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Thrashers Credit E-mail for Lockout Success with Fans

By Jan 03, 2006

Promoters for the Atlanta Thrashers hockey team are crediting e-mail for helping them keep fans interested enough during last season’s lockout to result in an increase in ticket sales this season.

When last year’s NHL season was canceled due to the lockout of players by team owners, the Atlanta Spirit LLC—parent company of the Thrashers, the NBA’s Hawks and the Philips arena where the two teams play—was left scrambling for a way to keep fans interested in a product that would be out of commission for a year.

“We wanted to stay relevant to our Thrashers’ season ticket holders,” said Kyle Brunson, director, CRM and database marketing, Atlanta Spirit. “We wanted to provide them some kind of a service and maintain a relationship with them while there really wasn’t much to talk about in terms of hockey,” he said.

As a result, the company began sending a monthly e-mail to Thrashers’ season ticket holders with a series of entertainment-related offers.

“We know there is no substitute for watching the best young team in the NHL,” said one e-mail, “but to show our appreciation for your continued support, we are making the following offers available to you.”

The e-mail offered recipients free tickets to two upcoming Hawks games, vouchers for up to five people for free bowling, free tickets to Atlanta’s Fernbank Museum and free tickets to the Fernbank IMAX Theater.

“We offered them everything from free bowling… to anything we could get our hands on,” said Brunson.

The e-mail included links to respond to each single offer and one link to respond to them all. It closed with a personal note from Thrashers president and CEO Bernard Mullin.

“We are hopeful that the New Year will bring a resolution to the labor situation. We understand that these special offers in no way can replace the thrill of watching our rising young superstars at Philips Arena; however, we will continue to offer you opportunities we hope will entertain you, your family, friends or business associates until NHL hockey resumes. As always, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at (404) 827-2816 or bernie.mullin@atlantaspirit.com, with your questions, comments or concerns.”

The result of Atlanta Spirit’s promotional efforts during the lockout: “Thrashers attendance is up 6.6% over the 2003-04 season at an average of 15,059 per game,” said Brunson. “We believe this is very positive considering we have just come out of the lockout and games played to date have been played during the most competitive time of the season.”

The competition to which Brunson refers is football. Because the Thrashers are in the south where football is top dog, interest in hockey tends to be flat until the NFL and college football seasons end, Brunson said.

Meanwhile, the speed of e-mail campaigning also allowed Atlanta Spirit to take advantage of last-minute offers from sponsors, such as free tickets to an event for the following weekend, said Brunson. “It would have been impossible to stay in touch with them like this in any other channel,” he said.

“It helped that we are a multiple entity company—that we had an arena and a basketball team—so we could leverage what business was happening” said Brunson.

Brunson said Atlanta Spirit’s e-mails to season ticket holders generate high overall open and click-through rates. Survey e-mails to Hawks fans, for example, generate 43% open and 61% click-through rates, according to Brunson. Survey e-mails to Thrashers fans generate 51% open rates and 40% click through rates.

“Atlanta Spirit does an incredible job of using customer data to provide their fan base with relevant and interesting offers,” said Tricia Robinson, chief marketing officer for Accucast, Atlanta Spirit’s e-mail service provider. “They keep their fan base interested in Atlanta Spirit e-mails and the sales reflect it.”

Atlanta Spirit gathers e-mail addresses on the two team Web sites, as well as at PhilipsArena.com, by offering e-mail newsletters to keep fans abreast of developments concerning the teams. It also collects e-mail addresses using sweepstakes offering high-end prizes, such as automobiles and once, a house.

Besides the newsletters, the company also communicates with eight different segments of customers based on the various season-ticket packages they own. Brunson estimates that his company has 80% to 90% of the Hawks’ and Thrashers’ season ticket holders’ e-mail addresses.

“We send a lot of e-mail because we have a lot of different groups, but the typical subscriber probably doesn’t get more than one a week,” said Brunson. “We try and pay attention to that.”

Like many professional sports-team promoters, Atlanta Spirit has also begun offering single-game ticket sales to e-mail recipients before the general public. The campaign has been so successful that this year, so-called “presales” online were twice as high as sales to the general public in the teams’ ticket offices.

The big lesson from last year’s NHL lockout? “We learned we never want to go through a lockout again,” said Brunson.