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No Fans in Stands Make for Ticketless Season

Live sports and other events were among the earliest casualties of the coronavirus pandemic as venues and teams shut down their operations. But what if your business was based on tickets to sporting events?That is the situation Tony Knopp, founder and chief executive of TicketManager, finds himself in. The Calabasas company manages sports and event tickets for corporate clients.“Most of our clients … are understanding enough of why there are no spectator sports and the most common thing we hear from them when they are talking to the team partners is they want to be good partners,” Knopp said in an interview with the Business Journal. Since the start of the virus outbreak in March, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have resumed playing but with no fans in the stands. The National Football League allows fans in a few stadiums but with limited capacity. Only two NFL team started the season with fans in the stands – the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Kansas City Chiefs. Other teams are taking a wait-and-see approach while some have decided early on to not have fans at all.L.A.’s two NFL teams, the Rams and the Chargers, are playing to empty seats in the brand new SoFi Stadium in Inglewood until further notice. And football, Knopp said, is the sport that his clients are the most excited to see return. The sport drives 10 times as much business as anything else, he added. “It is easily the number one driver,” Knopp explained. “Concerts are a distant second.” Unused assetsThe company has more than $1 billion in tickets that goes through its system annually. But that does not mean every ticket gets used. Before the pandemic, TicketManager was on pace to have $400 million in tickets going totally unused for the year.“By totally unused I mean in the trash can,” Knopp said. “Not given to an employee, not given to charity. The game comes and goes, nobody uses the tickets.” Providing tickets to customers and potential customers are the top ways that corporations use the tickets. Coming in third is giving tickets to vendors and employees. But Knopp said the company’s staff encourages clients not to give too many tickets to employees. Instead, the clients should sell tickets not claimed within a week or so before an event. “They are automatically priced at the best possible yield,” Knopp said. “We have tons of technology that we use for this and it resells the ticket and puts the money back into their account.”Often the client doesn’t know that the tickets will go unused and with an automatic sale, they can then use the proceeds to buy more tickets to compelling events –  such as a playoff game or a Broadway show coming to town.“That is where we see a lot of benefit,” he added.  Testimonials at the TicketManager website bear that notion out. “For us to be able to track who’s using these tickets, what the outcome is and even potential (return on investment) is imperative to the success of our sponsorships and continued relationships with these teams,” said Nick Kelly, who at the time was the senior director of experiential marketing – sports at Anheuser-Busch Cos., the St. Louis brewer. “Because TicketManager integrates directly into Salesforce (software), we know we’re inviting the right customers to the right events,” wrote Michelle Burgess in 2014, the head of global sponsorships for Dell Technologies Inc.Team cutsPrior to the pandemic, companies did not show a lot of discipline toward their entertainment spending. Now with the economy in shambles, every chief financial officer is looking for every single penny that she or he can save, Knopp said.A lot of companies are now performing audits of everything, including sports tickets. “They are saying, ‘Hey look we need to cut this spend, this spend and this spend’ and then you get to the next spend and it’s the sports and entertainment tickets. We will sit down and say, ‘What do we need to cut and what do we need to keep?’” Knopp said.Already companies are making those decisions, as tough as they may be.“We are having conversations with these companies every day. Nobody likes to deliver bad news but most of these companies have already made their decision they are going to leave specific teams,” Knopp said. “The teams just don’t know it yet.” On the upside, Knopp noted that many of his customers are engaged with his staff right now. “And we hope it continues,” he added.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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