by Erin Hogg
The marketing department of an NBA team can't control who wins on the court. However, the marketing team can win with the audience in terms of ticket sales.
That's the objective Dewayne Hankins, Vice President of Marketing and Digital, Portland Trail Blazers, had in mind when he approached marketing for the NBA team.
"Our job is to make sure that business is buttoned up from a revenue standpoint across the board," Hankins said.
Hankins added that his role at the Portland Trail Blazers is to help sell as many tickets as possible, help the corporate sponsorships group and make sure the NBA team is relevant in the market.
A simple goal, but the process for purchasing tickets on the website didn't reflect it.
At the time of the campaign covered in this case study, the Portland Trail Blazers did not have a website on the NBA.com platform, and its former site was around eight years old. There was no guest checkout, the checkout process was long, and the site was not optimized for mobile.
On the old site, potential ticket purchasers encountered distracting page elements, multiple purchase paths, difficulty viewing seats and other issues that would cause the site visitor to have to restart the ticket purchase process or leave the site altogether and purchase tickets elsewhere.
The first problem, according to Hankins, was, "OK, we have to fix this. We have to fix the purchase process. We have to fix people coming to our sites."
Another issue Hankins noticed when he joined the organization in April 2013 was that marketing efforts were very traditional — print, radio, TV and outdoor advertisements.
While ticket sales were healthy, Hankins noted the same fans were coming to the games — namely, season ticket holders.
"Our fan base is very passionate about the Trail Blazers, but we were also an older demographic, 55-plus with our season ticket holders. Our package buyers, people who bought 10 to 15 games, were 50-plus. Even our individual game buyers were in the 40-plus range," he explained.
Hankins saw the untapped potential for marketing to younger fans as well as the potential to bring in a larger number of new fans. However, he knew changing the existing marketing methods and channels was the only way to fill the seats with these new demographics.
Hankins noted that at the time, 70% of tickets purchased were bought online, which begged the question: "Why weren't we spending more time marketing online?"
"A lot of what we did was making a commitment to digital, and that was SEO, that was SEM, that was getting the right websites in place because we didn't have very good ones before. It was basically an entire revamp that we did last season going into 2013-2014," Hankins said.
The goal for the Trail Blazers was to increase the number of tickets sold as well as enhance the overall purchasing experience.
However, with around five different websites for the Portland Trail Blazers, Hankins knew the team had to fix the purchase process in order to achieve success.
Step #1. Redesign and launch a new website
At the beginning of this campaign, the Portland Trail Blazers did not have a centralized website on the NBA.com platform.
Hankins saw that as an opportunity to consolidate all of the disconnected sites and get "everything under one roof."
To allow for a more targeted purchase process, the team had to focus on improving what was already in place, while identifying essential changes that would need to be made. The old site had some good content but needed a user experience redesign.
Many elements of the old Portland Trail Blazers website served as barriers to conversion, such as:
- No guest checkout
- No mobile purchasing
- Over nine pages in the purchase process
"We made it very difficult to buy tickets on our site, unfortunately," Hankins explained.
These elements were all corrected in the site redesign
that launched in October 2013, which finally lives on the NBA.com platform.
Along with the redesign created to better serve customers, this effort also provided a great opportunity set up more advanced analytics tracking with multi-touch attribution.
Step #2. Implement dynamic ticket pricing
Before this redesign effort, prices for games were displayed equally, Hankins explained.
"So it was $50 to see us play the [Miami] Heat and Lebron James, and it was $50 to see us play the Charlotte Hornets and teams that maybe weren't as marquee," he said.
As part of this campaign, the team wanted to factor in the day of the week, opponent and star players into the pricing for each and every game. According to Hankins, there were eventually 18 to 19 factors that went into pricing for every event.
There was also an added element that provided fans with ticket prices in their range.
"We had to have a way to educate our fans about that, to say that, 'Hey, if you want to get a deal, try this Monday night game against a lesser opponent,'" Hankins said.
To accomplish this, a section was created on the single-game page
for each game during the season. On each game listing, three different price levels and three different levels in the arena were featured to cater to each demographics' differing price range.
"Not only were [the webpages] dynamic, but they were variable-priced based on demand going on through the season," he said.
The campaign was dynamic throughout the course of the year, and the team set up each game to be its own campaign, Hankins said, adding that it was the best way to optimize both the overall campaign and the individual game.
To optimize the single-game page, the team offered options for how to shop, such as:
From a marketing standpoint, the team wanted to keep extending the message of personalization and confident targeting.
The pages were also set up so that the team could target fans based on website behavior and actions.
The single-game page was set up so that whatever criteria someone searched for — a Chicago Bulls game, for example — they would be dropped into a bucket for Bulls events. Then, for Bulls games later in the year, that customer could be specifically retargeted to with a higher ticket rate, versus the general public.
"We used this most for our campaign strategy at the beginning of the season. We also, through the course of the season, made a number of adjustments with some new promotional ideas," he said.
One promotional idea included "Fees on Us Thursday," which was an effort to pay online fees for fans who purchased tickets to a Thursday game, the slowest sale day of the week for the team.
Step #3. Test page elements
In the past, the majority of the advertising for Portland Trail Blazers seasons was traditional — primarily TV, radio and outdoor, including billboards and wallscapes
However, with those more traditional channels, tracking is more difficult, and attributing the source of revenue can be complicated and approximate.
With the website redesign, the team was not only able to better map out the purchase cycle through dynamic ticket pricing, they also had the opportunity to test page elements to see what worked best for their customers.
"So we did things like using the term 'Find Tickets' as a button instead of 'Buy Tickets.' Also, things like making the button white instead of red or listing the lowest prices closest to the 'Buy Tickets' or the 'Find Tickets' button," Hankins said.
For example, having the cheapest ticket prices displayed on the left with price ascending to the right was tested against having the highest ticket prices displayed on the left with price descending to the right.
The team found that the lowest ticket prices next to the "Find Tickets" button led to 51% more revenue per visitor.
Captured data is used on an ongoing basis to tweak and refine future campaigns for the Trail Blazers.
Step #4. Promote ticket sales via social media
According to a Nielsen report
, NBA fans are 14% more likely to visit YouTube in a month than the average person.
Because of this data point, Hankins and the team decided to implement YouTube advertising for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Using dynamic pixel tracking, the team was able to target certain demographics of fans based on their behavior on the site. Dynamic pixel tracking allows for marketers to set specific tags with custom parameters built in with coding.
The idea was that the team would be able to target the product they thought people were interested in based on the site webpages they visited.
If a potential customer were to view the premium section of the tickets, including suites and club seats, they would be served a different ad than the fan who simply viewed a news article on the site.
The team also utilized interest targeting, which included both basketball fans and fans of other sports as well.
"We did a lot of Facebook Exchange. We tried some Facebook News Feed advertising, and then during the playoffs when we didn't have tickets to sell, but we wanted to drive leads," Hankins said.
With the Portland Trail Blazers Facebook News Feed, the team found that less sales-driven messaging
worked better for driving brand awareness and engagement.
This includes content highlighting different team members, news and updates on the team as well as content from the NBA.com site and other sports news media, including ESPN.
With this campaign, the team saw "just how much more leeway you can get in terms of your marketing dollars if you can prove that your marketing dollars are making the company money," Hankins explained.
The results from this entire effort for the Portland Trail Blazers include:
- 40% increase in new single-game ticket buyers
- 300% year-over-year increase in traffic-to-ticket buying site
- 40% of people who bought tickets last year were new, younger buyers
- 630% ROI
Hankins and the team have used these results to gain buy-in for bigger and better efforts in the future.
"I think people get scared of being accountable for the marketing spends because it's easy to spend it on billboards and outdoor and print ads and TV and then not have to be responsible for telling people how it turned out. But with digital, you really are responsible," he said.
During this campaign, Seattle was found to be the second-highest market in terms of revenue for individual ticket sales, and they heavily attend weekend games.
"So it would behoove us to make sure that we are serving digital advertising for weekend games in Seattle, which is outside of our market, but obviously a market that does well for us," Hankins said.
As for future efforts, the team re-launched the site in June, making it responsive, and the team will be pursuing making the purchasing experience even more personalized.
"I think for us it's just continuing to be smart about what we're doing in that landscape. We also have a much better analytics group than we had a year ago. So [we'll be] taking the data that we have from that and potentially marketing retail the right way, or food and beverage when people come to the game, then being smarter in some of our marketing automation efforts as well," he concluded.
- Portland Trail Blazers old site
- Single-game page
- Trail Blazers wallscape
- Facebook post
SourcesPortland Trail BlazersSq1
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