Several LGT readers expressed an interest in finding out more about the team’s marketing approach toward its season ticket holders. This is what I can tell you.
First, let me offer a little background. I am retired from but still a consultant to a small firm which owns four season tickets. Even though I am retired, I produce income for the firm and pay part of its overhead, including a share of the cost of its season tickets. So the decision about whether to renew the tickets affects me personally and is not made lightly.
Since 1994 my firm has had the same four seats – in the first and second rows of Section 131. We owned them first as part of a consortium (we took them for about 40 games), but for the last five years we have owned them outright.
For the 2013 season, the Indians for the first time offered a paperless season ticket under a program it calls FanPass. This form of ticket comes at a substantial discount to the normal season ticket price. The Indians website describes the way the FanPass system operates as follows :
By selecting the FanPass method of delivery for your 2013 Indians Season Tickets, all of your Indians tickets are available to manage and distribute through your My Indians Account. Simply log in to your account, and register the credit card(s) that you would like to use as your entry to the ballpark. Then you can assign specific games and/or seats to each card. Having tickets delivered electronically provides Season Ticket Holders with a variety of benefits:
There is a 5% discount on Season Tickets for FanPass users and no additional delivery fee will be charged for the tickets.
Tickets to individual games can easily be assigned to different Season Ticket partners, or forwarded to other fans through My Indians Account.
Upon arrival at the game you can go directly to any gate for entry. An usher will swipe your card and print a slip with your seat location and loaded value.
(For anyone who is interested, there is a tutorial on the team’s website giving more details on how FanPass operates.)
In early September of last season we were notified that if we agreed to renew by October 5, 2012 and if we chose the paperless option, the full price for our four tickets would be $8500. We renewed by October 5 and chose the paperless option. If we had chosen paper tickets and renewed after October 5, the price would have been $9396, which was roughly the same price as last season.
The tickets also still include $3 of so-called "loaded value" per ticket per game, which entitles us to a discount of three dollars on our first purchase at any concession stand during a game. Since we always make use of this discount, the paperless ticket option means that our tickets will cost us about $23.25 per ticket per game for the coming season.
Our decision to renew came after some soul-searching at our firm about whether we should renew the ticket package in full or opt instead for something like a twenty-game package. We are a small firm and watch our expenses carefully, so the decision was a significant one. In making our decision, we were acutely aware that an appreciable number of our tickets had gone unused during August and September last year after the team collapsed.
Moreover, we knew from experience that even when the team is competitive it is sometimes hard to find clients who are willing to sit through the cold of an April night game at Progressive Field. This means that April tickets can go unused as well – unless we have enough advance notice that a particular date’s tickets are going to go unused that we can dispose of them through Stub Hub. Even this alternative can involve a substantial loss on the amount we spent on such a game’s tickets for the obvious reason that there is very little demand for tickets to April night games, thus making it hard to sell these tickets for anything above a very minimal price. If we know the tickets are going to go unused, we also have the option of exchanging them for somewhat comparable tickets to games later in the season, though doing this would leave us with eight tickets for a particular game while we often have our hands full trying to find enough people to use even four for a number of games.
The amount of the discount offered by the team played a significant role in our decision—especially since we also know the regular price of the tickets for the entire season under the team’s demand pricing system. There were other factors as well.
One is that the team offers season ticket holders a number of amenities which would otherwise be unavailable to us. For example, several times a year the team hosts an event that allows us to meet with the manager or the general manager, who mingle with the people in attendance and answer their questions. The team also has a specific person assigned to our account who can help us with ticket exchanges and the like. Our season ticket purchase also allows us free entrance to the Terrace Club, which can come in handy on cold weather days if we want to take a break from the weather by watching a few innings there. The team also gives us four club seats or the use of a loge for a game of our choice once per season.
For the 2013 season, the team has also instituted a loyalty rewards system for full and partial season ticket holders. Points earned under it can be spent on items like autographed baseballs, other memorabilia, or exclusive events. Points are awarded based on the amount of money we spent on season tickets. The website describes the program as follows:
We’ve focused on you, one of our most valued fans, to design Tribe Rewards as an opportunity for you to have exclusive access to items and choose memorable experiences in addition to your standard Season Ticket Holder benefits.
As a Season Ticket Holder, you earn points that can be traded for discounts and behind the scene experiences at Progressive Field. Create memories and treat yourself, friends and family to exclusive Tribe Rewards member perks like fireworks from the dugout, autographed memorabilia and more. The more involved you are with the Tribe by buying Season Tickets, upgrading your seats and participating in special Tribe events, the more points you earn.
In addition to your regular Season Ticket Holder benefits, we’ve identified a number of premium benefits suited for many interests. Use your points for anything from discounted parking, a club seat test drive or a free suite for a game to more rare experiences like attending batting practice – the flexibility and choice is up to you.
In addition, we've built an auction feature where you can bid points to win access to some memorable, once-in-a-lifetime fan experiences. You can bid points to attend post-game press conferences, watch a game in a suite with former Indians Coach Mike Hargrove, have Dinner on the Diamond or bid to get highly-coveted, autographed memorabilia.
Another example of the team’s marketing to its season ticket holders is that it tries to tap into sense of "ownership" of the tickets. For the first time last year, the team sent us bumper magnets bearing the Indians logo on top and the letters "STH" beneath the logo. I know that some readers will joke about why anyone would own up to, much less brag about, being a season ticket holder of the Indians in recent years, but you would be surprised at the proprietary feeling you can develop toward your tickets after a decade or so of owning them. The Indians seem to be aware of this and are trying to capitalize on it.
The team also puts up a video during most games recognizing one of the long-term season ticket holders. Again, this seems to me to be an effort to build upon the bond which has developed between these ticket holders and the team.
The availability of these benefits I have been describing tends to make us feel that the team is aware of our existence and appreciates our business, which in turn made it easier to agree to renew this year.
So all in all, I would say that the team does a good job of marketing to one of its most important fan bases—its existing long-term buyers.