A Don Garber appearance usually heralds a big announcement, a major partnership, a landmark deal, expansion, and the like. It may be time to retire those expectations. Today he attended Crew training and spoke with the assembled local media. The announcement? The Crew are playing host to the 2013 MLS Business Summit in September. It's a letdown for those expecting naming rights, a training center, or a new stadium, but
The Business Summit brings together the business staff and partners within MLS to make sure they are trading best practices. It doesn't touch on the fans or the product on the field, but is one of the building blocks to improve the league. It is also indicative of the support of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission and the Columbus Partnership has for the team and the league.
Having the Commissioner in town also ensured maximum exposure as the team released some sales news. Team President Mark McCullers announced that since Goal 10k started, season ticket numbers have increased 45%. The team has a year over year increase of 15% ticket sales.
McCullers didn't venture a number of season tickets, but expects to reach the 7,000 mark this year. He did cite two specific demographics that the team is chasing. He hopes to sell out the Nordecke and build the corporate season ticket base.
The Nordecke has been sold out on an individual game ticket basis for all three home games this year. McCullers wants to see that become a season ticket base. That would be a significant expansion of the core supporters groups that form the corner and would mean that single game ticket purchasers would be adding to a much larger supporters section.
The Crew have long struggled with attracting a corporate ticket base. The team had a corporate ticket base at 8% at the end of 2011. That number hasn't grown like the team's other ticket numbers and only stands at 12% today. Similar markets such as Salt Lake and Kansas City have corporate buyers averaging 30%-35% of season tickets sold. Columbus doesn't have these dependable buyers.
The team however did note that its the premium seats that have seen the best growth. McCullers cited that the field seats have been expanded and are sold out and the "Center Circle" seats on the lower west side are 90% full. Only two suites are left; the team has sold nine new suites since August of last year.
Another McCullers announcement further cements the direction the team is taking in reinvesting in Crew Stadium. The lower east side "Premier Seats" will get a $250,000 upgrade to match Center Circle. That continues a trend of improving the stadium, including new LED and stadium signage last year and the stage completed in 2008.
While Garber held court with the press, his primary purpose for a visit to Ohio likely wasn't to announce a business summit. After the press conference, the Commissioner and McCullers had lunch with Ohio Governor John Kasich and later met for dinner with Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman. Its a sign that the Crew and the league are further trying to build relationships in government.
That work is already bearing results. Garber was effusive with his praise for the Columbus Mayor, "I love Mayor Coleman," he said. "I think he is a terrific mayor. We travel all over America meeting with people like Mayor Coleman and I think you guys have a great civic leader. He's been very active."
With some significant positive news coming from the team today, it's still missing two keys to team sustainability. Progress is being made on tickets and companies have reportedly shown some interest in naming rights, but deals have remained elusive.
McCullers believes that the team and the stadium still showcase the best of what soccer in Ohio has to offer. The USA v. Mexico match, a growing and engaged season ticket base, and booming business partnerships highlight the positives in the Goal 10k initatives. Real challenges remain.