Leaders from across sports share challenges and strategies for selling the best seats at their venues
The new KPMG Ignition – DC Innovation Suite is a mega-suite transformed into a uniquely immersive client and business development experience at Capital One Arena. Washington Capitals
Selling high-end inventory for sports venues is more challenging than ever, due to competition for people’s time, snowballing societal and demographic changes, and smaller sales teams. Eight industry professionals gave SBJ their perspective on the challenges of premium sales in 2022 and what they are doing differently to face the moment.
Arich Berghammer, Senior Vice President of Revenue and Growth, Global ASM
Nick Bisho, Senior Vice President, Sales, QuintEvents
Jack Bye, Executive Vice President, Learfield Amplify
Kevin Camper, Director of Sales, Speedway Motorsports
Kirsten Corio, Managing Director, Ticketing, Hospitality and Media, USTA
Lorin Fantaskey, Vice President, Guest Services and Operations, Suites, Monumental sports and entertainment
Sarah Minkoff, Managing Director, University of Wisconsin, Legends
Jonathan White, Director, Premium Hospitality, San Jose Sharks
What are the biggest challenges to selling premium in 2022?
BERGHAMMER: The biggest challenge was understanding the impact of the pandemic on our customers and adjustments to expectations during a live event. Now more than ever, we are seeing strong demand and our customers continue to want the best experiences and are looking for even bigger selections and elevated options. This has given us the ability to implement programs ahead of schedule, constantly listening, always refining and evolving.
BICHO: The biggest challenge we’ve faced has been meeting the unprecedented demand we’ve seen for a premium experience at a sporting event, particularly around our core programs with the Kentucky Derby, Formula 1 and the NBA.
BYE: The best inventory has already been selected by long-time donors. Our representatives try to sell what is considered less desirable and, given the level of investment, usually opt for general seats. Inflation wreaks havoc on disposable income – of consumers and businesses. Several of our GMs and premium sellers have said that business prospects need to cut back and that premium tickets and tickets in general are one of the first expenses they cut back on.
CAMPER: Ensure experience exceeds expected value, especially with the challenges of the current economic environment (inflated F&B costs, staff shortages, travel expenses). Ensure that the experience is equal to or better than that offered by the local/regional competition.
CORIO: Our main challenge is not having enough premium inventory to meet the high demand. It’s a good deal to have, but we would like to have more suites and premium seats to offer during the second week of the US Open, and especially during the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.
FANCY : We are in a rapidly changing digital world and premium customers do not want long communications; they want easy, quick and simple solutions to their hospitality needs. The approach to sales must evolve to continue to be successful in our industry. Buying online suites, creating unique experiences for social media influencers, digital marketing on the go – it’s already in our planning.
MINKOFF: The last few years have permanently transformed consumer expectations and needs. It’s hard to decipher what the trends are in reaction to post-pandemic life and what trends will be lasting. We had to put more emphasis on personalization and find a way to reinstate the importance and appeal of an in-person experience. Adapting and updating our sales process to accommodate a more virtual environment has also been a unique challenge.
WHITE: After the pandemic, we are seeing a few trends. On the one hand, there is a general hesitation in the market for long-term commitments. Just a few months ago, health and safety protocols were changing on a weekly, and sometimes daily basis, creating a more cautious buyer. This last point probably goes without saying, but organizations are also much more budget conscious. Much more attention is paid to the use of tickets, etc., to ensure a real return on investment.
What do you do differently when it comes to selling premium successfully?
BERGHAMMER: We’ve always believed that premium is about experience, not just getting a better seat. We understand our customers and further personalize the on-site experience based on their expectations. It starts with first contact (login on the website or through a vendor), ticketing, parking and arrival, catering, access to elevated spaces and world-class interaction with the personal.
BICHO: Our focus from a premium perspective is not just the enterprise, but also the executive consumer and bucket list buyer. We channeled our resources into our e-commerce engine to create a reliable and seamless online user experience. This allows us to sell 24/7/365 and automatically sync buyers with a dedicated sales manager in one of our global offices.
BYE: Strategic open house events, showcasing premium spaces, including setting up spaces as they would be on matchdays for face-to-face meetings. Move current season ticket holders from regular seats to premium seats by letting them know that premium inventory is open through awareness campaigns. There is a bit of a reality to the perception that the bounty has run out when it hasn’t.
CAMPER: Leverage customer feedback to constantly improve our offerings, which has led to the creation of all-inclusive turnkey packages and the creation of new pricing tiers and experiences to meet the needs of a higher premium experience range and those looking for value. [Also] reminding current and potential customers that the fan experience and access is back and better than ever with more live music, driver access and pit/garage access. We’ve also ramped up marketing efforts to find more leads and promote options. We’re working harder than ever to ensure we provide creative and unique options to enhance the experience of current customers.
CORIO: We are investing more time in customer relationship development with a larger sales team. We did this to ensure we had quality conversations about the medium (Zoom, old fashioned phone call, etc.) and the timeline the prospect/customer wanted. Targeted and direct digital outreach to past attendees who resemble the profile of US Open hospitality buyers has been really effective. And, creating bespoke bucket-list-like experiences at the US Open with products like Courtside Premier has brought in a host of new, high-demanding customers.
FANCY : We are constantly innovating. In our recent partnership announcement with KPMG, we disrupted the traditional idea of a suite by offering them daytime use for business development and innovation – in addition to evening hospitality. With a complete renovation of the suite, KPMG has transformed it into a state-of-the-art experience, with the latest technology serving as a meeting place for clients. This is the first such partnership, and more are expected.
MINKOFF: We create digital content in real time and deliver it to multiple touchpoints. The same lead receives an organized email, personal phone call, and targeted paid ad content within 24-48 hours. We also leverage web retargeting and geolocation to deliver content to prospects within a certain stadium range and nearby affluent zip codes, as well as leverage household income data using multiple technology partners .
WHITE: Starting last season, we transitioned our premium suite rentals to a digital-first experience, which was a huge shift in our premium sales process. Fans can now book suites, parking passes and dining options completely independently, which has been extremely well received by our fanbase. Going forward, we will continue to explore digital-focused benefits and packages in our premium retail product line.