Interview: Blazers' Mensah on ticket sales, variable pricing, sellouts
Transcript of an interview conducted Tuesday with Portland Trail Blazers chief marketing officer Sarah Mensah.
Menah on the initial results of variable ticket pricing:
We’ve been pleased with the variable-pricing model. I think we’ve just touched the top of the iceberg about where variable pricing will go into the future. What’s happening is, with the advent of the secondary market, with people selling, vending tickets on Craigslist, on StubHub, and even with our own secondary market, there is a lot more available data about the true value of a ticket. And I think our foray into variable pricing this year was just the start. And what this will really mean is, the markets will really drive the value of the ticket much more … than they have in the past. It was much more of a gut decision around what the value of a price was. And now, we can be much more definitive. It’s going to go both ways. We saw that there were people who were excited about the opportunity in some places to pay a little less for a game that was experiencing less demand. There was as much excitement around that opportunity as there was confirmation on games for tickets with … higher prices, where there was increased demand.
On whether there was a game this year at the Rose Garden that would not have sold out without the use of variable pricing:
Probably not. Variable pricing will become more relevant if we get back to a place where we’re not experiencing such unprecedented demand.
On details about how variable-pricing use will possibly expand in the future:
I just think what will happen is, I think it isn’t out of the question that for individual game tickets — which is really important to note here — that for individual game tickets, team pricing for individual games will become more similar to the airlines. It will become sort of a technical equation that will look at a number of factors. And those varying factors will determine what the price is on an individual game price, and that price could change over time. We’re still not there yet. We’re still 48 hours out from the game. But I think those times are coming.
On factors affecting variable-pricing rates:
What will happen again is, not so much us, but there probably will be an equation. There will be a software program that you can buy that takes all of those things into account, and does an automatic query of all of those factors and builds a logarithmic equation, and that’s how the price gets determined.
On season-ticket renewals and ticket sales this year:
Well, first of all, I have to say, we really do believe that we have the best fans in the league. And they’ve proved that by coming game in and game out. It’s really our season-ticket holders and their attendance at games which has really driven the sellout ratio. We’re really seeing that not only are people buying season tickets, they’re keeping season tickets and they’re coming to the games. So, that’s a perfect combination of factors that are really making the Rose Garden one of the most exciting places to see the game. And so this year, the season renewal is going really, really well. We instituted a new program that is a club for season-ticket holders called Rip City United. And now season-ticket holders are rewarded for their attendance, their tenure, for the investment size — they get all kinds of additional benefits. So, the idea here is that owning a season ticket to the Trail Blazers is more than just the access to the games. It’s now access to all different kinds of services, promotions and experiences. … And I think those things, combined with the resiliency that team demonstrated this year, is really resulting in the fans wanting to show their loyalty by continuing the tickets and keeping on this journey.
On whether there was any game this season that came close to not selling out:
It’s always going to be a concern. But the thing we saw this year, again, is a Trail Blazers ticket is something of huge value. People are coming out to the games. And because of the size of the season-ticket holder base, and the fact that if someone is going to choose not to come to the game, there’s going to be a line of people that want to use your that ticket. And there’s also lots of activity in those secondary markets, where folks are taking their tickets and actually selling them. So, it’s less likely this year than the year before or the year before that, and our sellout streak is extending into two years. Less of a factor, but we’ll never stop working hard to make sure we connect. To the end, we could sell out the arena in season tickets. But we’ve made a really strategic and deliberate point to not to. To always hold back a certain amount of tickets that will always be sold to groups — we’ve had a lot of support from all kinds of groups who want to come out and see the game … . So, I just think that’s smart business, to not sell out in season tickets. We’re always going to make sure that there is access.
On numbers concerning season-ticket renewal this year:
We haven’t historically released specific numbers. But I will tell you that we’re hoping to exceed 90 percent with our ticket renewal this year. So, we aren’t there yet. Today’s the deadline and we’ll see what goes on today. We’re hoping to be in that — the league has identified 90 percent as being really the best practice of what a team does, and we’re hopeful that we’ll be there. Again, one of the things that makes it hard, in order to reserve enough seats to be available for new sales, we will get to the place where renewing at 90 percent will put a pressure on our ability to hold enough tickets to be able to continue to sell for new (people).
On increasing season-ticket prices and why it has happened:
Well, you know, the scarcity rule is definitely applying now. I wish could give you clarity around ticket pricing. Because for the same reason that I alluded to earlier with our individual and variable pricing, that same rule is applying to season-ticket pricing. Of course, we’re unique because we’re the only team in the league to actually offer season-ticket holders discounts according to the tenure of their association with the team. And, so, the days when everybody pays the same price for a ticket, regardless of whether they’ve been with the team for 20 years or whether they’ve been to the games for two years, those days are gone. So, what we’ve said is, if someone has been with us and stayed with us for that long, then they ought to have a better price. We heard that loud and clear from ticket holders, and that practice continues. So, what’s happening now with the Rose Garden is, tickets are all over the board in terms of what people are paying for them, because of that rule that applies. According to where your priority number is and how long you’ve held those tickets, is really what determines the price that you will play.
There will be (increases). And, again, we’ve got more than 25 different price codes. So, because there are 25 different price codes, you’ve got to go price code by price code, and then the amount of the increase inside of that price code was really determined on the scarcity and the pressure against inventory in that particular price code. So, there was no consistency in percentage. Some price codes went up a significant amount. And some price codes actually went down. (That would be based) on scarcity, demand, the rate of renewal from the year before. What’s happening with the secondary market and how those tickets are being sold. All of those factors played in. What I would just say is, it’s becoming much more of a science. Its more of a science rather than a gut feeling, and it’s a segmented yet complex technical equation.
On the current relationship between Blazer fans and the organization:
We feel that our fans feel this team. It’s a symbiotic relationship. The fans support the team; the team performs better. And it’s back and forth. It’s a very special relationship that the fans here have with their team. And they’re definitely in. They definitely believe in these guys and want to show their support. They’re emotionally connected. And I think it’s a two-way street. I think the team feels that way about the fans as well. And I think that’s why we’re going to continue to sell this building out. I think that fans really believe that they’ve been part of this. And the truth is, they have.