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Published September 08, 2008 : Page 19
Season-ticket sales success often starts with staffing, training

by Matt DiFebo

According to an NCAA report on revenue and expenses published in April 2008, athletic departments at only 16 of the 119 Football Bowl Subdivision schools (formerly Division IA) operated in the black in 2004-06. The numbers are even more dismal for Football Championship Subdivision schools (formerly Division I-AA), Division I schools without
football, as well as for Divisions II and III over that same period.

How can athletic departments become financially self-sustaining or, at the very least, lessen a widening gap between revenue and rapidly increasing expenses?

That is the question the University of Central Florida had to answer in 2005, when it was on the cusp of a facility boom and making the leap into a big-time program.

The answer, in large part, was to increase ticket-sales revenue. Those in pro franchises figured out long ago that in the business of sports, ticket sales drive all other revenue streams: sponsorship,
merchandise, concessions, etc.

The tricky part was adopting a ticket-revenue-generating model from pro sports and modifying it to be successful in a university setting. I was hired in April 2005 to create a ticket-sales program and
maximize ticket revenue at UCF.

Changing the culture
Our approach was to institute a culture where revenue generation was endorsed and understood by senior administration.

During the initial sales campaign in 2005, UCF wanted to focus its efforts on where it could gain the greatest ROI. For UCF, as with many schools, that is football, and it started with the then-current fan

In the last three years, UCF has increased football season tickets sold by nearly 12,000 and annual football ticket revenue by more than $4.5 million. Another $1.75 million in new and increased donor contributions have been taken through the sales office.

The second phase included proactively selling for other revenue sports, namely men’s basketball. In just one season, 2007-08, UCF doubled men’s basketball season tickets and increased basketball revenue by more than 300 percent, including nearly $200,000 in new premium-seat sales.

While those revenue numbers are impressive, the biggest impact might have been in the implementation of a full-time ticket sales staff trained in relationship-building. UCF won over existing fans by providing a level of customer service that exceeded anything they ever experienced.

Combined with a proactive year-round sales strategy, the attention to customer service helped produce dramatic increases in new season-ticket sales, fundraising and season-ticket retention.

Sales infrastructure

Assembling a strong sales infrastructure is paramount to maximizing revenue-generating potential and gives an athletic department the best chance for a substantial ROI. There are no shortcuts for athletic directors creating a proactive ticket-sales initiative. A full commitment is required.

When considering starting a sales program, many administrators assume that campuses are replete with resources and, therefore, little investment is needed to increase attendance and ticket revenue. While that may be true, success is dependent on investing wisely in the correct resources.

The most critical element in establishing a successful ticket-sales program is investing the time and resources necessary to hire an experienced sales manager and making the commitment to provide proper staffing. The ideal manager should be a proven leader who understands sales culture, is capable of implementing effective strategies that can be applied to the college environment, and has the ability to train and teach sales technique. He or she must also be able to communicate effectively to executive administrators and coordinate with other departments (sports marketing, ticket operations, communications/sports information, fundraising and sponsorship) to ensure an efficient and productive operation.

Maximizing revenue

To truly maximize revenue, administrators cannot fall into the belief that ticket-sales success can be achieved with part-time employees, students, volunteers or low-paid interns. A full-time staff dedicated to season tickets, partial plans and group-ticket sales is the key to maximizing revenue.

The size of the staff can vary depending on each institution’s situation and resources, but anything less than four full-time sales members may place demands that are counterproductive and detrimental to the goals of the program. Students can be used to supplement the sales efforts.

This staff should be well-trained in building relationships, beginning with the current fan base. It should be focused on season-ticket retention, acquiring new season-ticket business, up-selling seat locations and additional seats, corporate sales, group sales, and gaining referrals to other
potential buyers.

Creating a sales culture in a college athletic department can be difficult, but it is not impossible. The trend seems to be catching on. In January, the University of South Alabama adopted a model similar to UCF’s to increase revenue from basketball and jump-start season-ticket sales for a football program that will begin play in 2009.

Matt DiFebo (mdifebo@athletics.ucf.edu) is associate athletic director for external services at the University of Central Florida Athletic Association.


Keys to building a successful
collegiate ticket sales department:
1. Full commitment from athletic department to
promote a sales culture
2. Proper infrastructure
3. Sales manager and full-time staff dedicated
entirely to ticket sales
4. Incentives (commissions/bonuses) for
5. Strategy for season tickets, group sales and
partial plans
6. Focus on revenue sports with greatest ROI
7. Training opportunities
8. Review of pricing strategies

June 8, 2010
Press Release: Temple Athletics Partners with The DiFebo Company to Bolster Ticket Sales and Customer Service

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2010 NACDA & Affiliates Convention Week, Anaheim, CA

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