Panthers test ticket perks for sponsors, suite owners in effort to lure more fans to games

Courtesy of the Charlotte Business Journal:

On Sunday afternoon, the Carolina Panthers begin the second half of their home schedule at Bank of America Stadium against the Atlanta Falcons. The game also marks the start of a discounted ticket-sales campaign that reflects the more aggressive business approach ushered in by owner David Tepper.

For the final four home games — Atlanta this weekend, Washington on Dec. 1, Seattle on Dec. 15 and New Orleans on Dec. 29 — the Panthers have offered group-ticket prices to suite owners and corporate sponsors. The offer provides an access code that can be shared with employees and family members to buy upper-level seats for $75 each, or $10 less than the single-game rate, a price typically afforded only to group-ticket buyers who purchase a minimum of 10 seats.

Joe LaBue, Panthers vice president of ticket sales and services, told CBJ Friday that other NFL teams have had success with similar pitches, adding incremental sales while delivering a perk to sponsors and suite-holders.

“It’s a way to say, ‘Here’s a cool offer,’” LaBue said. “It’s not anything mind-blowing in the industry — there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit we hadn’t taken advantage of (in past seasons).”

Tepper bought the Panthers from team founder Jerry Richardson in July 2018 for a league-record price of $2.275 billion.

Since then, he’s hired a new team president in Tom Glick, brought in the franchise’s first chief marketing officer in Meredith Starkey and encouraged the Panthers’ business side to pursue new strategies and opportunities.

Examples of the latter include the 5th Quarter, aimed at boosting concessions revenue by inviting fans to stay at the stadium after home games to watch other NFL games in progress in the club lounge areas. Alcohol and food sales are extended in those areas after games.

The 5th Quarter started in 2018. This year brought a pre-game addition called Backyard Bash, a ticketed tailgate party inside the Panthers’ newly built practice bubble near the stadium. Tickets are $50 and $75 for the two-hour, all-you-can-eat events, which include live entertainment and appearances by former players.

LaBue said all of the new programs tie together by putting the Panthers in front of their fans in a more prominent and consistent way.

“It’s another talking point: ‘What’s your feedback?’” he said. “We’ve got a bigger staff, we’ve got the tools to (be more aggressive). We’re not just sitting at 800 South Mint Street (the stadium’s address) and waiting for the phone to ring. We’re saying, ‘We’re open for business.’”

BofA Stadium seats 75,000. Permanent seat licenses, guaranteeing fans the same seat at the stadium as long as they buy season tickets, have long accounted for roughly 90% of tickets. There are roughly 140 suite-holders, with 10 luxury boxes sold on a single-game basis.

LaBue said PSLs and limited quantities of single-game tickets have left many potential buyers convinced that the only way to get Panthers tickets is through resale sites (which come with higher prices). The suite-and-sponsor discount program is one of several ways the team is letting fans know tickets can still be had for home games.

The group-price offer is a test program. LaBue said the Panthers will be testing a range of sales campaigns to see what resonates. Given the competition for fans’ attention and money, and the ease with which they can watch on big-screen TVs at home or smartphones while on the go, sports teams and leagues have been forced to ramp up game-day extras.

Panthers attendance remains strong, with paid attendance reported between 71,000 and 72,800 for the first four home games of 2019. Still, none of those figures reflect sellout crowds, a result of several challenges, including unusually hot weather for the opener against the Los Angeles Rams and a storm-delayed match-up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Rams reached the Super Bowl last season and have some cachet, but home games against Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Tennessee lacked much in the way of star power. Division match-ups (Atlanta and New Orleans), the return of MVP candidate Russell Wilson (Seattle) and an appearance by the region’s favored team in the pre-Panthers era (Washington) are all trending well in sales, LaBue told CBJ.