one of our ticket packages (full, 10 game or 5 game) or buy 20+ group tickets.  We DO NOT sell AYCE to single game buyers. 

    Also, our AYCE tickets are $15 and $18 each.  We don’t gouge the fan and charge $50 so they feel like they have to gorge themselves to get their money’s worth out of their ticket.  Be fair and reasonable on pricing and the fan will be fair and reasonable on how much they eat.

    Macon Bacon Consumption

    • 1.75 sandwiches per person – 1 hotdog and 1 burger = $1.56
    • 2 sodas per person - $.64
    • 2 cookies - $.40


    TOTAL INCREASED LABOR COSTS PER PERSON - $0.  I say zero because your concessions operator can cook and distribute the AYCE food out of the same locations they do for the paying customer, just like we do in Macon.  No additional labor costs needed.


    1. The team will pay all food costs for the AYCE customer.  Assume it’s on average $2.60
    2. The team will pay a $1 ‘profit’ to the concessions’ operator for every AYCE customer.  That means as a team, you’d pay roughly $3.60 per person.  With the $1 'profit', the concessions operator gets at minimum a 40% profit on that customer assuming that they don’t spend a nickel on any other food and beverage.
    3. The team would receive no commission on that $3.60 payment to the concessions’ manager.
    4. No single game buyers would receive AYCE and the team would limit AYCE for only select games that they want to sell out. (Friday and Saturday nights). You can always expand this later as you start seeing huge increases in attendance.  Your concessions’ operator will likely encourage you to expand it.

    Now, show them some numbers with a few assumptions:

    Assumption #1 - The per cap from the AYCE customer drops by 50%, from $6 to $3.  Remember, they aren’t getting free beer, popcorn, ice cream, cotton candy and a lot of other staples.  They will still spend some money.  That means the concessions manager is receiving $6.60 from each AYCE customer ($3.60 from the team and $3 from the customer).

    As an example, I’ve done this in 8-10 different markets with no decrease in concessions per cap and in a number of cases, an increase.  The reason is, the fan still comes to the game with $x in their pocket to spend on food and beverage.  They’ve essentially forgotten they already pre-paid for food when they bought their ticket package (see my last column two weeks ago by clicking here)

    Assumption #2 – The Kangaroos don’t sell a single new season ticket, go from 100 to 600 mini-plans, go from 750 to 1500 group tickets for a big game and still sell 1000 single game tickets.  These numbers are likely low projections.  We sold 7,000 five game plans in Staten Island and sell nearly 2,000 ticket packages for the Macon Bacon.


    Without AYCE With AYCE
     400 full season 400 full seasons receiving AYCE = ($6.61 x 400) = $2,644
    100 mini-plans

    600 minis receiving AYCE = ($6.61 x 600) = $3,966

    750 group tickets 1500 group tickets receiving AYCE = ($6.61 x 1500) = $9,915
    1000 single game tickets 1000 single game not receiving AYCE = ($6.00 x 1000) = $6,000
    2250 total x $6/per cap = $13,500
    3500 total generating $22,525 in concessions revenue = $6.43 per cap


    Remember the three goals your concessions manager has:

    1. Increase per cap – You just did that by $.43 per person by the team paying for a share of each customer’s food.  You must remind the concessions manager that your team, the Kangaroos, is now their largest customer.
    2. Reduce margins – Because you’ve increased revenue for the concessions operator and there is no or a very limited increase in game day staff and no increase in fixed costs for operating, you’ve in effect improved their margins for them.
    3. Looking like a hero – This plan provides the concessions operator a $9000 bump in revenues for a big game with no risk on the concessions operator’s part.  If the team doesn’t sell any AYCE tickets, the concessions manager doesn’t lose a thing.

    You can convince your third-party concessions operator to do All-You-Can-Eat.  You just have to show them the numbers and what’s in it for them.  If you have any questions on how to negotiate, give me a call at 702-493-2661 or send me an email at

    Also, congratulations to Jon Spoelstra for being named one of Sports Business Journal’s Champions of the Sports Business Industry. Click here to view the article.

    My next column on March 16th will talk you through how at $1.50 hat and $.50 hotdog led to an 800% increase in group sales.  

  • 18 Feb 2020 5:17 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    That’s what the burly guy from Staten Island told us when we rolled out All-You-Can-Eat ticket packages for the first time.  That was way back before the 2007 season.

    Bring it on,” we told him with a smile.  That was because we’d already seen the tremendous upside for using free food as a way to sell more ticket packages.

    I was going to use this week’s column to talk about all the various amenities and benefits hard-core fans and even casual fans want with their season tickets and ticket packages. 

    But, after I wrote it, I realized that it was a lot of the same old/same old that teams have been hashing about for years.  If you haven’t realized by now that things like payment plans, ticket exchange programs, easy-pay playoff packages and special events with players and coaching staff are cool for hard-core fans, you’re years behind and you need more than this column to catch up.


    The Single-A short season Staten Island Yankees had been in existence since 1999.  In 2001, they moved from a college stadium to a fabulous new ballpark right next to the Staten Island Ferry terminal with unencumbered views of lower Manhattan.  In 2006, Mandalay Baseball Properties bought out the local owner and we were now 50-50 partners with the New York Yankees.  We were the managing partner.

    Here’s what we were told about the problems we would face:

    1.     Dangerous neighborhood.  In my first week there, I was warned by over a dozen people not to stray too far from the ballpark.  Way too dangerous.

    2.     Limited parking.  The team shared the parking lot with the terminal for the Staten Island Ferry.  The lot seemed spacious.  However, during weekdays it filled up with commuters who parked their cars there and then hopped the free ferry to Manhattan to go to work. By the team’s 7:00pm game time, the commuter cars still filled half the lot, severely limiting where the team’s fans could park.  On weekends it wasn’t a problem. 

    3.     Two Major League teams.  Why go to a Single-A baseball game when you could see the New York Yankees or the New York Mets?

    4.     Traffic was horrible.  Actually, I might make this #1.  Traffic was indeed horrible on Staten Island, especially near the ballpark.  There were no freeways on Staten Island.  It was all surface roads, mostly with ruts that acted as speed bumps.  Additionally, unlike Manhattan or Brooklyn, train service was highly limited. 


    We knew it was going to be a challenge so we rolled out our ultimate weapon, the 5-game plan.

    Our 5-game plan cost $75.  $300 for a family of four.  That was $15 per person, per game.  Here’s was our deal:

    1.     5-game plan.  You received the best five games on the schedule.

    2.     Choice seats.  You’d get seats between the dugouts (remember, hardly any tickets had been sold before).  You get the same seats for every game.

    3.     All weekend or holiday games.  This included three fireworks shows.

    Pretty mundane so far, eh?  But wait, as they say in infomercials, there’s more:

    4.     All-you-can-eat all game long.   Included with your ticket, you could eat all the hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken sandwiches you want.  Also included is all the soda and water you want.  This is what got the big burly guy’s attention.  He looked like he could pack away the hotdogs.

    5.     You get two free gifts.  You’ll get a New York Yankees cap (value $22) and the best gift that the New York Yankees gave out at Yankee Stadium (value: unknown) and we’ll give it to you at our ballpark. 

    Was this package popular?  You bet it was.  Turns out people in Staten Island really like to eat!  We sold more than 7,000 five-game plans in just six weeks.  Our salespeople couldn’t keep up with the phones ringing off the hooks once we started marketing the package.  We credit the 5-game package with selling out five games in the 2007 season.  In 2008, we expanded the package to seven games and sold out 17 games.  In 2009 we sold out 26 of the team’s 38 home games, a remarkable turnaround for a team that had never sold out a game.


    I can hear all the Naysayers shouting in unison, “You bribed them!!!  You gave away the ranch!  You let them stuff their bellies for free! There’s no way that this pencils out!  You’ll lose a fortune!  You were desperate men doing desperate things!

    To the charges that we bribed the folks of Staten Island to come to our games:  Of course we didn’t.  A bribe is something illegal. What we offered, among other things, was to feed them at their expense.  Yep, we considered the food in this package to be prepaid food


    Here’s how it worked:

    1. Raising ticket prices.  We raised the ticket prices in the choice sections (basically more than half the seats) from $12 to $15.  There was no backlash on raising the ticket prices by $3 because nobody went to the games to know what the prices were in the first place.  What mattered was the fans felt like $15 for a ballgame and unlimited food and drinks was a good deal.
    2. Negotiating with the concessionaire.  We negotiated with our concessionaire to pay for net food and labor costs.  We also agreed to give the concessionaire a $1 on each person who received a wristband to enter the All-You-Can-Eat line.  This was their profit for each person.  In essence, the team became the largest customer for the concessions operator.  We covered their food costs and paid them a profit for each person on the AYCE plan.  They grudgingly accepted our reasoning.  It was really quite simple.  Which would be better for the concessionaire:  7,000 mouths at the stadium or 800 mouths?  Even though the 7,000 mouths got plenty of hot dogs and such, those mouths didn’t get any ice cream or beer or peanuts or popcorn unless they paid for them.  Since we served the All-You-Can-Eat from a buffet line near our concession stands, all that other stuff was right there for them to easily purchase.  Believe me, 7,000 mouths would buy far, far more than what 800 mouths would buy even if you fed the 7,000 mouths with hot dogs, hamburgers, soda, and water.
    3. The total cost for free food and drinks.   It averaged out to a little less than $3 per game per five-game holder.  So, in effect, considering that the ticket price had been $12 the year before, this was like prepaid food.   When the fan missed a game, the prepaid food was like the prepaid ticket; there was no refund.  So, if the fan missed the game, there was no expense for the food that the no-show didn’t eat. 


    We started our free food strategy in 2004 with our Double-A team, the Frisco RoughRiders.  We did it in the three highest priced sections.  Here are those deals:



    Number of seats



    1st row




    2nd thru 7th rows







    Hot dogs, etc.**

    * The buffet was in an air-conditioned restaurant in the second deck behind home plate.  Also included was free beer and wine.

    ** The food here was all-you-can-eat hot dogs, cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, and all the soda and water to wash it down with.

    We routinely sold out the top two priced plans on ticket packages.  The costs were a little different in Frisco:




    Food & Drink costs

    Net ticket revenue

    1st row




    2nd thru 7th rows








    The ‘Free Food Strategy’ was the principal reason we were able to get far higher net ticket prices than anybody in minor league baseball at the time. 

    We liked this concept so well we started to include free food with group tickets.  This led to over 90% of our tickets in Frisco being sold with some sort of ‘free food’ attached to them.  And, all this free didn’t lower the concessions PER CAP for our games.  We usually ranked in the top two in our league.


    History shows that for years teams have used promotions like $1 Beer Night or $1 Hot Dog Nights to try to sell tickets.  These promotions started in minor league baseball but have recently made their way in to a number marketing plans of big league sports teams. 

    History also shows that Major League Baseball teams expanded that concept and have All-You-Can-Eat sections in their tough-to-sell seating areas.  These sections are for walk-up fans only.  Fans can walk up to the box office the day of a game and buy a ticket in that section for $35-$50 and challenge themselves and their friends to eating prodigious amounts of hot dogs, nachos, pizza, and popcorn. 

    The problem with these promotions is that they focus on the walk-up buyer and it requires the fan to buy a ticket to just one game. 

    These teams have a far different motivation in using food to help sell tickets.  They’re looking at a few more tickets for one game.  We’re looking at selling a ton of ticket packages to multiple games that will lead to more sellouts.  In Staten Island, we used food to sell out not just one game, but 26 out of 38. 

    Our ticket plans were designed to have that walk-up buyer trade up to at least a five-game plan. 

    We wanted to take that walk-up buyer and provide an inducement to increase their frequency of attendance a little bit.  We have no better marketing tool than food to help us do that. 

    Food has been a potent marketing tool to increase our number of sellouts.


    If you’re a team that’s already selling out or close to selling out, you most likely don’t need to include food with your ticket packages to sell more tickets.  Hallelujah!  That’s a terrific position to be in.  Heck, we used it in Staten Island because we needed the ultimate weapon to help us get something that had never happened with the Staten Island Yankees before—sellouts.  We used it in Frisco because we felt the market could afford higher ticket prices if there was reasonable justification.  Food was that reasonable justification.  If you don’t need such a weapon, that’s wonderful.  Just know that it’s there if you eventually need it.


    If you’re a team that is under new ownership or have fallen on hard financial times, you may need a powerful catalyst to get fans to pay attention to you.  To get people talking, you might invest millions in a major renovation of your facility, if you have the money.  You might trade for a marquee superstar.  You might threaten to move the team if fans don’t buy tickets.  If those options aren’t possible, you have to build a story about yourself for why fans should buy tickets.  It has to be something dramatic.  All-You-Can-Eat (AYCE) food can help your team create that buzz.  

    Some may consider a move to All-You-Can-Eat as desperate people doing desperate things.  We, however, consider it a really shrewd marketing tool to help you get more sellouts.  And, I’ve continued to use it when I helped launch the Savannah Bananas and the Macon Bacon. 

    If you have questions on how All-You-Can-Eat can be the biggest perk and amenity you can offer your season ticket holders, ticket package buyers and group buyers, just give me a call at 702-493-2661 or send me an email at


    In our next column on March 2, we’ll dive in to more details on the costs of All-You-Can-Eat ticket packages and how we sell thousands of them at the Macon Bacon.

  • 03 Feb 2020 7:03 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    We all love season tickets.  If we could sell out 90% of our buildings on season tickets to people who love the team and love our sport, we’d do it, right?

    “Heck yes,” I can hear you nodding your head. 

    However, I’m betting, if you take the NFL and their PSL programs out of the equation, you can’t name more than five teams in all of North America who can sellout out 90% of their stadium on season tickets to big-time fans.  Go ahead, I’m waiting. 

    The rest of us have to work at it.  And that means taking some key marketing steps.


    Sounds simple, right?  Identify who is going to buy your tickets.  Not quite as easy as it seems.  There are four audiences:

    1.      Hard Core fans – These are the face painters, the fans who want to call and talk for an hour the day after the game about that last second goal or basket, the fan that automatically takes advantage of your early bird discount to renew.  You could probably throw up on their desk and they would still renew.

    2.      Casual fans – They like your sport and like going to games but either don’t have the time or the money to go to every single game.

    3.      Social Fans – Primarily people just looking for something to do on a Friday or Saturday night.  The team’s record means nothing to them and they likely couldn’t tell you the name of a single player on the team.  There are two sub-groups within this category:

    a.       Individuals and their buddies looking for a night out

    b.      Members of a group like a church group, alumni group, school or youth sports organization.  Usually families.

    4.      Businesses – We’re not talking about the dry cleaner, fast-food joint or flower shop.  We’re talking about businesses that make and sell products where relationships are important to them and their clients.

    Or, big enough businesses that have enough employees where a reward recognition program pays dividends.

    Each of these target audiences requires a different approach to successfully sell them tickets.  A different approach on:

    1.      What ticket products and amenities make sense for that particular audience.

    2.      How to market and sell to them.

    3.      Sales training.

    So the question for any team is this:

    “Do you have a well thought out strategy and plan to sell to each of these target audiences?”

    Most team answer with a plan focused only on the hard-core fans (#1 above) and the individual buyer (#3a above).  Everyone else is paid lip service and attended to only after the team has tried to sell as many season tickets possible to hardcore fans and they devised a bunch of zany, off the wall single game promotions to attract individual casual fans. 


    If your team has stopped at just the hardcore fan and single game buyer, you’ll like the next couple columns.  First, we’ll tackle the amenities and benefits for hardcore fans and casual fans and then follow that up with successful amenities and benefits for the group buyer and business buyer. 

    If you can’t wait, give me a call at 702-493-2661 or email me at and I’d be happy to talk through your situation and give you some suggestions.

  • 20 Jan 2020 5:10 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    It pains me to see it – even now in 2020.

    I’ll consult with teams and they’ll invariably say, “We need to sell more season tickets.  We’re not going on sale with groups or ticket packages for a few months so we can focus on season tickets.”

    WWWWHHHHYYY NNNOOOTTT? I want to scream at them.  Why not have a full array of ticket products to sell every single day, all the time?

    Think of all those sales calls the salesperson makes where the customer wants to buy something, just not season tickets?  They are left with saying, “I’ll give you a call back in a few months when our packages (or groups) go on sale.”  What are the odds of that prospect answering the phone again?


    I love pizza.  I would eat it every day if it wouldn’t make me 400 lbs.  That’s why I like to use my favorite pizza shop as an example.

    The call might go something like this:

    Potential customer calling in: “I’d like to order a pizza.  I’d like pepperoni on it.

    Pizza Shop: “We aren’t offering pepperoni pizza until 8pm tonight.  We’re trying to sell our mushroom and anchovy pizza instead.

    Potential Customer: “Well, I don’t like mushrooms or anchovies.  In fact, I hate them.  I want pepperoni.

    Pizza Shop: “What if we threw in some free breadsticks?  And a free two liter of soda and we dropped the price of the mushroom and anchovy pizza by 30%?

    No longer a Potential Customer:  “No thanks.  That’s not the product I want.  I’ll spend my money somewhere else.

    Now, the skeptic might say you could get a few people to bite when you include all the freebies.  Maybe.  But then, when they get their pizza – with anchovies and mushrooms – and hate it – how do you think they will feel about going back to that pizza shop ever again?


    Certainly, this is crazy.  No pizza shop would ever operate this way, would they?  Of course not.

    If a pizza shop wouldn’t do it, why do sports teams basically do the same thing by not selling ticket packages and groups from Day One of the selling season?  Why do teams still wait to sell ticket packages until they’ve ground up the market in hopes of selling season tickets?  A product probably 95% of their market doesn’t want?

    Think of it this way. 

    What’s better?  The fan buying the right product… or trying to shove season tickets down their throat?  Should teams really be bribing the fan with boatloads of expensive freebies, huge discounts or other worthless (to the buyer) perks to get them to buy a product they don’t want?


    I’ve heard the arguments all before. Here are the two big ones:

    1.      “We wait because customers would just buy the smaller package and we need to sell season tickets.”  -

    “Nope,” I would respond.  You need to sell the right ticket product to each customer so they:

    1)      Use the tickets.  If someone bought too many games or too many tickets due to a high pressure sales pitch, and then don’t use them, that empty seat crushes the in-game atmosphere.  That empty chair doesn’t cheer or make noise.

    2)      Renew.  If someone bought too many games and didn’t use them, the odds of renewal are pretty slim.  Regardless of what perks and benefits you throw in, nobody is going to spend money on something they don’t use.

    3)      Eat concessions.  For someone who bought too many games, they are less likely to consider the games an event and buy food and drinks and merchandise at the games.

    2.      “My salespeople will just sell the smallest package because it’s easier.”

    “That’s on you as the sales manager and your training,” I would shoot back.  If you train your salespeople correctly, they will make a specific recommendation that fits the prospect’s needs.  If you don’t train your salespeople, they’ll just hand over a ticket brochure and keep their fingers crossed the prospect will buy something.

    There is one simple rule when it comes to Full Menu Marketing:

    • Sell the customer the product that makes the most sense for them, not the product that the team wants to sell.

    Fundamentally, the product that makes the most sense for the customer should also be the product that the team wants to sell.  Unfortunately, more often than not, it isn’t the case.

    As we dive in to Full Menu Marketing over the next several columns, we’ll cover:

    1.      Identifying target audiences – This includes hard core fans, casual fans, social fans and businesses.

    2.      Creating ticket products that fit each of your target audiences.

    3.      Developing a marketing strategy to reach those target audiences.  It’s not one-size-fits-all when it comes to reaching your different audiences.

    If you need some advice or feedback on your Full Menu Marketing strategy or just how to get your bosses to buy in to it, feel free to give me a call at 702-493-2661 or email me at

    NEXT COLUMN: Monday, February 3 “Who are your target audiences?”

  • 10 Jan 2020 10:31 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    I’m proud to not only call Jon Spoelstra my co-author of The Ultimate Toolkit but also a friend and mentor.  He has been a mentor to hundreds of sports executives throughout the industry and been a master innovator throughout his career.  Being chosen as a Sports Business Journal Champion of 2020 is well deserved.  We look forward to the big story in the coming weeks.

    The article below ran in the Sports Business Journal on January 6 in Abe Madkour’s column.

    Forum: Remembering Stern; and announcing our Champions of 2020

    JON SPOELSTRADavid Stern effectively advocated for Spoelstra, whose innovative style delivered at every stop, whether it was leading the Portland Trail Blazers to more than a decade of consecutive sellouts or transforming the former New Jersey Nets from a moribund franchise into one of the NBA’s sales leaders. He also flourished for more than a decade at Mandalay Baseball Properties. Over his career, he served as a mentor to a number of sports executives who sit in leadership positions today.

    To read the full article, click here.

  • 06 Jan 2020 8:01 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    Your bosses have grudgingly nodded. 

    They’ve agreed to forget about the crummy weeknight games and go for sellouts.  Eureka! 

    “Just tell us your plan,” they said.  You could cut the skepticism with a knife.

    You walk out of the meeting on Cloud 9.  But then, reality slaps you in the face.  “How do I put a plan together that will work?  A plan that everyone can grab on to?” you think to yourself in a momentary panic.

    That’s what this column is about.  The first step to selling out is to put together a plan.  That plan starts with what I call your “Sellout Matrix”.  Don’t worry.  It’s not scary, as long as you can do basic Excel.  We’ll even give you a sample Sellout Matrix to download and tweak to make your own.

    Here are the steps to take to build your team’s Sellout Matrix:

    1.      Determine your Sellout Capacity.  What I mean by this is at what number will you stop selling tickets?  Sounds crazy to ask you this, doesn’t it?  Not really.  I deal with a boatload of teams who will sell standing room only and jam people in – bathroom and concessions lines be damned!  Or, they’ll raise the curtain on the upper deck in their arena to sell a handful more seats.  “We’ll take their money,” may seem like a good strategy in the short-term.  But, in the long-term, it means nobody will ever have to buy in advance if there are always tickets available.

    2.      Review last year’s attendance.  How many games did you sell out last year?  How many did you have 80% capacity?  Add those two numbers together and that should be your sellout target for this season.  Didn’t sell out a game last year?  Shoot for just one to start with…or maybe two.  You’ll be shocked how the market and media will respond when you turn people away and announce a sellout.

    3.      Identify your big games.  This could be big-time stars coming in like LeBron or rivals like Red Sox vs. Yankees.  Or, if you’re in the minor leagues, it could be a big Friday or Saturday night, a special holiday like July 4th or the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

    4.      Plug in your best entertainment.  For baseball, this could be fireworks or zany guest mascots like the Zooperstars.  In hockey, it could be Marvel Comic Night, Nickelodeon Night or something unique like Teddy Bear Toss or Green Ice Night.  Put these big theme nights on the games you identified in #3 above.

    5.      Do the math to get a sellout.  This is where the Sellout Matrix spreadsheet comes in.  You’ll have to add up how many full season, partial plans, groups and single game tickets you think you can sell for each targeted sellout.  Download a Sellout Matrix by clicking here.

    A word of caution here.  When you’re predicting group and single game sales for your targeted sellouts, don’t be too crazy.  For example, if you need 5,000 group tickets to get a sellout and the best you’ve ever done in groups for a game is 2,500, you can’t just write down 5,000.  You may have to consolidate group initiatives and single game promotions to blow out one key game.

    Now, you have to stick your neck out.  Show your Sellout Matrix to your bosses.  You’re basically saying, “Here’s what I believe we’re gonna do to sell out.”  Have confidence.  As you read this column over the coming months, you’ll learn the steps to accomplish these numbers. 


    Building a Sellout Matrix isn’t just a ‘do it once’ and you’re done.  Once you set out your initial projections, you have to review them on a weekly basis with each salesperson on your team and your ticket operations person.  This way, you can gauge progress, adjust where needed and review again.  There should be no surprises about the crowd size when game day rolls around.

    Share your progress with your bosses.  They’ll become your biggest cheerleaders to help as long as you communicate with them.

    If you have questions or problems building your Sellout Matrix, feel free to send me an email at  I’ll be happy to answer them.

    NEXT COLUMN:  The Sellout Matrix is the first step to selling out. The next step is creating ticket products your fans actually want to buy to hit your targeted sellout numbers.  We’ll cover that on January 20th in our next column.

  • 16 Dec 2019 6:18 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    I heard them loud and clear.

    After my last column about only focusing on your biggest and best games to get sold out, the Naysayers came out of the woodwork.  It was as if they could smell blood.

    That’s okay.  I’ve heard them for years.  You’ll heard them also if you take my advice and focus on selling out your best games first.

    Naysayers are so boring; they always complain about the same thing and they’re always wrong. Your naysayer could be your boss or the administrative assistant or the team owner or your neighbor or almost anybody who hasn’t successfully marketed tickets before.  Here’s what you most likely are hearing:

    Naysayer:“We need to run some promotions for those crummy weekday games against no-name opponents just to make it look better.”

    My response: “There are several things wrong about promoting a crummy weekday game.  Number one, it takes you away from your mission of focusing on just increasing the number of sellouts.  Doing a promotion for a crummy game will get minimal results, will cost valuable marketing dollars, will take time and energy and, unfortunately, you’re always disappointed with the results.

    “Lastly, what promotion would you use?  2-for-1s?  50% off?  Free bobblehead to the first 1,000 fans?  Thirsty Thursdays?  Whatever you try, it will have a minimal effect.  200 seats sold?  Maybe 300 seats sold?  Heck, Thirsty Thursdays at most only bring in several hundred drunks.  Are three hundred drunks for one game worth it?  Of course not.”

    “Focus on the games where you have a chance of selling out if you put muscle and manpower behind it.”

    Naysayer:“It’ll look bad playing in front of a lot of empty seats.”

    My response: “Yeah, it will, but that’s just a temporary situation.  You will be selling out those crummy weekday games in about three years because you’re increasing your sellouts every year and eventually you reach those crummy weekday games. One consolation about those empty seats:  If nobody goes to the game, nobody knows that nobody went to the game.  Conversely, with a sellout, people talk about it the next day at work.”

    If nobody goes to the game, nobody knows that nobody went to the game.

    Naysayer: “Can’t we just dress up the stadium a bit by comping a thousand or more tickets to some charity?”

    My response: “Papering the house with free tickets really doesn’t work in your goal of creating more sellouts, and it proves to be counterproductive in reaching that goal but I’ll cover freebies in more depth in a future column.    This is what I told a group of owners of a team that had dismal attendance who hired me as a consultant.  ‘I’m going to give you a list of games that you can come to,’ I said. ‘You’ll feel great about the energy in the building.  It will please you that you own the team.’”

    “What about the games not on the list?’ one of the owners asked.  ‘I own the team, I can go to any game I want.”

    “I said, ‘For those games not on the list, it won’t be much fun.  There won’t be a lot of energy in the building.  You won’t feel good about owning the team.  You’ll think the community should provide more support. You’ll get depressed. You’ll want to gobble down a bunch of anti-depressants.  All that depression is temporary, but it is real for certain games this coming season.  It would be better if you scheduled a business trip when those games are played.”

    In case you’re wondering, I take some of my own medicine for my team in Macon, the Macon Bacon.  Even though we’ve sold out just about every Friday and Saturday games in our first two seasons, we still have some weak Monday and Tuesday night games.  I know going in the crowds aren’t going to be good.  My staff knows and I’m okay with that because I also know as we continue to build, those poor weekday games will eventually turn in to sellouts.

    Hang in there against the naysayers.  Send me an email or give me a call and I’ll act as your support group when the pressure mounts.


    One goal:  Increase the number of sold-out games.

    NEXT TOPIC:  How to build your Sellout Matrix – January 6

  • 27 Nov 2019 7:38 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    Ticket Sales Ground Rule #1:  The one goal is to increase the number of sold-out games.

    Tell me the difference.

    You go to two home basketball games of the same team.  They could be high school, college, or pro games.  You’re rooting for the home team, which has a record of a few more losses than victories.

    The first game is against the best team in the league.  It’s completely sold out.  The home team has also dusted off its ticket printer and printed a slew of standing room tickets and those sold in a flash. 

    At this sold-out game, outside the arena are a quirky combination of fans:

    1. Fans with tickets. They’re walking briskly, bobbing and weaving through the crowd, animatedly talking about the upcoming game. They feel good; the anticipation of the game is adrenaline to even the weariest fans.  From outside the arena, they catch a scent of hot dogs grilling inside and it’s like the bell with Pavlov’s dog.

    2. Fans without tickets. These fans are roaming the perimeter of the arena with a bounce in their gait, asking everybody they see if they have extra tickets.

    3. Fans scalping tickets. The scalpers are out, waving a pair of pretty good seats while also keeping an eye out for the cops.

    On the concourse in the arena, you jump into the concession line, hoping that the fans in front of you aren’t going to buy hot dogs and nachos for a small army.  You’re jostled from the side and, lo and behold, it’s a pal from where you used to work years ago.  This is like a party!

    Inhaling your hot dogs as you find your seats, the home team’s starting lineup is announced.  You practically strangle yourself cheering and spewing hot dogs.

    This is fun!  This is the way sporting events are meant to be!

    Let’s now jump-cut to the other game a few days later.  This time, your team isn’t playing the best team in the league.  You’re playing the worst team.  And, it’s a Tuesday night.

    You feel a little skittish as you walk to the arena from your car.  There’s nobody asking you if you have extra tickets.  There are no scalpers.  The pace of the few fans walking is different.  The speed may be the same, but there is no bounce to their step and the conversation you overhear isn’t about the game.  It’s about some jerk at work.

    The people attending this game are obviously hard-core fans of the home team.  Or, you think, they’re probably some stiffs from the loading dock that received the company’s season tickets for the game.

                Which game did you have more fun at?

                You say, ‘What, are you kidding?’

                The answer is that obvious.

    There is nothing like going to a sold-out sporting event.

    The fans that attend a game that is sold out have more fun than the fan that attends a game where 50% of the seats are unsold.

    Let’s follow this logic.  If the fan has more fun at a sellout, that fan is more likely to buy tickets to attend more games.  It’s human nature.  The more we like something, the more we want more of it.

    It may seem obvious, but it’s worth re-stating:

    Fans have more fun at a sold out-sporting event.  Because they had fun, they are much more likely to buy tickets to attend more games.

    Your strongest marketing tool is sold-out games.

    You should use all of your energies and your staff’s energies to increase the number of sold-out games. 

    Usually your mandate would be to increase your average attendance.  That’s not your goal here!  Your goal is: increase the number of sold-out games.

    (By the way, when you increase the number of sold-out games, you will increase total attendance.)


    This concept is so different from almost every team, we need to pause for a moment and let this sink in:

    There is but one goal for you and your staff:  Increase the NUMBER of sold-out games.  That’s it!  Your goal is to increase the NUMBER of sold-out games.

    Don’t worry about the number of tickets sold for the season, worry about the NUMBER of sold-out games.

    You should stay up nights thinking about how to get your next sellout.

    Don’t worry about the less popular games; worry about games you have a chance to sell out.

    If this redirection of energies comes at the expense of some of your lesser attractions, so be it.  I’m not saying spend less time in selling your lesser attractions; I’m saying spend no time selling your lesser attractions!  Focus all of your time on selling games that you have a chance of selling out.

    Let me re-state this in two parts:

    1.     Spend no time selling your lesser attractions!  No time!  Nada! Zilch!  Nyet!

    2.     Focus all of your time on selling games that you have a chance of selling out.  All of your sales staff’s time too!

    NEXT TOPIC – Monday, December 16:  The Naysayers demand a chance to rebut

  • 18 Nov 2019 6:01 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    Most teams are lying to you about ticket sales.

    How can I make such an accusation?

    If ticket sales are truly the lifeblood of a team or athletic department, why do teams just pay lip service to it?  The ticket sales staff is the lowest paid.  They get stuck doing the grunt work like substituting for the receptionist, driving players to the airport or unloading boxes.  Heck, rarely does a team even have enough staff to come close to maximizing ticket revenue. 


    Sure, sponsorships are a big source of revenue.  But if nobody is going to the games, why would someone sponsor the team? 

    I once had a minor league owner tell me sponsorships were more important than ticket sales for his team.  I asked him what would happen to sponsorship revenue if nobody was going to his games (which, at the time, hardly anyone was going anyway).  He just stammered and blabbed something about his team had a losing record last year which is why attendance was so bad and it would eventually turn around.

    As an owner of my own team, - the Macon Bacon – I don’t pay attention to wins and losses.  My manager might hate me for saying this but I don’t really care if we win.  I care if the fans have a good time and are entertained.  (Our entertainment budget is more than our team travel, equipment and salaries budget).  I care if the beer is colder than the hot dogs.

    What about the TV money?  Sure, it’s big for an NBA or NHL or MLB team.  However, if nobody is going to the games, eventually, those TV ratings are going to go down the tubes and those big rights fees will float away.  Attendance matters in the long-run – even for TV rights fees.  There is no Twitter feed called @lowsportsTVratings.  But, there is a Twitter feed called @EmptySeatspics.


    Sure, if you’re a college and hire a big shot coach, you’ll see a spike in ticket sales.  However, it won’t last forever if your school doesn’t start winning big.  Heck, Notre Dame - still ranked in the top 15 - just had their sellout string end. 

    If you’re an NBA team and sign LeBron or Kawhi Leonard, your ticket sales will most definitely spike but there is only one LeBron and one Kawhi.  And, neither are playing minor league baseball or minor league hockey.

    If you’re a Sales Manager and not getting the respect you deserve, put together a plan.

    You’ll have to work at ticket sales.  There are five key steps I focus on with all my consulting clients and our Ultimate Toolkit teams:

    1.      Build a sellout strategy.

    2.      Develop ticket products your fans want to buy, not just products you want to sell.

    3.      Create a marketing and sales strategy to sell those products to their target audiences.

    4.      Hire, train and manage a sales staff to maximize that strategy

    5.      Keep track of everything so you know what’s working and what’s not working.

    Over the coming months, we’ll spell out each step in detail in this blog.  Check back every two weeks to learn the Secrets of The Ultimate Toolkit

    You can also follow me on Twitter @SteveDeLay2 or on LinkedIn to get the notice of new blogs.  Or, just give me a call at 702-493-2661 or send me an email at  I look forward to sharing the secrets.

    NEXT TOPIC ON MONDAY, DECEMBER 2 – Why sellouts matter

  • 12 Nov 2019 4:37 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

    I get a lot of calls and emails about ticket sales and sponsorship sales.  

    After all, I’ve been part of teams that have sold out more than 1,400 games in my career and sold some of the biggest sponsorships in the country.

    That’s part of the reason why - with Jon Spoelstra - we wrote The Ultimate Toolkit to Sell the Last Seat in the House.  We followed it up with The Ultimate Toolkit – Sponsorships after getting even more questions about how we were so successful selling big ticket sponsorships.  Between the two of us, we have nearly 70 years of experience - selling out games, consulting with teams wanting to increase ticket and sponsorship revenue and training wildly successful ticket salespeople who have gone on to tremendous careers in the industry.


    With The Ultimate Toolkits, we wanted to answer all the questions we were getting from teams and schools about ticket and sponsorship sales strategy, tactics and training.  If you are a Toolkit team, you have all of our secrets and free access to me at any time.  Our goal has always been to teach you and your staff how to do it, not do it for you.

    In just five years, there are nearly 300 professional teams and college athletic departments using The Ultimate Toolkits, with tremendous success increasing revenue. 

    Even with The Ultimate Toolkits, the questions keep coming.  

    That’s why I’ve decided to take two giant leaps to help teams and Athletic Departments:

    1. Bi-weekly blog.  I’m launching a bi-weekly blog – The Ultimate Toolkit Secrets Revealed.  In this blog, I’ll cover chapter by chapter, workbook by workbook, the secrets of The Ultimate Toolkits.  I’ll also include new information, tools and material I’ve added since we wrote The Ultimate Toolkits.  Tools I use regularly in working with consulting clients. 

    2. We’ll help you do it.  We’ve also expanded our services within The Ultimate Toolkit company to include a wealth of new ways we can help.  However, even with expanded services, we still want to teach you how to do it in the long-run so you don’t always need us.  Search around and you’ll see all the new ways we can help you boost revenues.

    The Ultimate Toolkit Secrets Revealed may not answer every question you have about tickets or sponsorships, but it will get you pointed in the right direction.  If you feel you need more, we can customize a unique solution for you

    Office/cell 702-493-2661 

    NEXT BLOG SUBJECT – November 18:  Why ticket sales matter – It’s not as obvious as you’d think.

Call Steve at 702-493-2661

18716 Nautical Drive, Unit #6

Cornelius, NC 28031

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