What do you get when you ask fans what they want? Something a lot like the Seattle Mariners’ new Flex Memberships apparently.
“The last several years we have been constantly talking about where are season tickets going,” explains Cory Carbary, VP, Ticket Sales & Service, for the Mariners. “We’re always looking at what is next, what is better, how do we integrate new technology and improve season tickets?”
The ticket sales team knew 2019-20 tickets weren’t going to sell themselves.
Add the fact that the Mariners have been struggling on the field the past several seasons — with time likely left to go in their rebuild.
Listening to fan feedback, they knew they were going to need to overcome numerous objections that sounded like this:
- Our family is busy in the summer and we can’t commit to a set schedule of games…
- I can’t (or don’t want to) always go with the same person…
- I like to sit in different seats for fireworks games than I do for day games than I do for summer nights…
- I’d like different numbers of seats: some games are for date night, some become guys night out and some are family outings…
- The exchange process is a pain in the butt…
- I hate leaving tickets unused…
Looking to utilize the latest technology while keeping the process simple for fans, Malcolm Rogel, Mariners VP, Ticket & Event Services, and Jennifer Sweigert, Director, Season Tickets, identified a potential solution working with the team’s ticketing partner, Ticketmaster. And then they all went to work addressing any concerns that might hinder a fan’s experience.
“Most of these fancentric advances have come about because our partners at Ticketmaster are transforming the entire ticketing experience to fit the way people live today,” adds Rogel. “We are focused on building a season ticket plan for the future.”
The Mariners proudly point out that they have long embraced Seattle’s high tech heritage as the first pro sports team to have a website (Mariners.org, launched Nov 30, 1994), the first to have a website in a second language (Japanese) and the first team to sell tickets online (1996).
And that’s how they became the first Major League Baseball team to offer truly flexible season ticket packages that allow fans to build their season ticket packages throughout the season.
How does the program work? The new program has six tiers: Rookie, Pro, Veteran, MVP, Hall of Fame and Legend (see graphic above).
Spend $600 on tickets you were buying anyway and you’re a Rookie (which in effect replaces the M’s Ballpark Pass — with an upgrade). Once you hit $1,200 in tickets, you move up to Pro and your discount on all purchases forward rises from 10 percent to 15. Spend $2,400 and your discount goes to 20 percent. Once someone spends $5,000 or more, the discount goes to 30 percent (or higher) and an All-Star Club Discount kicks in.
The biggest difference from last season? Instead of requiring ticket-for-ticket swaps like Ticket Exchange, the team’s previous system, now with the Flex program, fans will immediately have a credit they can use however they choose for any remaining games.
Want to turn your family’s four tickets into two upgraded seats for date night? No problem. Or turn those into eight bleacher seats to take your kid and five friends? Go for it.
With ticket prices remaining basically flat, a ticket buyer can renew at the same spend as this past season apply the discount, pick their games and be done. But they can rest assured, they can swap out games if vacation plans change.
Carbary shared a perfect example of the new offering at work the same morning TMR spoke with him: a renewing season ticket holder who had spent approximately $6,700 in 2019, renewed as an MVP. They rounded up to $7,000 and ensured at least a 30 percent discount on all their tickets with the understanding that if they needed to buy more through their account — for work or family — at any time going forward, they would progress toward Hall of Fame status.
As an incentive to lock in as many plans as possible, variable pricing won’t kick in until Feb.
Perhaps best of all, fans can add to their account as they go. Start by building a 20-game package and if the team gets hot? Buy some more tickets at a bigger discount.
This should create tremendous up-selling opportunities for Mariners staff.
Rogel is working to ensure that even at the T-Mobile Park Box Office on game days, staff can quickly create an account in their system and get the fans off to the game.
“We will have a dedicated window at the box office for Flex Members,” explains Rogel. “Staff will have two or three lines to ask fans if they want to sign up — think about someone that walks up with friends and they’re buying $150 to $200 of tickets. Now we can ask if they’ll be coming to more games. Would they like to save 10 percent? The leap to $600 isn’t that big. That’s why we see a lot of growth opportunity at the Rookie level.”
Rogel knows the key is a smooth, simple process and he promises that: “We grab the name, address and email and hand them a basic Welcome Packet and off they go to the game. With our CRM they’ll have a welcome email on their phone before they get to their seat with everything they need.”
When pressed about how the program will be measured and called a success, both Carbary and Rogel swear that they have not put a specific target on a dollar amount or percentage gain.
Will they measure everything and slice and dice the numbers? Yes. Will the Mariners sales strategy and analytics and product marketing and customer communications and retention & events teams all be involved in evolving how the plans are marketed and sold? Yes.
Rogel believes that flexing could be a real game-changer. His peers appear to think so, too. He says he has already had numerous pro teams — and not just MLB clubs — reaching out to him excited to learn more and see where a program like this can go.
First and foremost, however, the Mariners are focused on being fancentric. The results will come.
“When we came up with this it wasn’t ‘how do we sell more season tickets, but how do we give fans the best experience,” says Rogel. “Now, do we think we will sell more? Yes, but this is most importantly reacting to what fans tell us they want.”
Carbary sums it up nicely: “The Flex Membership fits peoples’ lives.”