The Walk up Spring Road. The band playing. The Corps of Cadets marching in. A sea of maroon and orange packed into the 65,000-plus seats at Lane Stadium. The excitement building. The thumping of Enter Sandman. Fans jumping.
Fond memories of a football game day in Blacksburg flood your mind, don’t they?
For those of you without tickets to football games this season, expect to be reminded of those vivid images. You’re about to receive a phone call asking you to recollect those unique memories of Lane Stadium, ones that can’t be replicated, and also asking you to return to an active role as a part of Hokie Nation’s game-day team.
The Virginia Tech athletics department has decided to partner with IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions, a company that specializes in ticket sales, customer service and fan interaction. This company will work with the athletics department to increase Tech’s ticket sales for football and men’s and women’s basketball events.
“Ticket sales are a very important part of the athletics departments revenue stream,” said Tim East, Tech’s associate AD for external affairs. “We think the partnership with IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions will allow us to increase ticket sales for football, as well as men’s and women’s basketball, which will help us grow revenue.”
Rob Minter will manage the onsite operations for IMG Learfield, and he began work on Monday. Though not a Tech graduate – he graduated from Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va. – he knows all about the Hokies. He grew up a Tech fan in Fredericksburg, Va., and his wife, uncle and cousin all graduated from the school.
Minter had been working in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ organization, serving as the director of ticket sales for the Canton Charge, an NBA Development League team located in Canton, Ohio, that the Cavaliers purchased three years ago. He expects to hire at least two people to help him with the Tech operation, but he first plans on becoming more acquainted with the Tech administration and getting the lay of the land.
“I’ll be working closely with Tim East and the athletics department to learn the ins and outs of everything that’s going on there – what’s working, what’s not working, what can we improve and what can we leave alone because it’s already in great shape,” Minter said. “We hope to get started within a week or so of reaching out to fans in the area and talking passionately about the program and the seasons coming up in football and basketball and all the optimism surrounding those two sports.
“We’ll take a very targeted approach. Cold calling will be a part of it, but we really want to focus on recent fans and people that aren’t committed at a high level yet – people that have attended games the past few seasons, but don’t have season tickets yet. Or maybe companies in the area that are looking to entertain clients and haven’t had a chance to look at the options that the Hokies can offer in terms of client entertainment. Our focus is to reach out to those individuals that we think we have a good fit for from an entertainment need. So it’s a more targeted approach.”
Minter works for a company in IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions with a proven track record. According to a release on the company’s website, in 2012, it generated $54 million in total revenues to schools. Of this total, $15 million was related to new tickets.
The company’s list of clients includes some of the powerhouses in college athletics – Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, Oklahoma, Penn State and Tennessee just to name a few. For evidence of the company’s success, consider that Florida sold 4,000 group tickets when the company only started working two weeks before last season’s football home opener, and South Carolina sold out every home football game last season for the first time since Williams-Brice Stadium expanded to 80,000 seats.
The company already works within the ACC footprint, having formed partnerships with Duke, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Boston College and NC State. More importantly, the company has enjoyed success, and in turn, so, too, have those schools. Last season, Pittsburgh sold more than 8,000 new season tickets, while NC State sold out its season ticket inventory for the first time since 2008.
Tech did not sell out its allotment of season tickets a year ago, and the athletics department wants to be proactive in finding ways to get those all-important fans who haven’t purchased season tickets back to Lane Stadium.
“IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions will be an extension of our ticket office, similarly as IMG College is to our sports marketing department with regards to corporate sales,” East said. “This partnership will allow our ticket office to focus on customer service, while IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions, along with our marketing office, concentrates on sales.
“As other schools within the ACC and SEC have done, the addition of IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions is an opportunity to bring in a specialized trained sales group with a proven track record to generate a significant volume of new sales for the athletics department.”
“You look at that area [Southwest Virginia], anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half, there are a ton of opportunities [to sell season tickets],” Minter added. “You may not have pure population, but there are a ton of passionate fans. There are a ton of great organizations that are in need of entertainment and looking for stuff. I think it’ll be unique opportunity. That’s part of our job – to reach out to people in the immediate area and help them understand the entertainment options that we can provide with different Hokie sporting events.”
Minter faced a similar situation while working in Canton, a city smaller than Roanoke, Va., which is roughly 45 minutes from Tech’s campus. So he understands the challenge of selling in a small market.
Of course, selling anywhere these days is a challenge. The American public has become frugal with its entertainment dollars. Yet as many know, some experiences are priceless, like the ones on fall Saturdays at Lane Stadium.
“I don’t think there is a better experience than being at the actual event in person and seeing it live and being around that atmosphere,” Minter agreed. “That’s what Tech has. It has a tremendous atmosphere for fans, and that’s what we’ll play to strongly. At the end of the day, sports and athletics are one of the best things you can do to have those one-on-one interactions and build relationships, or to renew business, and from a family perspective, think about all those great memories you have of going to games with your dad or with your family.“That’s really what our industry can be. It’s a vehicle for entertainment, and that’s something we want to provide at Tech. We want to help create those memories with you, and that’s a big part of why this industry is so great. We want people getting those memories and realizing what a great opportunity it is.”
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