Brett Bouchy just became my favorite owner in all of professional sports.
His Arena League Orlando Predators were lousy last year and recorded only their second losing season in franchise history. And the fans weren't happy about it. So you know what he decided to do?
That's right, if his team is good this season, fans pay full price for season tickets next season. But if his team is bad again, fans get season-tickets at a drastically reduced price.
Hey, Orlando Magic, are you listening? You should be.
"We see teams in baseball dump salaries, but they don't give the fans a refund when they dump those salaries and the season goes in the tank," says Bouchy, whose team was 4-14 last year and failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 19 years. "It's a dirty little secret that teams [in the NBA and NFL] try to lose games to improve draft position, but season-ticket holders still get their 4-percent price increase the next year.
"Hey, if you go to a restaurant and your food stinks, you send it back and typically don't pay for it, right? But in sports, it's not that way. Sports is one of the few industries where there's no performance standard you have to live up to. Fans have to pay 100 percent even if their team is terrible."
Hey, Orlando Magic, are you listening?
Bouchy calls his idea the "Predators Performance Guarantee" and claims his is the first team in professional sports history to give discounts based on poor play. Granted, this might just be a slick promotional and marketing ploy for a team trying to sell tickets, but who cares? If fans get refunds and Bouchy's idea catches on throughout professional and college sports, everybody wins.
He's not just being some altruistic owner. If what he says is true and his math is correct, Bouchy has come up with a brilliant business plan. He claims fans will come out financially ahead — but so will owners.
Here's how the fans win: Bouchy's formula is based on the Predators' 18-game regular season. If the Preds fail to win 10 of the 18 games, ticket holders will receive a discount the following year based on a sliding scale. For every victory below 10, ticket holders get a 10 percent credit. If the Predators win just five games, ticket holders get a 50 percent discount. If they don't win any games, ticket holders get their tickets free the following year.
Here's how the owners win: Bouchy claims that losing teams won't see a mass exodus of season-ticket holders when the bottom falls out of their franchise (see Magic). Magic season-ticket sales are down nearly 20 percent from last year. And that was after a winning season. Imagine what the drop-off will be like after this season.
But what if the Magic gave ticket-holders a 40 percent discount next year based on the team's lousy record this year? Wouldn't most renew? Everybody, after all, wants a deal. Why do you think thousands of customers camp out in front of Best Buy before Black Friday? Because they want a deal. Why do you think the Sunday Sentinel is such a big seller? Yes, the provocative sports columnist is a big reason, but a lot of people like the coupons because they want a deal.
Bouchy claims that with all of extra renewals after a losing season and new ticket-holders jumping on board because of the performance guarantee, arenas would remain packed and money would continue to flow. Teams will be charging less for tickets, but more fans will be buying them during the tough times. And then when the team starts winning, demand will rise and teams can start charging full price again.
"Losing teams will make even more money if they reduce the ticket prices based on the sliding scale," Bouchy says. "Teams will have a ticket-renewal rate that's much higher. With more fans in the building, teams will make more money in concessions, parking and corporate sponsorships. Your corporate sponsors want people in the seats. If your season-ticket base declines, your corporate sponsorships traditionally decline."
Big-time pro and college teams will soon have to realize their business model just doesn't work anymore. You can't keep increasing ticket prices even when your team stinks. The economy's different now. Fans used to support their teams, win or lose. No more. Just look at the University of Florida football team, which sold out every game for more than two decades. Even the Gators have trouble selling tickets now. The Gators went 11-1 last regular season and were in the running for a national title, but still had bunches of empty seats at almost all their home games.
With every game on television, more and more fans are staying home, drinking their own beer, sitting in their own cushy recliner and watching their team on their own big-screen, high-def TV.
As Bob Dylan once sang, "The times they are a-changing."
The Predators are leading the way.
Hopefully, the Magic and everybody else will follow.
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