White Sox win with technology
(IDG) -- When companies' sales are in a slump, they often buy sales lead lists for direct-mail campaigns from pricey third parties. But by using a combination list service and analytical software package in-house, the Chicago White Sox, which definitely are in a slump, have drummed up high-quality leads at a low price. Now if they could only win a few more games, selling seats would not be a problem.
On top of a less-than-stellar season, the White Sox are trying to sell seats in a changing marketplace. During the 1994 baseball strike, the Sox lost many of their longtime fans who sympathized with the players' union. Meanwhile, time and demographic changes cut into the Sox's core audience of older, blue-collar Chicago residents, despite the attraction of New Comiskey Park, which opened in 1991. In the past couple of years, lackluster on-field performance and trades of some popular players also dragged down ticket sales.
So early this year, the White Sox organization began pursuing its first direct-mail campaign, aiming for season ticket subscriptions by local companies and nonprofit groups. The team could have gone the traditional route of outsourcing to a "mail house" the work of renting mailing lists, sifting them for hot prospects, tailoring the letters, mailing them, and tracking the responses.
But a high-technology in-house option promised to be faster, cheaper, and more effective. The White Sox purchased MarketPlace Pro, a suite of two marketing applications from iMarket, in Waltham, Mass., that combine lists of prospects from a Dun & Bradstreet master database with software that sorts and routes leads, blends in prospects from other databases, and produces mailers, according to Amy Kress, advertising manager for the White Sox.
Kress explains that marketing any professional sports team is a roller-coaster ride because so much of its popularity depends on unpredictable factors, from Albert Belle's performance to the time it takes to get to the ballpark.
Therefore, every sports organization considers season subscribers its bread and butter, because they are a reliable revenue source, Kress says. Corporate subscribers are especially good targets because they tend to get pricier seats -- say, lower deck reserved -- to impress clients and reward employees.
The mission Kress and her staff had was to find companies and nonprofit organizations in greater Chicago that would respond favorably to an offer of season tickets. The Sox already had a database of about 30,000 good leads, mostly prior subscribers, contest winners, and people who had called to ask about tickets, but the organization wanted to see who else was out there, she says.
It licensed a list of about 100,000 corporate leads from iMarket's MarketPlace, which combines Dun & Bradstreet list access and profiling tools.
Then it used another iMarket software package, MarketMatch, to sift through the newly licensed and existing databases, looking for companies matching the characteristics of likely users, such as law firms, banks, trucking companies, and manufacturers, Kress says. MarketMatch could focus on location (down to the individual zip code), line of work, size, revenues, and so forth.
The Sox chose iMarket based on the promise of simplicity and low cost, and Kress is not disappointed.
"It was the ultimate in convenience and simplicity," Kress says.
Also, it was relatively affordable -- about $1,600 for the base applications -- and the organization paid for database names in advance, as with a postage meter.
Speed was another big advantage to doing the mailing list analysis in-house. Kress' staff could put together a list at the start of a double-header, print out the labels, stick them on the mailers, and organize them by zip code before the last out, compared to a turnaround time of as much as two weeks for a mail house, according to Kress.
The MarketPlace suite had a bright rookie season despite adverse conditions, certainly enough to guarantee it a place in the lineup next year, Kress says.
"iMarket did help us sell tickets ... nothing huge, but a lot of smaller sales. It didn't help us sell out the stadium every game, but I think that's an unrealistic expectation," given the Sox's performance this year, Kress says.
Next season, which for the marketing department starts about Christmas time, the White Sox hope to use iMarket's applications to get to know family ticket holders better -- for instance, how long they have been coming to games and how many kids they have -- and to do more "relationship marketing" with corporate prospects, Kress says.
They will also be hoping for some on-field support, because the best marketing program is a winning team.
"It has to be the thing to do -- people have to want to go," Kress says.
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