Credit two people -- Moses Malone and Garnett Slatton -- for the fact that the Washington Bullets have sold more new season tickets in the past five weeks than were sold all of the last offseason.
Most people understandably are more familiar with Malone -- the all-star center acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers this offseason -- but Slatton has shared the responsibility for the surge in new season ticket sales (450 last year, nearly 700 so far this season). Slatton -- he's the one who has an MBA from Harvard and can't dunk -- began work March 26 as a Bullets vice president, with his primary responsibility to sell the team to as many people as possible.
That could be a challenge with a team that last season only sold out three games in 19,375-seat Capital Centre -- two against the Boston Celtics and one against the Los Angeles Lakers. But Slatton predicted that the Bullets will have 10 to 14 sellouts this season and has set a goal of 4,200 season tickets, compared with last season's 2,412.
The bottom line: Slatton expects the Bullets to double their ticket revenue to $7 million, from last year's $3.5 million.
Those are lofty ambitions, but Slatton is convinced his program will accomplish them. He has made some wholesale changes in marketing the Bullets -- reducing 65 percent of the ticket prices, creating VIP sections, tripling the advertising budget and increasing the season ticket sales staff from two to 20. He also added 25 people to a telemarketing sales force that is pitching a 13-game series of tickets.
And, although it might be a bit of an exaggeration to say "Holy Moses! Everybody's talking about Bullets season tickets!", as the Bullets do in newspaper ads, Slatton's results so far have been impressive.
"Selling tickets is the crux of this business," Slatton said. "And the key to that is market segmentation. Each group has a different reason for buying tickets to the Bullets. First there's the corporate segment, which likes all the amenities and is not very price-sensitive. They want comfort and aren't too concerned about the price.
"At the other extreme is the family segment, which is very price-sensitive. And in the middle are an adult group of people who want to see a few games and are willing to pay for good seats, but aren't willing to pay for a whole season."
Slatton targeted each of those markets with a different strategy. For the corporate segment, a gold VIP season ticket is available for $3,075. That figure breaks down to $75 a game and includes such perks as courtside seating, free reserved parking and a free round trip ticket on Presidential Airways, anywhere it flies, if you buy two season tickets. Other season-ticket purchases range from $45 to $12.50 a game, with fewer extras.
Families, on the other hand, "want inexpensive seats and as many as you can get of them," Slatton said. Last season the Bullets' least expensive seats were $5 and there were fewer than 1,000 of them; this season they are $4.75 and there are more than 3,000. A family of four can go to a Bullets game for only slightly more than the cost of a movie.
For his middle-of-the-road group, Slatton developed the 13-game plan, in which for as little as $57 fans can see 10 specified games and three more of their choice. "They get to see the best games, too," Slatton said. "Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago . . . no Indianas or Clevelands."
Slatton has made believers of the Bullets management, whose previous marketing specialist, David Glover, quit in January to work for the Worldwide Wrestling Federation.
"Garnett has injected some genuine enthusiasm into this organization," said Jerry Sachs, the Bullets' executive vice president. "His ideas are more creative and well-thought-out than any we've seen before."
The ideas also are more expensive. It's one thing to pay six sales people, and it's another to pay 45, even if they do work partly on commission. But Bullets owner Abe Pollin said he is behind Slatton's plans. "He came to me with his plan and what it would cost and I approved it, without any changes," Pollin said.
This is Slatton's first full-time job in pro basketball marketing, although he had done some consulting work for the Utah Jazz. In 1982 Slatton was working for Bain and Company, a Boston consulting firm, when he and David Checketts were asked to do an exhaustive marketing study of the NBA for a group that wanted to buy the Boston Celtics. For six months, the two researched the league in every capacity.
Checketts, who directed the study, is now president of the Utah Jazz. "We found in our study that the most successful franchises foster a sense of community ownership," Checketts said. "When people talk about the team, they say, 'We won,' rather than 'They won.'
"And we found that the teams that market well are the ones that are very aggressive promotionally, the ones that go after the business and get their players out in the community where they can be seen."
Slatton said he hoped that if the Bullets gross $7 million, their financial difficulties of recent years will be eased. "That should get us to a break-even point and pay for Moses' salary," he said.