40 Days To Renew

Dir. of Ticket Sales says new benefits coming…

February 4 is just
around the corner… What is the significance of 2/4? It’s the date that 2010
Season Ticket Holders that have not renewed for 2011 will have their seats
opened up to the public for regular sale. With 40 days left to renew, I sat
down with Chicago Fire Director of Ticket Sales Mike Ernst to get an update on
how the club’s ticket drive, “All-In for 2011” is going.

During the Q&A,
Mike talks candidly about fan feedback, where the current goals are at and
mentions more upcoming benefits for certain levels of Season Ticket Holders…
Watch Chicago-Fire.com in the coming days for these.)  

Jeff Crandall: So far, what have been the results from the
changes made to the club’s Season Ticket package for 2011?

Mike Ernst: I
think the most positive result we’ve seen has been a rise in interest and
people purchasing season tickets for the 2011 season. At this point, we’ve
actually sold more new season tickets for 2011 than we have for any other season
since Toyota Park opened in 2006.

In addition we’re ahead in our renewals for next year and
we’ve got a lot of good response on the changes that we’ve made based off of
our customer feedback – most notably free parking, concessions and merchandise
discounts as well as our “Build the Club” referral program.

JC: What was the thought process behind the
Groupon offer earlier this month?

ME: One of the
things we received consistently in our Season Ticket Holder feedback surveys
this past summer was that season ticket holders are extremely invested in the
club and want to see the in-game status as the Gold Standard in MLS. By that I
mean obviously 20,000 people per game, winning championships, U.S. Open Cups,
on a yearly basis. Part of doing that is getting more season ticket holders.

In order to go from a base of where we were at last year to
having 20,000 per game, we knew we had to get creative, but we didn’t want to
be creative and sacrifice our long-time season ticket holders who were making
an investment in the club, so what we did with the Groupon offer was structure
it so that it wasn’t as incentive based as regular season tickets.

As an example,
we limited the benefits: we didn’t include parking, we didn’t include the
discounts I mentioned, but we did include some things that we think are
important because these are now season ticket holders and for the club to
continue to grow in the future, we need them to continue to buy season tickets
so we included the “Meet the Team” event so they can develop an affinity with
our players as well as a Season Ticket Holder gift, so they know that we value
them, even though they’re not spending the same amount as other people.

Through the whole process we wanted to make sure we didn’t
cannibalize Season Ticket Holders’ seats, so we asked ourselves, “Where have we
not sold season tickets in the past?” and “How can we utilize that distressed
inventory in order to help us reach our goal?” which was building the season
ticket base from 2010 to 2011.

JC: What do you say to Season Ticket Holders
that have bought earlier and were upset about the Groupon deal saying they
should have just held out to buy that?

ME: It’s natural
that whenever there’s an offer out there that is a lower value point, there
will be people that feel upset. From an organizational standpoint, we are
adopting the philosophy of rewarding our Season Ticket Holders so that there
are more things to come.

Over the coming weeks, we’re going to be announcing more
benefits, specifically aimed at our Club Seat Holders and areas in the stadium
where fans are paying more money that will help them see why they should invest
more money in the club and show a better return on their investment.

JC: What additional benefits can Club Seat Holders
expect to see?

ME:  They can expect to be more included as
far as V.I.P. treatment is concerned. We’re really looking at upgrading the
customer service in the Club Seat area, making sure that they know we value
them as top-tier clients and customers.

We’re also looking at how we can give more access because
one of the things we heard specifically from Club Seat Holders in our survey
was they wanted to feel a closer connection to the team.  We’re exploring options with our “Meet
the Team” event and other areas where we can do that and hopefully it will give
Club Seat Holders what they’re looking for.

JC: What is the goal for season tickets in 2011?

ME: The goal from
an organizational perspective is to double our season ticket base from 2010 to
2011. The goal from a Season Ticket Holder perspective is for all that come out
in 2011 to realize the value and experience that we have to offer is
second-to-none in professional sports in Chicago and professional sports in the
United States.

We want to continue to grow the club so that we’re looking
out two years from now having 10,000-plus Season Ticket Holders. We realize
that’s going to come from a culture of service where we’re taking care of our
best people. 

JC: As a Supporters Section Season Ticket Holder
for 2011, I’m interested to know the progress of where they’re at in securing
800 season tickets to fulfill the club’s promise of sending them on a free trip
to next year’s game at Columbus?

ME: There is a
goal out there of getting Section 8 Chicago to 800 season tickets for 2011 and
that would be a doubling of the base from this season to next season. It’s
obviously a very significant goal.

If they hit 800 along with Sector Latino and Section 80 [an
offshoot of Section 8 which will feature in Toyota Park's 200 level], then the organization has
made the commitment to our supporters group that we’ll pay for their trip to
Columbus when the Fire take on the Crew this coming season.

To give people a heads up of where we’re at right now, on
the way to 800 we’re at 325. If you want a frame of reference, we didn’t hit
the number we’re at right now for Supporter’s Season Tickets until the week of
Opening Night (April 10) last season, so we’re almost four months ahead of pace
from last year.

I think one of
the key reasons for that is obviously the cross-promotional work the club has
done through our Facebook page, along with Section 8 and the hard work that all
the board members are doing to push the message on the importance of season
tickets and what it means for the club to have a strong supporters section
every match at Toyota Park, given the competitive advantage it provides for the

JC: When does the goal have to be hit in order
for the Supporters to take advantage of the Columbus trip?

ME: By Opening
Day 2011 at Toyota Park – March 26, 2011 vs. Sporting KC.

JC: Anything else you want to add?

ME: We want to
make sure people are kept up-to-date on what we’re doing from a ticket
perspective and as far as goals are concerned that we’re progressing. We need and
want to see more season ticket holders - - We want to see you at Toyota Park in