Top 5 innovative practices to increase the attractiveness of season tickets

June 14, 2016

The majority of professional sports club executives that Smart Pricer have met with emphasize the importance of season tickets for their business. Season cards play a vital role for the economic well being and the game day atmosphere of a club by ensuring attendance, providing liquidity during the off-season and giving the club’s biggest fans a discount on tickets. According to the 2016 official Bundesliga report, on average 42,685 people attended a German Bundesliga game last season - the highest average attendance of the top soccer leagues in Europe. More than half of the attendees, 24,424 on average, are season ticket holders.

With their importance in mind, it is worrying that demand for season tickets decreased by 6% from the 2012/13 to the 2014/15 season, a tendency that is especially prominent in small to mid-size clubs. Simultaneously ticket prices increased by 12% over the past 5 years. The combination of decreasing demand and pressure on clubs to increase prices requires innovation around the price and product mix for season tickets in the next years.

Here are our 5 most innovative practices from around the globe to increase the attractiveness of season tickets

1. Flexible ticket packages to match individual demand of a fan

Season tickets offer the best value to customers who can attend all games, but the value of the discount diminishes if customers can’t attend every game. No customer or fan wants to pay for products they will not use. Olympique Lyon (France, Ligue 1), the Tampa Bay Lightning (USA, NHL), and the Cincinnati Reds (USA, MLB) address this issue by offering flexible season ticket packages.

The flexible ticket packages take various forms depending on the sport, but they all give customers more choice in how many games they wish to attend. For example, Olympique Lyon offers 7 to 9 game packages or only Champions League group stage packages. The Lightning offer 4 separate 10 game ticket packages, each with a different selection of games to suit their customers needs. The Reds take flexible ticket packages a step further by offering weekend only or 10 to 20 selected game packages. These new services allow clubs to incentivize fans to buy more tickets via price discounts and provide early liquidity, while also giving fans the opportunity to purchase only the products they can use- creating a win-win situation for both sides.

The Reds offer various ticket packages to give fans more product choice
The Reds offer various ticket packages to give fans more product choice

2. Payment plans to make it easier for fans to pay for tickets

In general, Bundesliga teams charge less per game for season tickets than other major professional sports leagues. For example, season ticket prices can rise to over 1,000 EUR in the English Premier League and up to 3,000 EUR in the NFL, compared to 885 EUR at Borussia Dortmund, the highest published price for the 2016/17 season in the Bundesliga. While season tickets are cheaper per game than day tickets, not everyone who wishes to purchase such a valuable ticket package can pay such an amount in a lump sum. One way to incentivize budget conscious fans is to offer payment plans allowing them to pay over the course of the season. The club benefits by selling more tickets and can even charge a small financing fee, while fans benefit from a series of smaller payments.

The manner in which teams implement payment plans varies. The Phoenix Suns (USA, NBA) offer payment plans that automatically renew, which is a common technique for membership programs, such as Amazon Prime or Deutsche Bahn cards. Manchester United (UK, English Premier League) employs a third party financier to mitigate their risk and to give their fans more choice.

The Falcons give fans the opportunity to pay over time
The Falcons give fans the opportunity to pay over time

3. Early Bird ticket discounts to incentivize fans to buy early

Clubs around the world find it difficult to increase ticket prices without negative press or pressure from their fans. Therefore, it is vital to announce a potential price increase in combination with a positive message. One such positive message is that fans can lock in last year’s season ticket price, or even pay less than last season, if they purchase tickets before a certain date (this offer should be limited in time and quantity). This allows price conscious fans the opportunity to save if they purchase early.

Clubs in the USA, Germany and the UK, including the Charlotte Hornets (NBA), EHC Red Bull München (DEL), and Everton FC (EPL), utilize this tactic. Everton FC even offers selected tickets for a 5% discount on the previous season’s price during a certain time period. The benefits of Early Bird ticket programs are early liquidity, and the opportunity to increase the average price without negative press.

EHC Red Bull Munich lets fans save by booking early
EHC Red Bull Munich lets fans save by booking early

4. Choose your own season ticket features to let fans tailor their offer

For years airlines have tested what customers truly value and made certain benefits optional, such as checking a bag or having extra legroom. By doing this, a customer buys a base product (e.g. seat in an aircraft) for a lower price and can personally select optional features that add value to their travel experience (e.g in-flight snacks) that increase airline revenue. By doing this, the customer only purchases what he or she really needs and airlines make 15% in addition revenue through the selected extra-services that have high profit margins.

The Cincinnati Reds (USA, MLB) have developed an ingenious scheme similar to the airline model. It incentivizes fans to buy a base product (e.g. the season ticket) by allowing them to choose their own additional benefits. The quality of benefits improves based on the price of the tickets purchased, so the opportunity to get more features motivates customers to buy a more expensive base product. Best of all, the selections give fans unique experiences at low cost for the club, such as the opportunity to meet coaches, walk on the field or watch the team practice. Not only are fans incentivized to buy a ticket by the offerings, the opportunity to meet people from the organization also increases fan loyalty.

The Reds incentivize fans to buy via selectable features
The Reds incentivize fans to buy via selectable features

5. Season ticket referral bonuses to expand your sales force

A side effect of offering interesting benefits, as mentioned in point 4, is that fans feel like they are part of the club and are valued for their long-term commitment. Clubs such as the Atlanta Braves (USA, MLB), the Philadelphia Union (USA, MLS) and the Portland Trail Blazers (USA, NBA) leverage this loyalty by encouraging their fans to sell tickets via a referral bonus for season tickets.

The programs offer rewards for referring new season ticket holders or high quantity ticket purchases. Examples of the referral bonuses include tickets, autographed merchandise, on-field experiences or even $100 in cash. For a relatively small commission, clubs can expand their sales force exponentially and increase the interaction with their fans.

The Union incentivize their fans to sell their tickets with a referral program
The Union's referral program encourages fans to sell tickets

In conclusion, here are three topics to consider for your next discussion about improving your season ticket offering:

  1. Offer base product flexibility (ticket packages and early bird discounts)
  2. Expand customers' product and payment options (choose your own benefits and payment plans)
  3. Make fans part of your sales team (referral program)

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