This article was originally published on December, 12th 2011.
The Front Office very publicly set a goal for 10,000 season ticket holders in September to great fanfare during its Dare to Be Massive kickoff. Commissioner Don Garber, Mayor Mike Coleman, and other community leaders met at Columbus Commons to rally Crew faithful and gain some new converts.
It was certainly a positive moment for a team that was in need of one off the field. The team averaged only 12,185 fans per game in 2011, the lowest total in Crew history and nearly 17 percent off 2010's attendance numbers. Interest in the Crew was waining in the Central Ohio sports market.
The team embarked on a comprehensive plan to rebuild its dwindling season ticket base. The team would have to more than double its season ticket base to reach its lofty 10k goal. Since the plan was kicked off, the Crew have aggressively marketed lower ticket prices to early buyers and reached out to the community to begin investing in the team again. The early results are showing strong results.
Mike Malo, the Crew's Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing talked about the heart of the 10k goal and what it means for the Crew. "We want to be that market that Major League Soccer looks to as a showpiece market," Malo said. "This market paved the way for the Portlands, the Salt Lakes, the Seattles. We've had 10,000 season ticket holders twice before in our history and we want to get back to that."
Malo was able to confirm that results have been very good. The team's renewals and new business is up 40 percent from a year ago and the 2012 new business has already surpassed all of 2011's new ticket business. The team has already surpassed the 2011 season ticket base and has moved past the 5,000 Full Season Equivalent ticket mark. "It's a really good sign that people are responding to what we are offering" Malo said.
FSE's are the normalizing of non-full-season ticket packages, meaning a 10 or 5 pack sold isn't the same as a full season ticket package and is rated accordingly; 5,000 season tickets is not 5,000 ticket packages sold.
While the Malo and Crew management are pleased at the response, the team has set a goal for March to have 7,500 (FSE) season tickets sold. The team has doubled the ticket reps from just a few years ago and aggressively targeting existing renewals and protective buyers to achieve that goal.
Malo also remarked on the other goal of the Dare to Be Massive campaign: to drive community and corporate involvement. The Crew have been heavily dependent on individual of group sales. Corporate season ticket holders comprise only 9-10 percent of the season ticket base. Comparable markets such as Portland, Salt Lake, and Kansas City have up to a third of their season ticket base are corporate season ticket holders.
Malo commented on the team's predicament. "We need to grow that corporate base. That's why conversations with the Columbus Partnership and Columbus 2020 are important.
"That message is now resonating throughout the (Central Ohio) corporate community.... There's an understanding that this is an important asset in this community and we (corporations) should be supporting it."
Looking to the future Malo understood there is still a lot of work to be done. "We need to be more strategic as an organization, we have some really good data we have on our ticket buyers, but we need to continue to build our database. There are 1.7 million people in the Columbus, one million of them sports fans, and there are 450,000 soccer fans. We need to do is be more targeted in reading those fans."
The team has also looked at other team's strategies, both in MLS and beyond including Sporting Kansas City and the New Orleans Hornets. This includes getting the Crew out into the community more with business, community, or political leaders. These events get the Crew into areas they haven't been in before with the goal of of having people leave with tickets in hand.
While the Crew are pleased with the growth in ticket sales, the team has also strengthened their commercial relationships. A jersey sponsor remains the top priority, but the team noted nothing is imminent. All other aspects of corporate sponsorship were up 11 percent in 2011.
The team has also seen an increased response from the business community since the campaign has kicked off. The team's higher profile is starting to attract some of corporate sponsorship interest back to the team, with dollars hopefully to follow.
The 10K and Dare to Be Massive campaign launch was a flashy rally without much detail. The team wouldn't elaborate on their strategy at the time and certainly didn't breed optimism from the diehard Crew faithful. A campaign is nice, but results are better. The plan the team has put together behind the scenes is starting show results. The team's bold pricing strategy has season ticket numbers climbing and the work that the front office, commissioner, and civic leaders have put in behind the scenes is reengaging the Central Ohio business and civic community to the team. Those are results worthy of some optimism.