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 club.
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 2011.