Arena rebounds from attendance woes with rewards program

When it came to attendance, the home of the NBA's Detroit Pistons was hardly a slam dunk, but a rewards program at The Palace of Auburn Hills not only helped the arena learn more about its customers, it also helped fill the seats.

In late 2000, marketers at The Palace of Auburn Hills, home of the Detroit Pistons (NBA), Detroit Shock (WNBA) and Detroit Fury (Arena Football League), noticed too many empty seats in their midst. "There was apathy in the city, and the Detroit Red Wings (NHL) were the big ticket at the time," explains Teresa Conner, one of the marketers who wanted to bring crowds back to The Palace.

 

Realizing team loyalty alone might not draw them, Conner developed MyPal, a rewards program that encompasses multiple teams and venues. "If Joe Smith goes to Pistons games, he may also be likely to go to a concert -- it would be great to know if there's a connection there," explains Conner, who now manages the program across three Palace Sports & Entertainment venues.

Her hunches were right. According to recent data from Harris Interactive, only 27% of NBA game attendees are diehard NBA fans. The remainder are casual fans with active lifestyles: 65% of concert attendees also attend the theater, and 31% attend other pro sports; 59% of pro sports attendees attend theater and 31% attend concerts.

MyPal launched in January 2001 and signed 60,000 new members its first year, almost double Conner's goal of 35,000. In 2002, another 40,000 signed on, bringing the total to over 100,000. Seeing friends join is how the majority become members, a recent survey revealed. Concertgoers, for example, average between four to six shows per season, and each time, they usually bring someone different, says Conner.

To earn points for attending events, members swipe a magnetic stripe card at MyPal kiosks, where they can also print out customized coupons. Between games and concerts, they can check points, see what rewards they're eligible for and set communication preferences online. About 4,000 members (4%) virtually access their accounts each month. Many visit more than once per week to select coupons and hear video kiosk greetings for upcoming games, explains Conner.

The MyPal database has captured e-mail addresses for 40% of its members, all of which have opted to receive targeted communications. The unsubscribe rate is low -- only about 20 members have asked to be removed, and most were moving out of the area, says Conner.

As for the connection between sports fans and concertgoers, Conner is investigating. She's found that Detroit Fury fans seem to have a hankering for country music. She's still trying to understand the musical tastes of Pistons fans, which is more difficult because several customer groups are emerging. Through database research and e-mail campaigns -- which typically see a 6% clickthrough rate -- she expects to know more shortly.

MyPal has already boosted attendance by between one and 1.5 events per patron per year, well on its way to the goal Conner and her colleagues set of two additional events per patron per year. And she credits MyPal with an increasing number of diehard fans who attend 50 or more events per year, and ultra-fanatics who attend 125 or more events annually. That's an event every couple of days, she points out. "At these high levels, we have 'experiential,' i.e. once-in-a-lifetime rewards, that the average fan would never get the chance to receive (like a ride on the Pistons' team plane, Roundball). I think our 'fanatics' look at MyPal as a game, and if they get to the highest level, they've won." By cultivating higher-value relationships with its best customers, The Palace wins, as well.


To read more articles like this one, visit Peppers and Rogers Group's Web site at www.1to1.com

All materials copyright 2003 Peppers and Rogers Group - 1:1 Marketing.

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