In 2006, the Cleveland Cavaliers made a big trade, becoming one of the first professional sports teams to begin phasing out traditional paper tickets in favor of Flash Seats® digital tickets. Over the next few years, the Cavs steadily transitioned fans over to digital tickets, starting with their season ticket holder base and moving level by level throughout the arena. Almost immediately, the organization knew it had something special.
“With Flash Seats being tied to a person’s ID, we had a much deeper level of information than anything we’d had before,” said Kevin O’Toole, Senior Director of Business Intelligence at the Cavs. “Right away, we were able to track exactly how fans were managing their tickets, who they were giving tickets to and when they arrived at our venue. The technology was really ahead of the times in the sports industry.”
The decision to go all-in with digital
For the first few years, the Cavs embraced Flash Seats as much as possible. Then, in 2010, the organization faced new and unique challenges, as well as an opportunity.
“Any time you’re faced with concerns about retaining your most valuable customers, while also acquiring new ones,” said O’Toole. “The application of Flash Seats data became critical during this time.”
After taking a conservative approach to Flash Seats adoption, the Cavs determined that it was time to go all in with digital tickets, getting as many people on board as possible.
“There was a premium placed on printed tickets. This encouraged a more rapid adoption of Flash Seats,” said Ron Velazquez, VP of Ticket Operations for the Cleveland Cavaliers. “We also created opportunities for our members to sample Flash Seats by making it the only method of delivery for exclusive member-only events. Once they experienced how easy it was to simply swipe their ID at the arena or transfer tickets to their friends, they were hooked.”
As more and more fans had their Flash Seats “aha” moments, adoption climbed from about 50 percent to the 70-80 percent range. With a strong base, the value of digital ticketing extended far beyond the decrease in paper costs, reduced will call lines and reduction of fraud.
“The more fans we had using Flash Seats, the more we could learn about them, fuel our marketing database and make better decisions,” said Velazquez. “This helps us achieve several things: sell more tickets, drive revenue into other areas of the business — merchandise, special events and sponsorships – and engage our fan base more accurately and appropriately with their preferences.”
Connecting the “who” to the unknown fan
In comparison to other digital ticketing solutions, Flash Seats allowed the Cavs to identify exactly who was attending games. Teams often know the identity of the fans purchasing primary inventory, but they don’t necessarily know who is showing up on game day — the tickets can be forwarded or sold into the unknown. And unfortunately, those unknown, or invisible, fans become missed opportunities.
“On average, a ticket changes hands just under two times. Understanding the complete lifecycle of every ticket became critically important during the lower ticket demand situation we were facing back then,” said O’Toole. “We had the ability to see who was bidding on and purchasing tickets on our resale marketplace. Those fans automatically became a top priority for our lead generation campaigns.”
By following the digital ticket trail, the Cavs made an operational shift, using data to develop customized engagement strategies. For example, with the Cavs Golden Ticket program, on event days, O’Toole’s team generates a list of fans who have been transferred tickets or bought them on the team’s marketplace, and therefore are actually attending the event. Next, they pinpoint the top 10 prospects in the arena and place a golden ticket in their cup holders, telling them to claim a prize. When they claim their prize, the golden ticket visually signals the sales team to have a detailed conversation with these fans about game package opportunities.
“Flash Seats became the foundation for how we think about customer relationships,” said O’Toole. “By analyzing ticket trends and past purchase behaviors, we could confidently put together ticket packages that we knew would resonate. There were examples of other businesses doing this in the retail world, but we started doing it in a sports context.”
Driving long-term engagement with fans
From 2010-2014, the Cavs experienced low winning percentages, yet the organization achieved steady business growth. By the 2014/2015 season, digital adoption reached 98 percent, giving the Cavs the ability to track the activity of nearly every single ticket per game. Not only do they know who has purchased primary tickets, but they also have information on fans receiving ticket transfers or purchasing tickets on the resale marketplace, tripling their marketing universe to more than 60,000 fans per game. This expansion equates to incredible value across the entire organization, impacting ticket operations, membership sales, merchandise, marketing, corporate partnerships, community relations and more.
“If we had nothing else, Flash Seats would be enough to fuel our lead generation efforts by creating sales funnels that we’ve never had before,” said Velazquez. “Instead of selling to the same fans over and over again, we’ve built a larger targeted audience for our products.”
Beyond making the Cavs’ organization smarter about their audience, fans have reacted positively toward Flash Seats. And it all boils down to one thing: convenience.
“Through our analysis, our renewal and ticket utilization rates are much higher with Flash Seats,” said O’Toole. “ It’s all about the convenience factor, especially when it comes to transferring tickets. Whether you have corporate tickets with multiple seats or simply can’t attend the game, there’s really no excuse for a ticket to go unused, even at the last minute.”
Of course, the Cavs don’t have any issues with ticket demand now, but the organization is working harder than ever to apply their depth of understanding about exactly who their customers really are and how they can best engage them.
“The data we’ve gathered over the years has allowed us to communicate with fans in much more meaningful and individualized ways,” said Velazquez. “When you know who your fans are and what they’re looking for, only then can you truly and accurately attempt to satisfy the relationship.”