Have you ever tried to sell snow cones to Eskimos? How about ocean front property in Wyoming? Try this one – selling NBA season tickets during a lockout for a team with a losing record for five consecutive years, or corporate sponsorships for a team that may or may not relocate at the end of a season that might not happen. That is exactly what the Sacramento Kings have been charged with and to be honest, they have done a yeoman’s job of it.
I’m sure the cynic is going to give Mayor Kevin Johnson all the credit for what is happening here in Sacramento, but he is only a piece to the puzzle. Once the Maloof family announced they were staying in Sacramento for the 2011-12 season, the Mayor’s office switched gears from corporate sales to building a new entertainment and sports complex in the downtown rail yards. The Kings, with the help of their NBA partners, were left to fend for themselves in very uncertain times.
While fans would much rather be talking about free agency and start of training camp, that’s not on the table right now. Could you imagine trying to sell a box of Captain Crunch with no cereal inside? Now how about that same empty box of cereal and oh, by the way, you can’t use the word, “Captain.” Not his name and not his expertly penciled hat and mustache. That is exactly what the Kings are faced with.
More after the jump…
So what have the Kings been up to? They are doing the same thing they have always done, getting out in the community, selling season tickets and landing new corporate sponsorships … with one, maybe even two hands tied behind their backs. Has it worked? Yes, yes it has – the Kings have currently sold more season ticket packages than they did all of last season and their new line-up of partial season packages is taking off as well.
Would the Kings like to have newly drafted Jimmer Fredette using his incredible following to sell some tickets? I’m sure they would, but unfortunately they cannot confirm or deny because they can’t even say his name. This is life in a lockout. So, instead of promotional materials starring Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, there are new billboards with the “Minor Rivera Plan” and the “Janet Fowler Plan.” Are these people important? Of course they are, but they don’t have the brand recognition of professional basketball players. In fact, they don’t even have brands, they are everyday fans who have opened their wallets to buy ticket packages with the hopes that eventually there will be an NBA season.
Phil Horn is in his second season as the Kings’ Vice President of Ticket Sales and Service. Not only is he tasked with rebuilding a sagging fanbase, but due to the uncertainty of last season, he had to replace most of his sales team as well. That hasn’t slowed the former Portland Trailblazer exec from showing a 10-percent increase in season tickets sales over last season. “We’re not sitting on our hands by any means,” Horn said, “we are trying to come up with creative packages and get creative with our season ticket offerings.” Now 10-percent might not jump out at you as significant, but considering that because of the possible relocation, the Kings didn’t start selling new ticket packages until June, three months later than usual and that the NBA is in the middle of a lockout, that number is pretty impressive.
The Kings are building relationships with season ticket holders and businesses by using a hands on approach, even getting Joe and Gavin Maloof to jump into the fray. According to Horn, the Kings have had a remarkable 86-percent renewal rate on season tickets for this coming season – all of which are backed by the Kings’ “worry-free guarantee.” Gavin Maloof personally manned the phones for over forty hours trying to help with renewals while Joe and Gavin have also taken part in season ticket promotions, even joining the prize patrol to hand out prizes to fans at their homes and businesses.
Mayor Johnson went in front of the NBA Board of Governors and claimed he had $7 million in new corporate sponsorship money, though rumored to be as high as $10 million. Finalizing those deals and processing new sponsorships took the Kings’ sales and marketing team as well as members on loan from the NBA, a fair amount of time. To that number, the Kings have added plenty, landing deals with Waste Management, The Pizza Guys, Ace Hardware and others. They aren’t done yet. The Kings’ newly appointed Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Jeff David, said that the Kings have already landed 35 new partners and they are in talks with plenty more, “there is a lot of activity in the pipeline, the response from the corporate community has been great.”
David is a former Kings employee turned NBA employee, who is back for another tour of duty. He’s in it for the long haul, having just moved his wife and daughter from Manhattan to Sacramento. “It’s important from a league perspective that this team does well and continues to flourish in Sacramento, that’s the goal here.” David continued, “It’s been fun, it’s been incredibly challenging, but the community and the corporate community have been so supportive of the franchise. It’s been an amazing experience.”