What if Buying Tickets to Sports/Entertainment was more like Buying Plane Tickets?

Ever taken a flight on Ryanair? Or maybe you had an experience with easyJet? Heck, I just traveled on Alaska Airlines and had a not quite-as-extensive, but still opportunistic booking process – evaluating the need and value of each add-on. Reminiscing about the experience with the OG’s of $0 base airline tickets made me consider the effectiveness of the airline booking process and how it could fit into the present and future of sports marketing.

So, the question is – why shouldn’t attending a game be like booking a game experience comprised of its parts, why can’t getting a ticket to the game be like getting a ticket for your next flight?

Sportfan.001

First, a quick reminder of how an airline booking experience can go –

  • Search the dates for the trip
  • Find options with times that work, maybe check non-stop or allow layover
  • Maybe look for an airline for which one belongs to a loyalty program or one that is integrated with their credit card provider for rewards or money back
  • With those baseline factors put into one’s search – select the best bargain, the cheapest that meets the aforementioned needs. Done, right? Not even close…
  • Add more passengers – cheaper for kids sometimes! Or mark you’re flying solo
  • Add luggage allowances if necessary, and add that to the total
  • Select the type of experience – first class, business/premium class, economy being the typical options, but some get far more extensive.
  • Nope, still not done. Now you can pay a little more if you want to reserve a seat – maybe make sure you get the aisle or further up the section or the window
  • Make sure to buy the insurance, too, so you can rest easy should something come up to prevent you from traveling
  • For the most part, you’re done – but some may offer (or maybe should consider offering) pre-purchasing food/drinks for the flight, using a deal for transportation (whether public transportation, rideshare, etc.), or even add a hotel room

Still with me? Thanks, because I hope the wheels are turning for how this can be translated to sports – presenting a dirt cheap base price to get fans into the system and then letting them build their experience based on what’s meaningful and worth paying for to them. There is always some concern about adding steps and clicks – especially on mobile – before fans get to that coveted confirmation page, but as long as it flows quickly and is easy and organized on the eyes, fans will be glad to build their experience – making it feel personalized, too – and get what they’re willing to pay for.

So, let’s re-imagine what the fan experience can be like getting tickets for the next game.

  • Fans check out a game they want to attend (whether searching it, seeing an ad/email, visiting the team website) and see a not-so-scary base price, dynamically priced based on the opponent, day of week, time (it’s ok to tell fans it’s a premium game)
  • NOW, after the fan is already in the purchase flow and juuuuust a tiny bit invested, let them select their seats from those available, with the seats they choose either requiring $0 upgrade fee or a range of tiers. Fans can even select middle vs. aisle to meet their preference
  • What’s next in the order? It can go in any order (need some data to optimize), but let’s say next up is an opportunity to pre-order some merch and have it waiting at your seat or available for express pickup at a kiosk, so fans have a t-shirt, a rally towel, a scarf (for soccer), a beanie (or toque, for our Canadian friends), a jersey, a shirsey, etc. etc.
  • You’re booking an experience, not just entrance to a game, so why not take a look at the concessions offerings and, should you choose, pre-order something. Even schedule a time for pickup and get an alert or text to confirm it’s ready when you’re there at the game! If you’re in a premium section, maybe you get food delivery and you could even schedule your night’s food, so you get a beer and peanuts early in the game, a burger just before halftime, and a churro toward the end of the game for dessert.
  • Not sure what you want to buy at the game yet? That’s ok – another option to add to your baseline experience is to preload your ticket with in-venue currency, offered as part of your booking process for, let’s say, 90 cents on the dollar. Make a commitment to spend money at the game and save! Seems like a good deal to me if someone is planning on getting something anyway and could be enticed to commit for fear of missing out on a deal.
  • Wait, we’re not done! You gotta get there. Sure, you may not be thinking yet about how you’re getting to the game or maybe you’ll pull up Uber or Lyft or the Metro on game day. Or you can schedule an Uber (or whomever the transportation/ride-share partner is) and save a buck or two if you do it now as part of your game booking experience. Driving to the game? Great, pre-pay for parking and even get the option – if you’re willing to pay for it – to select/reserve a specific spot!
  • We’re almost there as our game day is coming together. So now, for those individuals that couldn’t live without pre-check TSA or have invested in Clear, for example, they can do the same on game day. Or maybe pay a few dollars more to enter into via pa priority gate. If fans value it enough, maybe they’ll go for it.
  • Alright, we’re getting to a lot of steps here (this is a work in progress, clearly, as I’ve conceded!), but since we have your attention and we darn well hope you intend to finish this off and attend the game, we have some more partners that want to hook you up on game day – how about a coupon for 2-for-1 Dunkin Donuts coffee to fuel up the morning of game day? Or even save digital coupons to your app that have a chance to be activated at the game if the team meets ‘x’ threshold.
  • You are now all set! But, just before you go, we could offer you insurance (a la the airline, but not as keen on this one), so let’s show you some ‘experiences’ you can add to your game day. For a small fee, you can get access to the premium lounge throughout the game, or get a locker room tour before the game, a mascot meet-and-greet after the game, a chance to take part in a game, attend a post-game concert or movie screening, pre-purchase a 50-50 ticket, meet the announcers at halftime, etc. etc.

My verbosity may be making this seem too tedious and we’d lose more fans in the process, but this isn’t an article meant to proscribe, it’s meant to make us think. If fans are feeling priced out, let’s not scare them off and let them start with an economy option. It could be scary for fans to watch their [digital] wallet empty as they see what a full game day expenditure looks like all purchased in advance – as opposed to a slower drip on game day – or it could help fans better understand what a full game day experience can entail and why certain package cost what they do while helping one tailor their experience and feel like they’re getting exactly what they intend to pay for.

A common refrain talks about 50,000 fans at a game having 50,000 uber-personalized experiences. I’m not sure we’ll get there (or even want to get there) anytime too soon, but the more fans can feel like they’re in control, the more teams can expose fans in the moment to additional offerings to increase per caps, the more casual fans can at least find themselves getting started in the purchase process enticed by the low get-in price, the more transparent and tailored this can all become. There’s always the possibility of providing pre-set ‘bundles’ and experiences, too – much like we see today with family packs, student packages, and the like.

As our world becomes increasingly a la carte (can you count the number of subscription services you’re billed for each month?), fans and consumers are becoming more cognizant of exactly what they’re paying for. Fans (and, as the so-called experts say, Millennials) are willing to pay for experiences, so let’s consider learning something from the Spirit Airlines of the world and create a fully integrated purchasing experience that lets fans buy exactly what they want and know exactly what they’re paying for.

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