“Rice is great if you’re really hungry and want to eat two thousand of something.”
Did you ever try to buy two thousand of something?
We’ll come back to it.
Today, let’s talk about season ticket packages, and in particular, the season ticket holder “gift.” By way of background, I’ve been a full-season ticket “member” for the IronPigs since 2009, for the Phantoms since their move to the Lehigh Valley, for the Reading Phillies (note: we can say R-Phils again because they’re leaning into it) for the past five years, as well as for the now-defunct or absent Lehigh Valley SteelHawks and Bethlehem Steel F.C. Each organization has a different set of benefits and perks included when you sign up for season tickets–as well as a variety of plan options sometimes, as well. Since last summer, I’ve been working on a piece about the benefits of being a STH, with notes about each franchise I’ve been associated with. It’s centered around the question, “What do you want?”
Last night was the first pickup night for the Phantoms season ticket holder “gift.” As expected, there was social media grousing about the choice for this season. It brought me back to the question, “What do you want?” So I started to ask myself the very same question. As I said, I’ve been thinking about it with respect to the entire season ticket-holder experience and “package.” But specifically, without knowing what the gift would be this season until it was semi-disclosed the other day, I wondered to myself what I would want, if given a choice.
First, the point of the gift. As an organization, if you’re going to have a gift as part of the myriad benefits of being a season ticket member, it should be something that’s not readily available to the average single-game fan. Ideally, it should make the season ticket fan feel special and appreciated.
Yeah, it’s tough to buy something for two thousand (or more) people and have it be good. That’s going to cost some money. But if the item is not usable in any way or useful for the fan, then while the token might be appreciated, it won’t have the impact that a better-quality item might have.
OK, now it gets tougher. But, remember the market. We’re talking about your best customers. Often, we’re talking about people who are in your stadium or arena more often than anyone else. These are folks out in the community singing your praises and making themselves known as big fans of your product and/or your sport. And, yet, they’re all different. What’s useful for one person might be redundant or worthless for another. And, if it’s not well-made, it’s not very useful, either.
Something Useful on Game Day
Remember all these folks are coming to the games, right? What does one need, to make the game day more enjoyable? What will be useful for that type of person? Will it be unique and identify the bearer as a season ticket holder? It’s a tall order, but it does take the ‘useful’ category to another level.
Is the “gift” even necessary?
That’s a good question as well. If it’s in the season ticket contract, it does become an obligation of the organization to fulfill. And, to a point, not to disappoint your best customers, either. But still, the Reading Phillies don’t give out any gifts on “Ticketpalooza,” they day season ticket packages are first available to pick up. It is a bit of an event, though, with free hot dogs and soft drinks, and you get to hang out in the clubhouse. There’s a “sidewalk sale” in the store which often includes some game-worn or game-used player items. And, it’s an older ticket base, with a sense of community, so the opportunity to re-connect and visit with your fellow ticketholders is also a nice benefit of the event. It’s probably better than some little piece of crap. 2,000 of crap is still crap. Perhaps the money is better spent elsewhere? We’ll get back to that.
Is there an event?
Just as the Reading baseball organization hosts “Ticketpalooza” in late-February each year, other teams have held ticket pick-up events. Not everyone can make it, and I only started driving down to Reading for the event the past two years–and even then only because the weather was OK and I was able to get off work.
The Bethlehem Steel F.C. folks, with a much smaller ticket base than any other I’ll talk about here, probably, had a ticket pick-up event, but the two seasons I was a ticket member, I couldn’t fit the event into my schedule and the location was inconvenient. Still, I think it was a good idea.
The SteelHawks almost always had the event. Food and drinks almost always free. Even an open bar once, if I recall correctly. Players were there to be introduced, as well as coaches. The dance team was often there. Autographs and pictures were available. There was no gift that I can think of, but the tickets were printed out and ready to be distributed to those in attendance. It was a good way to set the stage for the start of the season, and like the Reading event, an opportunity to re-connect with your fellow ticket holders whom you may not have seen in a while. Oh, and one other difference: The team owner as well as the general manager and promotions director were all there, and available to talk to and mingle. The SteelHawks remain the only team I’ve ever been associated with, where the owner would come to the tailgate parties and mingle with fans.
The IronPigs have probably the largest season-ticket base of any of these teams. Additionally, they also probably have the most different levels of season tickets. I mention this because it necessitates delineating the two-seat ten-game plan holder ($220.00 total) all the way up to a four-seat, club or front-row ticket holder ($4,480.00 total). We’ll come back to this as we look at some of the gifts. Only in the last three seasons, the IronPigs have added season ticket package pick-up to their annual “National Pig Day” event, when single-game tickets first become available. That event usually has a pig roast, other free refreshments and hot and cold beverages and some live entertainment as well. There have also been ballpark tours and experiences related to this event in the past, although perhaps not recently. Adding the season ticket holders to the event as it’s popularity among single-game purchasers began to wane, was an excellent idea. See above for benefits like re-connecting with friends and the like. Ticket reps and team employees have been available at this event in the past, too, although often too busy to talk (or, maybe, just too busy to talk to me in particular?) It also now allows you to see the different gifts. Did you get the etched rocks glasses, or the disposable plastic cup?
The Phantoms. Ahh, the Phantoms. I promise this piece isn’t a ‘hit job’ on the Phantoms, despite the gift pick-up last night being the motivating factor in writing it. So, in the interest of fairness, let’s come back to the orange and black in a bit.
I’m not going to cover all of them, and I likely don’t even remember some of them. But here’s a quick review:
Drinkware: This has been a ubiquitous gift. Everything from coffee mugs to beer glasses to pint glasses to rocks glasses, and now, an insulated tumbler with close-able lid, last night from the Phantoms. First, there is a certain uniqueness to it, although most of the stores sell some kind of drink-ware sometimes. It’s useful–but only if you use that item and need more of it. I know folks who have cupboards full of pint glasses, and always give them away. My kids always break pint glasses, so I’m usually happy to have replacements. The IronPigs rocks glasses were nice, I gave one away, but two of the other three quickly broke. Remember, it’s hard to buy two thousand of something and have it be good. The last one is preserved in the back of my bar, mostly because it has the 10th Anniversary IronPigs logo on it. Coasters can be in this category as well. Useful? Yes, but only to a point. Collectable? I guess.
Collectibles: These have been done a couple different ways, as well. Exclusive bobble-heads, double-bobbles, and the like. They’re cool to have, but then what? My office is jammed with bobbles and while I’ll still pick them up at the games–and as a season ticket gift I’ll take it–but after season on season of something, it does lose it’s shine a bit. It does satisfy the ‘unique’ requirement. But, it’s not really useful at all and doesn’t help me on game day. A pillow? Nope. Don’t need that either.
Seat Cushions, and the like: There are some other game-use-able items which have been attempted. Seat cushions? Nice try, but two thousand in the order means they weren’t very good. Blankets? Maybe–but they’ve been giveaway items so many times.
The Uniform: There are items that fans wear and use at the games as part of the fan “uniform.” For soccer, we got special season ticket scarves the one year. They were smaller than a normal soccer scarf (“two thousand”), but the gesture was perfect. The IronPigs have done hats a number of times, most recently last season. The ‘Pigs tried doing a jersey a couple years ago, but again, the quality issue snuck in there, and although I have them, I’ve never worn one. T-Shirts could be part of this category, and a special season ticket version has been attempted by the IronPigs. However, shirt sizes vary so widely, you’re easily going to have people who are unhappy. And, quality, again, enters in. In hockey, it’s almost always too cold to wear only a T-Shirt to the game. Phantoms T-Shirts are cool to have, but don’t necessarily help me on game day.
I guess my favorite season ticket holder gifts, looking back on 11 years of IronPigs, 5 years of Reading Baseball (no gifts), 6 seasons of Phantoms, and a few seasons of SteelHawks and Bethlehem Steel FC, are as follows:
- Season Ticket Hat, IronPigs. Not the most recent one, or the one pictured above. Soon after the molten-pig logo was introduced, the Pigs gift was a special hat, color and logo-coordinated with your ticket level. The black molten one that I received was well-constructed and among the highest quality of any giveaway hat I’d ever received. I traded with another fan for a green one–just for something different–and although it was just a normal pig-head logo on a green hat, the construction and fit were of the same quality. Useful on game day, delineated the levels of membership based on color, and unique to season ticket holder with a script “season tickets” logo on the back. I still wear both the black one and the green one to this day.
- Soccer scarf. Bethlehem Steel F.C. skipped town and now operate out of Chester, with the parent club. It doesn’t make me happy. But, while they were here, the local organization, which included several former IronPigs staffers, worked tirelessly to promote the team and cultivate the fan base and supporters clubs. So I don’t really get to wear that little scarf anymore, but I did wear it to almost every game that season after we got them. I appreciated the “game-day” item, even though I had other, better, scarves.
- The Hockey Stick. The first season of the Phantoms we got sticks. It was cool, although probably more in the “collectible” category than useful. And don’t even try to bring such a weapon into the arena.
- (tie) IronPigs coffee mugs / Phantoms insulated tumbler. I’m a coffee drinker, so these items are useful to me on a daily basis. We’ll see about quality–my old ‘Pigs mugs are pretty beat up and chipped at this point, but it’s been almost a decade. I look forward to using the Phantoms mug on the daily if it works out.
- (tie) Bobbleheads. They’re not useful and I’m not looking for any more of them, but I do like the ones I have. Their uniqueness and limited distribution are noted.
I almost forgot my favorite one! A couple years ago received this small-sized tennis duffel from the IronPigs. I use it every home, mid-week game so that I can change at work and head straight to the game–baseball or hockey. It’s well-constructed and super-useful for me. I can see that for some it would be too small. They probably got a deal on 2,000 of them because it’s a small size–but it’s useful for me on game day!
–Credit to Dan, he sent me a message with the suggestion of a high-quality collapsible security-compliant game-day bag. Certainly something that meets a need!
For those new to this space, I didn’t get involved in it initially or ever try to use it strictly to complain about things. Where there have been (perceived) problems from the fan-perspective, I’ve always tried to propose a solution or two. Perhaps I don’t always have all the information or understand the logistics, but that’s to be understood, right? Still, I’ve tried, and on occasions those ideas have snuck into use–whether it was from here or just coincidence.
So what do we do, Phantoms? Predictably, there were fans complaining about the gift of the tumbler last night following pick up. You can’t satisfy everyone, right? The complaints about the bobbleheads had become deafening. “I didn’t even bother to pick mine up,” became the mantra.
So what do we do, dear Phantoms? Here’s the whole problem with your season ticket holder gifts: The timing. It’s the end of the first week of December. I’m cranky. Our power play is horrible. We just lost to a mediocre Hershey team which we’ve now seen several times. The people three rows in front of me won’t sit down during game play. It’s getting cold. It gets dark too early. The Parking Authority continues to make things more difficult for everyone. It’s going to take a lot to make me feel “appreciated” as a season ticket holder right now. That’s not your fault, it’s just how it is.
But, what about the last weekend in September? Yeah, that’s the time. What if you combined the season ticket pick-up with the pre-season practice event? What if the gift was available then, along with the ticket books and some other throw-in swag like a re-usable bag, a pen, some stickers for the kids… Or, do it the week before, hold it in Chickie’s with some food and drink specials (doesn’t have to be free, just special) and arrange for a veteran player who might be in town early to stop by and mingle. Have all the ticket reps and managers there, along with the owners. I’m telling you, everyone loves the Phantoms on September 23rd. We’re undefeated. We’re excited about the roster. I’m kinda sick of baseball parks. Getting the ticket books, along with the gift and whatever other swag (at IronPigs we also get a coupon book good for money off concessions or the store, and promos from the various advertisers) all at once would have more impact, and much less complaining. Have a computer and printer set up in the back meeting room there, and if anyone has an issue, just take them in there and beat the crap… No! I’m kidding, but you’ll have a chance to solve small problems before they fester into bigger ones, at a time when everyone is in a really good mood about your product.
And one more thing: I’ve got a LOT of suggestions, but while I have you, just one more. Hire enough staff. I’ve been around long enough to know that staff turnover in minor league sports is a given. It’s not a failure, often, it’s more like “graduation.” Folks move on to bigger and better opportunites. As an organization, I’d advise that you always have enough help. If someone leaves, you’ll have staff in place who can step in more easily than someone off the street. If one person leaves, you shouldn’t have to cancel Fan Club events and the like. Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to plan for the pre-season events I’ve described above, and get those gifts ordered sooner so that you’re ready.
I love this stuff, man. it’s a lot of fun for me, but will probably come to an end at some point. Nevertheless, I appreciate the effort of these organizations and see the work that goes into it. I see many of the challenges just from being around, or because I own a business, as well.
It’s hard to order 2,000 (or many more) items and have them be good and appreciated by all. It’s even harder to pay for them. I also appreciate that almost every item I’ve ever received as part of a STH “gift” package has not been sponsored. Most have been devoid of logos and presumable paid for by the team as a ‘thank you’ to their best fans. I recognize and appreciate that.
Feel free to vent or suggest or generally comment below. Your email won’t be published. Make up a name, I don’t care. Only severe inappropriateness will not be approved. Links and comments to this post, on Facebook, will be limited.
See you at the arena, or the ballpark,