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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Relationship building and sports marketing

Tonight, our hometown team the Ottawa Senators is playing to clinch the divisional finals and move on to the Stanley Cup competition. The city, naturally, is going a bit 'hockey mad'. I'll be one of about 30,000 fans in the stadium, packed to capacity. We're making the game a treat for Eric who turns 10 on May 19 (also my birthday, so we always share this important day in our lives).

This is fine enough, but what does it have to do with construction industry marketing? If you talk to the hockey team management and sales staff -- as for any professional sports franchise -- you will say 'everything'. Corporate seasons ticket and suite sales are a big business for professional sports teams; they are the gist of their marketing programs, because of course it is expensive and hard to fill every seat for every game -- but with seasons ticket sales, the team has 'sold' the seat regardless, and can budget accordingly.

Fair enough, but do season's tickets work for the clients? I've been looking for empirical evidence to back up the assertion that the tickets are valuable for client development, sales, relationship building and maintenance, and employee morale, and certainly see enough of that material on various teams' promotional sites. But where is the hard evidence?

So far, I haven't found anything analytical or independent -- something written by an organization other than a team's sales department. However, I have begun collecting some subtle but important indicators that the sports marketing works, and is worthy of corporate attention.

For example, in Ottawa, Direct Energy invited a group of home builders to a special program to outline new energy efficient equipment to be installed in new homes. They invited builder technical representatives to the session, held at a facility near the local hockey arena, and after the two hour presentation, handed out suite seasons tickets for that evening's game (along with access to the VIP buffet restaurant before the game.) I certainly enjoyed the deal and could see how the subtle and powerful goodwill could be created by the process. However, I also saw the risks of this type of marketing. The young guy sitting next to me in the corporate box, enjoying his unlimited free beer, said he really didn't have any authority at the company where he worked -- he was just told he could go. The corporate people giving out the tickets, and the users accepting them, were truly divorced from the actual cost of the tickets -- it wasn't their money, after all.

On the other hand, I know a local lawyer who also has seasons' tickets. I'm sure they represent a true personal and measurable cost -- he sees the money going out. But he also knows that the tickets are an amazing opportunity for him to share valuable time with key clients, or to connect or reward people who he works with. He renews annually.

The evidence of the value of seasons tickets and corporate box suite rentals/leases appears to be the fact that they 'work' for the sports teams -- they are increasingly important sources of team revenue, and clearly the renewal rate is satisfactory. (In fact, in Toronto, you need to deal on a secondary market to get access to the Air Canada Centre).

Maybe I'll find an academic paper connecting the dots and showing the empirical business/marketing value of these tickets. In the meantime, I'll have to be content with intuitive impressions and observations -- something I'll undoubtedly perceive tonight.

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