On June 18, the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics announced a partnership with IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions (IMGTS), the industry leader in the collegiate outbound ticket sales space, to enhance tickets sales for our home athletics events. We became the 30th school to partner with IMGTS, the 14th who is also a member of one of the highly visible conferences.
Fans may wonder why the athletic department decided to partner with a third-party to handle outbound ticket sales. They may also wonder what this partnership means for their ticket-buying experience.
It is well documented that there is a national trend of declining ticket sales and attendance for live events, especially sporting events. This trend is affecting collegiate sports nationwide and is certainly a topic of great concern for us internally. The numbers don’t lie, average attendance for our home events has been on the decline during the past few seasons.
Reversing the negative attendance trend is a top priority for our department. Let’s face it, our events are more fun to attend when the house is packed and rocking. Coach Huggins has said many times that the WVU Coliseum is among the toughest places in the country to play when full. The same holds true for Milan Puskar Stadium, Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium and will for our new baseball ballpark. Our contention is selling more tickets and putting more fans in the seats will help the overall fan experience, which is another top priority for our department.
Under the leadership of Director of Athletics Oliver Luck, we conducted an internal review of our ticket sales operation in an effort to formulate a plan that would put us in the best position to enhance our ticket sales efforts. All options were on the table and considered during this internal review. At the same time as our internal review, we researched what our peer institutions were doing with regards to outbound ticket sales to better understand what is working and what is not for other athletic departments.
After gathering research on best practices from other schools and conducting our internal review, we focused on three potential courses of action: adding additional staff internally to form an outbound ticket sales team; putting together a formal request for proposals (RFP) to see what third-party ticket sales companies could offer; and standing pat to see if the trend corrects itself.
We can’t afford to stand pat so we explored the benefits of adding staff internally to form an outbound ticket sales team versus releasing an RFP. Adding this sales team to our department staff would mean, among other things, the Department would bring on additional employees and absorb all costs associated with the new positons (salary, benefits, etc.).
One hurdle we encountered while exploring this option was compensation to the members of the sales team. A common theme from our research was the importance of providing incentives to your ticket sales staff based on performance in order to create an effective team. The incentive most commonly used was paying commissions or bonuses based on actual sales in addition to a base salary but this type of compensation structure is not permissible under University and State regulations.
Another issue with forming the internal staff was how many staff members we could afford to bring on board, which ultimately was two to three new staff members. Our research showed most effective outbound ticket sales operations, internal and outsourced, had more than two to three on staff. The combination of the compensation issue and limited number of staff members led us to focus on a second course of action, putting together an RFP to see what the market would bear.
We reviewed RFPs that had been formulated by other Universities who had previously gone through this process. We were able to take information gained from this review and combine it with details we felt were unique to WVU and produce an RFP that reflected what we were looking for from the various ticket sales companies who were potential bidders.
Several RFPs were received and considered by the evaluation committee. The committee narrowed the field to a group of finalists, and after a very competitive process, we selected IMGTS as the best option for our needs.
The resources and expertise IMGTS brings to the table separated them from other proposals. IMGTS proposed bringing in a staff of five for our outbound ticket sales team who they could incent with their commission-based compensation structure. IMGTS positions us for an effective outbound ticket sales team to help us sell more tickets and fight the trend of declining attendance.
Now, what does this mean to WVU fans and their ticket buying experience? Operationally, not much will change for the majority of our donors and ticket buyers (season, mini-package or single game). The Athletic Marketing Office, the Mountaineer Athletic Club and the Mountaineer Ticket Office staffs will continue to engage in all aspects of the ticket sales process in which they have previously been involved. Similar to the addition of online MAC donations and pick-your-own seat capability for online single game sales over the past few seasons, the addition of an outbound ticket sales team is aimed at making the ticket buying experience better.
The outbound ticket sales team will focus on making personal contact with non-renewals and the cultivation of new customers. The IMGTS team will bring five well-trained, professional ticket sellers on board and allow our department to reach more fans and sell more tickets, which we believe will improve the overall experience for our fans.
The future is bright for WVU Athletics, and we are excited to shed more light on our dynamic new partnership with IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions.