A group of Ohio University Sports Administration students graded websites from the NHL, NBA, NFL, NCAA Football, and NASCAR to identify innovative best practices. From the research, five key factors emerged and a top-five suggestion list was generated.
By: Heather Lawrence, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Ohio University
Jason Bitsoff, Ohio University/Feld Entertainment
Allison Doughty, Ohio University/Atlantic Coast Conference
Sarah King, Ohio University/Ohio State University
Ethan Olson, Ohio University/Hunden Strategic Partners
Shawn Selasky, Ohio University/Vitera Healthcare
With an estimated 4,400 professional sport suites unsold in the United States in 2011, suite sales professionals need to present customers with premium seating information in new locations. One place for teams and venues to engage existing and new business is on the Internet, including on mobile devices. According to a Nielsen report earlier this year, more than 211 million Americans are online and 116 million access the mobile web. Today, consumers use their electronic devices like extensions of themselves.
Consider this scenario a client might encounter:
It’s 9:30 p.m. You’ve finished dinner with your family, put the kids to bed, and you sit down at your computer to cross things off your to-do list. One of which is to book the suite catering for the company outing to the ballgame this weekend. The suite office is clearly closed, but you want to take care of it since you know tomorrow the day will get away from you, and you won’t have a chance to take care of it. You log on to the venue site and are directly linked to your account. You click-through the menu options, complete your order, and receive an email confirmation within 15 minutes. You’ve crossed one more thing off your to-do list and were able to do it all while watching your favorite TV show.
The above scenario is very real. Many corporate suite administrators fulfill this role in addition to their full-time responsibilities in the company. Anything that allows the client a more convenient and user-friendly experience will correlate to positive feelings about the team or venue that is critical during the renewal process.
Highlighted next are the important characteristics identified in successful premium websites along with some innovative ideas that were found during the analysis.
Five Key Factors to Successful Premium Seating Websites
This might seem obvious, but many websites do not disclose premium pricing online. But, what if the potential customer is doing research when the office is closed, or they have a general aversion to reaching out to the team without a sense of prices?
A trend was found that teams are making club seating pricing available online, but many do not list suite prices. This might be a good middle-ground for most teams to consider as it will provide some context to potential buyers without the team displaying the high price of suites. Terms and escalators were also listed on websites with comprehensive pricing pages.
In the college market, many institutions highlight the charitable giving benefits for individual buyers. Some potential customers might not be aware of the tax benefits in the college market, so noting them or providing examples of the charitable benefits might entice a potential buyer to purchase.
Catering is generally a suite-specific issue. A simple way to enhance a suite website is to provide information on catering. The luxury suite experience is often not complete without a quality dining experience. A minimum expectation of suite clients seems to be a link to a PDF menu and the ability to print a form to order catering. More sophisticated websites include the ability to submit an electronic catering order directly from the website.
Some unique additions found on some websites include pages hosted by the venue chef highlighting a recipe of the month or a list of recipes that anyone can make at home.
Photo galleries and virtual tours are now commonplace on premium websites. As users select a type of seat, they are able to see an image of the view of the playing surface and the price is shown. Some websites use a digitally created image while others use photographs that include fans at the event in the view to create a feeling of the atmosphere.
Having videos of fans in the premium area that highlight both the experience and the view create good user engagement. Plus, the video is able to engage both sight and auditory senses of the user for more realistic feel of the space. Choosing a video clip of the fans celebrating a goal or even the party after a big win might lure a potential customer looking for that experience.
Linked brochures highlighting the amenities associated with each premium area are more useful to users as compared to the information merely being on the web page. Brochures can be quickly printed, so the information can be shared with corporate decision makers or friends and family. Logos, branding, and textual content retains a professional look in a brochure and helps users make a decision about the right purchase for them. It was found that using bullet points within the brochure made the information easy to follow as opposed to lengthy narrative explanations.
Given that the personal relationship with the team is a key component to acquiring and retaining premium clients, the earlier the team is given a “face” to the client, the better. Websites that have photos, contact information, and even short bios of their premium sales and service staff are more engaging than generic text listings of a sales department phone number and email that might be something like: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A “chat now” option is also a trend that allows potential clients to not even have to pick up the phone, but be able to simply click where they are on the site and get additional information about the offerings. One word of caution related to live chats: do not use them unless you can staff them with informed sales representatives.
Five Innovative Suggestions for Premium Websites
Premium Seating Education
We live in the world of premium seating, but prospective clients may not. Do they know what a “seat option” is? Do they understand that a premium purchase is buying an experience and not merely a seat for the game?
Part of an effective sales process is to educate clients so they can make a purchase decision that will meet, and hopefully exceed, their expectations. The dynamic nature of the premium seating industry allows for opportunities for teams to engage clients and potential clients through education on their websites.
By increasing the human element of a team’s premium website, they appeal to the “inner fan” in all of us. Pictures, marketing collateral, and videos that have fans in them create an emotional reaction in the user that a digitally re-created image cannot achieve. A fan in a jersey enjoying a glass of wine is more impactful than a clip art image of a glass of wine.
Telling clients and prospective clients how they can activate and use their premium purchase is a value-add that should not be underestimated. Clearly, sales professionals will do this in the personal selling process, but a few success stories on the website can get the creative juices flowing in a user even before personal selling begins. A corporate client that brands their suite into a company-themed experience might be highlighted. This provides value to the company highlighted as well as challenges potential corporate clients to be more creative in their usage.
Social media and mobile apps are not just for the “average fan” anymore. Establishing an exclusive Facebook page, Twitter account, YouTube channel, mobile app, or Foursquare rewards program provides premium seating clients (or prospective clients) the ability to connect with the premium experience all year long.
Using social media, the team can push out content such as promotions, reminders, and links to catering menus. Users can also generate content through photo sharing, narratives of great experiences, or even just asking the sales and service staff a question. One word of caution when using social media: a strategic plan and the ability to execute the plan are of vital importance.
The number one suggestion that emerged from this research is to offer a dedicated premium seating website separate from the team or venue website. A catchy URL such as www.bobcatpremiumseating.edu is easy for clients to recall and allows for simple navigation. Often, premium websites were found to be buried in a very complex venue or team website that was difficult to navigate, requiring multiple clicks to find the resources. Of course, this dedicated site should be accessible from the team or venue website, but it should also contain the relevant information needed to stand-alone.
Using the results from the website analysis, teams and venues can compare their existing website to the best practices identified as well as consider new and innovative website ideas to incorporate. It is the hope of the research team from Ohio University that teams and venues are able to translate stronger website design into more revenue.
Would you like additional information on this study or other research in premium seating?
Write to Dr. Heather Lawrence at email@example.com.
This article also appears in the 2012 Fall Issue of SEAT Magazine.