The Wolf On WBB Street

Women’s basketball marketers want to know the sure-fire way to sell tickets. While every team is different, building relationships is key in moving the needle in general, but especially with women’s basketball because people want to feel part of something. There are many ways to do this, but the more I travel around to conventions/workshops/conferences to present, as well as to learn, I keep hearing the same thing. Outbound sales calls.

I know, making phone calls is tedious and time consuming, but it works. I’d rather spend more time doing something that works than doing something that is easier, but less effective. Several schools had great success selling NCAA Championship tickets by pulling the list of fans who hadn’t purchased yet and just asking them if they’d like to come. And they said yes. It’s as easy as that. WNBA teams collected leads from grassroots events and sponsor promotions and made thousands of sales just by making phone calls.

So why aren’t more Women’s Basketball programs doing this? The top reasons I always hear, 1) we don’t have the staff, 2) we don’t have the money, 3) we don’t have the lists, 4) the ticket prices are too low to make it a priority and 5) our team isn’t very good.

Let’s break these challenges down:
1) Staff: For those of you who saw “Wolf on Wall Street”, you know that training is everything. The guys Leo recruits for his company are his friends, most of them with high school diplomas and I’m pretty sure they were all addicted to drugs. And yet, they were successful salespeople. Throw in the fact they were selling a lie and it’s even more incredible. Imagine the success you’ll have selling a product you actually believe in. If you need some tips on training and motivating a sales staff, check out the dozens of blogs by Steve DeLay on The Migala Report.

When I worked at Northwestern, we hired undergrads to make calls and they crushed it. It didn’t matter that some of them were teenagers because they knew what to say and how to say it. We also incentivized them individually to make sure we motivated them correctly. What works for one person, doesn’t always work for the rest.

2) Money: Those prizes varied from gift cards to lunch with the head coach, but one thing they all wanted was to impress us enough to be a reference for them after graduation. And that is totally free. Some worked for class credit while others earned a small stipend, so the cost was minimal to run this program. Where they earned their money was on commission, and if I’m paying them commission, that means they are bringing in money so I was happy to write that check.

3) Lists: Data collection can sometimes be an afterthought when you’re trying to get fans through the door. You have a Dad paying cash for 15 tickets for his youth basketball team and you don’t ask him for an email address. You have enter to win boxes at all of your home events, as well as grassroots events during the summer, but you either don’t call them or you only try to sell them Football and Men’s Basketball tickets. You have alumni contact information, but you haven’t utilized it. There are dozens of ways to collect good leads if you take the time, as well as encourage the buyers to take the time to provide their info. Data collection is key.

Surveys are one of my favorite ways to collect data because the fans also provide ways that you can improve their experience. Even if it’s just two or three questions, encourage them to fill one out on the spot or have them go online. You can offer a chance to win a VIP experience at the next game to keep your costs down here as well. You can also push this survey out via social media to collect data from potential fans. Figure out what they want and then give it to them.

4) Low Return: Of course the revenue for Women’s Basketball doesn’t compare to Football and Men’s Basketball, but that’s what makes it an awesome opportunity. Having an affordably-priced ticket allows you to bring in causal fans and super fans alike. You will rarely hear anyone use the excuse “I can’t afford it” when you’re selling Women’s Basketball because the tickets are comparable to other entertainment options, like the movies or miniature golf.

While the revenue doesn’t compare to Football and Men’s Basketball, the attendance increase is worth it. Selling an extra 500 tickets per game is noticeable at a Women’s Basketball and it’s a manageable number to service in an effort to get them to come back to more games. Retaining a customer is easier and cheaper than getting new ones so once you have them, don’t let them go.

5) Team Performance: In my 13 years at NU the Women’s Basketball teams didn’t have one winning season. It would’ve been easy to use this as an excuse to invest our time and resources elsewhere, but instead we sold the experience around the game and the student-athletes on the team. It was great family entertainment that kept their kids engaged regardless of what happened on the court, and we saw the attendance increase. If you don’t believe in your team, it’s tough to sell it to others. Create an atmosphere you’re proud of and the fans will come. They will come if you tell them, that is. And if that means calling them one-by-one, do it.

The student sales staff we had proved that making calls works and it eventually turned into a full-time sales force that is now dedicated to increasing attendance across the department. It’s a process, which means you don’t need to get it all figured out at once. Just start something. One of my favorite quotes, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Tracie Hitz has 16 years of experience working in the sports industry, which includes college, professional, agency and association. If you want to be a guest blogger, email her at TracieHitz@gmail.com, and join the conversation on Twitter (@TracieHitz), using #WBBmarketing throughout the year.

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