Published September 08, 2008 : Page 19
sales success often starts with staffing, training
by Matt DiFebo
According to an NCAA report on revenue and expenses published in
April 2008, athletic departments at only 16 of the 119 Football
Bowl Subdivision schools (formerly Division IA) operated in the
black in 2004-06. The numbers are even more dismal for Football
Championship Subdivision schools (formerly Division I-AA), Division
I schools without
football, as well as for Divisions II and III over that same period.
How can athletic departments become financially self-sustaining
or, at the very least, lessen a widening gap between revenue and
rapidly increasing expenses?
That is the question the University of Central Florida had to answer
in 2005, when it was on the cusp of a facility boom and making the
leap into a big-time program.
The answer, in large part, was to increase ticket-sales revenue.
Those in pro franchises figured out long ago that in the business
of sports, ticket sales drive all other revenue streams: sponsorship,
merchandise, concessions, etc.
The tricky part was adopting a ticket-revenue-generating model from
pro sports and modifying it to be successful in a university setting.
I was hired in April 2005 to create a ticket-sales program and
maximize ticket revenue at UCF.
Changing the culture
Our approach was to institute a culture where revenue generation
was endorsed and understood by senior administration.
During the initial sales campaign in 2005, UCF wanted to focus its
efforts on where it could gain the greatest ROI. For UCF, as with
many schools, that is football, and it started with the then-current
In the last three years, UCF has increased football season tickets
sold by nearly 12,000 and annual football ticket revenue by more
than $4.5 million. Another $1.75 million in new and increased donor
contributions have been taken through the sales office.
The second phase included proactively selling for other revenue
sports, namely men’s basketball. In just one season, 2007-08,
UCF doubled men’s basketball season tickets and increased
basketball revenue by more than 300 percent, including nearly $200,000
in new premium-seat sales.
While those revenue numbers are impressive, the biggest impact might
have been in the implementation of a full-time ticket sales staff
trained in relationship-building. UCF won over existing fans by
providing a level of customer service that exceeded anything they
Combined with a proactive year-round sales strategy, the attention
to customer service helped produce dramatic increases in new season-ticket
sales, fundraising and season-ticket retention.
Assembling a strong sales infrastructure is paramount to maximizing
revenue-generating potential and gives an athletic department the
best chance for a substantial ROI. There are no shortcuts for athletic
directors creating a proactive ticket-sales initiative. A full commitment
When considering starting a sales program, many administrators assume
that campuses are replete with resources and, therefore, little
investment is needed to increase attendance and ticket revenue.
While that may be true, success is dependent on investing wisely
in the correct resources.
The most critical element in establishing a successful ticket-sales
program is investing the time and resources necessary to hire an
experienced sales manager and making the commitment to provide proper
staffing. The ideal manager should be a proven leader who understands
sales culture, is capable of implementing effective strategies that
can be applied to the college environment, and has the ability to
train and teach sales technique. He or she must also be able to
communicate effectively to executive administrators and coordinate
with other departments (sports marketing, ticket operations, communications/sports
information, fundraising and sponsorship) to ensure an efficient
and productive operation.
To truly maximize revenue, administrators cannot fall into the belief
that ticket-sales success can be achieved with part-time employees,
students, volunteers or low-paid interns. A full-time staff dedicated
to season tickets, partial plans and group-ticket sales is the key
to maximizing revenue.
The size of the staff can vary depending on each institution’s
situation and resources, but anything less than four full-time sales
members may place demands that are counterproductive and detrimental
to the goals of the program. Students can be used to supplement the
This staff should be well-trained in building relationships, beginning
with the current fan base. It should be focused on season-ticket retention,
acquiring new season-ticket business, up-selling seat locations and
additional seats, corporate sales, group sales, and gaining referrals
Creating a sales culture in a college athletic department can be difficult,
but it is not impossible. The trend seems to be catching on. In January,
the University of South Alabama adopted a model similar to UCF’s
to increase revenue from basketball and jump-start season-ticket sales
for a football program that will begin play in 2009.
Matt DiFebo (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate athletic director
for external services at the University of Central Florida Athletic
BACK TO TOP
|Keys to building a successful
collegiate ticket sales department:
1. Full commitment from athletic department to
promote a sales culture
2. Proper infrastructure
3. Sales manager and full-time staff dedicated
entirely to ticket sales
4. Incentives (commissions/bonuses) for
5. Strategy for season tickets, group sales and
6. Focus on revenue sports with greatest ROI
7. Training opportunities
8. Review of pricing strategies