One glance across the ground floor of the Ochsner Practice Facility reveals the size and scope of the ticket-sales operation for the New Orleans Pelicans.
A massive room is filled with a seemingly endless line of cubicles, where a staff of more than 50 salespeople (and growing) gathers in a single space, with a single mission. As phones ring, emails ding and software sits on every desktop, it’s clear: This is more than a simple transaction.
Selling NBA tickets requires more than logging a credit card number into a machine. It’s an all-encompassing, concierge-level strategy that leans more on data analytics and personal touch than supply-and-demand economics.
And according to the NBA, no one does it better than the Pelicans. The league ranked the franchise No. 1 in season ticket holder satisfaction, based on an NBA-commissioned survey, thanks to an array of personal touches and added perks for ticket holders.
It’s partly why the Pelicans have already sold more than 10,000 season-ticket equivalents for the 2017-18 season, despite only making one playoff appearance since 2011.
For years, the 10,000-ticket mark was a sacred cow to the franchise, once used as a benchmark to maintain state funding and then to prove to the NBA the team was viable in New Orleans in the midst of an ownership transition.
That number is no longer uttered in public declarations, and it hasn’t been since Tom Benson’s ownership group took over in 2012.
“It’s on us to sell the tickets, and we aren’t holding a number over people’s heads,” senior vice president of sales Mike Stanfield said. “Mr. Benson is holding us accountable — and look, we know it’s a good market. We have seen it and experienced it. Economically, we know the team can be supported in this market. It never comes up.”
A four-person business analytics team conducts a variety of surveys throughout the season, drawing feedback from a variety of customer demographics on their experience in and around the Smoothie King Center, to get a feel for areas of improvement.
“There are no decisions based on gut decisions anymore,” Stanfield said. “Everything has a rhyme and reason. We understand what our fan looks like and what our demographic is. We understand what we are selling.
“The analytics brings an element of educated decision making. What are we trying to accomplish? That’s what we need.”
Never has it been more important to be in touch with fans than today, when secondary-market options have sunk the appeal of season tickets, even in the most popular markets.
Former Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard famously rang the death knell for the season ticket, claiming it’s a fading proposition for fan.
Instead, sites like StubHub and SeatGeek allow fans to purchase tickets on their phone just an hour or two before the event, eliminating the risk of buying tickets weeks or months in advance.
“The internet didn’t just unbundle entertainment; it gave us whatever we wanted on demand — music, TV, sports, and yes, tickets,” Hubbard wrote in a piece last month for The Ringer. “Almost 50 percent of secondary-market sales now happen in the last 48 hours before the event. The great unbundling of season tickets is upon us. So why are fans continuing to go through what I did as a season-ticket holder? Here’s a hint: They aren’t.”
Yet, Stanfield disagrees with that assessment, claiming the Pelicans have been able to maintain a solid base of season ticket holders by offering each account a specialized representative with whom they communicate their needs. There are also added perks, like a complimentary beer garden before games and a 15-percent discount on concessions.
They’ve also fine-tuned their approach around the secondary market, limiting the amount of seats brokers are able to gobble up, to keep the open-market price from bottoming out.
Two sources familiar with the situation say the team sells about 2,000 season tickets to a single broker, and all other seats placed on the secondary market come from individuals.
“We limit ourselves on what goes to the secondary market to a broker,” Stanfield says. “We have to have a relationship with the broker, so some broker from California can’t just come in here and buy a bunch of tickets. We just won’t. We want to keep a value for our season ticket holders, so if they can’t make a game, there’s still a market out there for them.
“Four years ago, we sold to anybody and anywhere, and it was a mistake. It was a big, big mistake. It traces back to where we recalibrated to make sure all of our decisions were not for short-term benefit, but long-term gain. It’s easy to sell some tickets quickly, but that’s not the right decision for all of us and our season ticket holders. And that’s who comes first here.”