Sales Pitch

Local teams get creative to maintain, attract season-ticket holders

By Don Wade

For every professional sports team, there are at least two running narratives: the one on the court or field of play and the one at the box office.

Phillip Reed of Grenada, Miss., and family enjoy a doubleheader between the Memphis Redbirds and the Oklahoma City Redhawks at Autozone Park.  

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

As Grizzlies fans watch the team finish out the season in pursuit of a playoff berth, everyone understands each victory is invaluable. But for the people in charge of filling the seats at FedExForum, so is every season-ticket holder.

Of course whatever happens on the court is out of Dennis O’Connor’s control.

“Nature of the business,” said O’Connor, who is vice president of ticket sales and service for the Grizzlies and has been with the team since day one in Memphis.

Back then, there was no social media or any virtual arena tours online. Selling season tickets came down to “straight cold-calling,” O’Connor said. “We called every business out there. We had the NBA NOW list and worked off of that.”

This season – and for O’Connor and his staff the focus is now the 2014-2015 season-ticket season – began with great promise. The Grizzlies had just won a franchise-best 56 games and reached the Western Conference Finals for the first time.

“We were way up,” on season-ticket sales, O’Connor said, offering no specifics. The Grizzlies do not release past or present season-ticket sales totals. “Then the season started and the injury bug bit and that hurt our momentum.”

Season-ticket holders recently received information about the offerings for next season with incentives to renew early – a 5 percent discount and a chance to win various prizes that include a 42-inch TV or $1,000 gift card.

The Grizzlies have made several changes, raising prices in some areas of the arena, lowering them in others, and ultimately trying to give fans more options – or price points – for full and partial season-ticket packages.

O’Connor says the average price increase is 5 percent and that season-ticket prices for about 10,000 of the arena’s 18,000-plus seats declined or stayed the same. The least expensive season ticket next season – upper bowl, behind a basket – will go up from $5 to $7. The most expensive floor seat will go from $665 to $697 per game.

Over at Third and Union and AutoZone Park, the Memphis Redbirds are trying to make the most of their exhibition game here with the parent St. Louis Cardinals on March 28. For now, the only way to buy tickets to the exhibition game is to at least buy the Grand Slam 4-pack.

“We wanted something that had some other components besides the exhibition game, but we didn’t want to add too many games for folks who aren’t from the immediate area,” said Redbirds general manager Ben Weiss. “We’re telling people this is a way to guarantee exhibition tickets.”

The other games in the package are an opening weekend game with fireworks, a Sunday, May 25, game with fireworks, and an Aug. 22 bobblehead giveaway. The featured player: former Redbird and current Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez, who recently made news for having some “graphic” pictures associated with his Twitter account.

It was yet another example of things out of a team’s control, with Weiss saying they would keep the promotion: “The bobblehead is a reflection of on-field performance.”

And truthfully, this hardly registers as a controversy next to, say, the Miami Dolphins dealing with fallout from the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin bullying saga. The Sun Sentinel newspaper in South Florida recently reported the Dolphins were restructuring their season-ticket system, offering various packages with such perks including a kick-off yacht party, Dolphins Day at SeaWorld in Orlando, and allowing season-ticket holders to hold fantasy football drafts in stadium suites and receive input from Dolphins alumni (caution advised).

The Memphis Grizzlies have adjusted ticket pricing for next year that sees some new categories and lower pricing.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

“You’ve got to be creative, flexible,” Weiss said. “People have got a lot of things going on in their lives.”

The Dolphins and other NFL teams only have to get people to make room for 10 dates – eight regular-season games and two preseason ones. But NBA teams have 41 regular-season games and four preseason games. The Redbirds have 72 regular-season home games. And MLB teams have 81.

Some MLB and NBA teams have been using “dynamic” or variable pricing for several years and the Grizzlies make use of that in single-game tickets sales, always keeping an eye on the ever-shifting secondary ticket market (StubHub and others).

It all plays into how the team markets season tickets, O’Connor says, because fans sometimes falsely believe that because they can buy a single-game ticket for cheap to see the Washington Wizards on a Wednesday, they can buy a ticket at the same price for a Saturday night or for the Miami Heat or Oklahoma City Thunder games.

For the marquee games, O’Connor says, “You’re paying two or three times the amount you’re paying on a season-ticket basis.”

This season, the Grizzlies offered two 11-game packages and two 20-game packages. Once the season started, they added three five-game packs. All with a purpose.

“We always try to stair-step people up,” O’Connor said.

The same goes for price points. To that end for next season, there will be more price points in the lower bowl. Previously, the cheapest season ticket was $29.75 for a seat behind one of the baskets. The next price point was $58.

But next season, tickets behind the baskets and into the corners of the lower bowl will be priced at $32, $35, $48, $58 and $64.

The Grizzlies also upgrade a season-ticket holder each game to a floor seat and provide several opportunities each season to upgrade to the next highest price point from where season-ticket holders currently sit.

Other perks for season-ticket holders as part of the club’s “Loyalty” program include chances for pregame autograph opportunities with players and to be on court for pregame introductions and high five players.

“It’s important. Fans don’t want to just come watch the game, they want to feel a part of something and be up close with the players,” Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said. “If they’re season-ticket holders, they’re showing us unconditional support.”