Teams Go High Tech To Boost Attendance

The Durham Bulls began last season in dramatic fashion when Devil Rays prospect B.J. Upton hit a walk-off grand slam to lift the team to victory in its International League home opener.

As fans filed out of Durham Bulls Athletic Park buzzing about the win, front office officials were intrigued to find ways to bring them back through the turnstiles.

So they turned to Bronto, an e-mail marketing company that specializes in ticket sales and promotions located next door to the Bulls in the American Tobacco Historic District. The Bronto management team organized an e-mail campaign for a five-game ticket package with a free jersey of Opening Day hero Upton included. The Bulls got a five-figure response to the package and have since launched 33 e-mail ticket sales campaigns guided by Bronto. Thanks in part to the e-mail campaigns, the team enjoyed its best season at the gate in years—increasing their package sales by $100,000, registering their highest per-game attendance and winning Baseball America's Triple-A Bob Freitas Award for sustained excellence.

"As people were leaving the ballpark, we could hear them saying, 'We need to come to more Bulls games,'" Durham assistant general manager Jon Bishop said. "We thought how can we take advantage of this. This allows us to get the message out quickly. We saw this as a way we could manage (our e-mail campaigns) a lot better.

"We wanted a way to tighten up our e-mail marketing. Before we were using a listserv and didn't know what was happening once we sent out an e-mail. We were just hoping that people were buying tickets. We wanted to stay away from spam and we wanted a better way to manage our e-mail and sales."

Getting Technical

The Bulls are not alone. As minor league baseball has moved into the 21st century, team owners and front office executives are incorporating technology into their marketing and ticket sales systems.

Companies like Bronto—which allows its customers to track e-mails and see who opens them, forwards them and what sort of promotions the recipients respond to—are becoming commonplace around the sport. (Bronto also has the Toledo Mud Hens and several ticket vendors as clients.)

"The Bulls are a front-runner with this, on the cutting edge and having success with it," Bronto CEO Joe Colopy said. "We do very targeted e-mail marketing campaigns, then produce reports on what works and what didn't work. The Bulls have a strong audience and following, they just needed a tool to help them manage their e-mail marketing."

Old-fashioned raffle ticket, punch-and-tear systems have been replaced by state-of-the-art ticketing software that allows season-ticket holders to print out tickets from their home computers or e-mail individual game tickets to business clients or friends. Game tickets are scanned at the gate, giving teams an accurate attendance count while informing them of exactly who is in the ballpark. Teams often package food and drink with season-ticket packages that customers can redeem at concession stands with a swipe card.

"We're trying to take advantage of business technology and provide better solutions for our fans," Bishop said. "It's just a matter of keeping up with everybody else; keeping up with how everything is done in the business world."

Out With The Old

The Arkansas Travelers spent the past 74 years playing at Ray Winder Field and have survived on old-school philosophies the antiquated ballpark limited them to. But beginning this spring, the Angels' Texas League affiliate is moving into brand new Dickey-Stephens Park and bringing along a brand new ticket sales system.

The Travelers have signed up to use TicketReturn as their ticketing system software, and they will now have access to such features as online ticketing and customer accounts, season-ticket card marketing programs that customers can use at concession stands.

"We're state of the art now," longtime Travelers GM Bill Valentine said. "We've been playing in a ballpark built for a mom-and-pop organization. We couldn't do a lot of the modern things . . . You'll be able to use trading cards at the concession stands. You can print tickets online and come through the scanner (at the turnstile). It kind of blows an old guy's mind what you can do these days."

One of the biggest benefits of software similar to what the Travelers are installing this season is that it allows teams to track who comes to games.

"This gives us a way to keep track of customers, season-ticket holders," Travelers director of ticket operations David Kay said. "We know when they come through the gates and at what time. If they have a 70-game package and are only coming to 25, we can find out why are they only coming to 25? When they are coming up at the end of the package, we can work with them on a mini-package rather than lose them altogether."

Etix vice president of sales Ben Wingrove said e-ticket and print-at-home functions of modern ticket sales systems have become vital for minor league teams because they allow teams to market group packages and help guarantee a customer in an already-purchased seat.

"If somebody buys a group of tickets, they log in to their account and manage their tickets online to be printed," Wingrove said. "If you had season tickets and wanted to leave two tickets for your nephew, rather than call down to the ballpark and have a hard copy printed out, you can manage your tickets at home. A lot of teams market toward group sales and corporate outings and this has become a useful tool because it allows (customers) to e-mail tickets out. It makes it easier for people to get into the ballpark and it lowers operational costs for teams."

Etix, based in Cary, N.C., has become a major player in minor league baseball, serving roughly 40 teams including the Omaha Royals, Carolina Mudcats and Potomac Nationals. The company began in 1999 and was among the first to offer print-at-home services. As it has grown, Wingrove has noticed the trend of teams offering or upgrading online sales receiving an immediate spike in overall ticket sales.

"It's not just a shift of walk-up (buyers) moving to online, it was an actual increase in sales," he said. "I believe it is because you have people go to the team Website, see something that is interesting to them and just click on it to buy it. It helps with advanced sales.

"Another good thing about selling tickets online is that the team is collecting data on the customer. If they want to have the customer opt-in on something, they can reach out to the customer."