The big idea: Well into the 2005 season, the Portland Trail Blazers’ NBA franchise was in trouble. Fans were streaming out the door, and the players couldn’t find the basket. The team sported a 22-36 record and creditors now ran its home — the Rose Garden — after its owners had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The team’s coach had been fired to boot.
The arena had been a sellout just three years before, and the team had been beloved by Portland. But starting in the 2003 season, attendance began to fall precipitously — by more than 15 percent by 2005. During the same time, 42 of 70 luxury suites sat empty during the season. More Portland television viewers watched the weather then Blazers’ games.
The team’s owners hired a research firm to design a multi-game package study they hoped would halt the downward spiral. If a variety of factors could be massaged just right — maybe ticket prices or promotions — fans could be lured back.
The owners also had to change the team’s image, marred by players who fought and used marijuana and by a well publicized case of animal cruelty.
The scenario: One of the more successful strategies in the past few seasons had been a multi-game ticket package. The promotion allowed fans to buy tickets for a number of games all at once. The package included at least one top-notch opponent for which tickets were always scarce.
Management viewed the program as a way to sell tickets to unpopular games, which were bundled with the popular games. It increased overall attendance because fans now had more tickets to use than they normally would have bought.
The resolution: A research firm designed a study using conjoint analysis — a statistical technique used in market research to determine how people value different features that make up an individual product or service.
In its survey of current fans, the firm wanted to figure out the importance of the individual attributes, as well as the likely response of the market to specific multigame ticket packages and promotions.
Management initially learned that ticket price and seat location may be the most important issues to fans, while the number of games in a package and ancillary promotions weren’t important.
The analysis, which also looked at giveaway trinkets as a way to bump attendance, showed, to no surprise, that giving fans a chance to buy playoff tickets first — at full price — cost management nothing and was a strategically smart promotion. The analysis also showed that giving away jerseys — at a cost to management of about $12 each — was a bad idea. Fans didn’t value it, probably because most already owned jerseys.
A free hot dog and soda came out on top, and the cost to management was $3.25.
The lesson: The Blazers used the research results to offer a more robust program of promotional items. The team also ousted notorious players, worked harder at winning and — no longer in bankruptcy — the Rose Garden (renamed the Moda Center) is now one of the NBA’s loudest and best-attended arenas.
Wilcox is a business professor and associate dean at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.