630% ROI: A Stat Worth Caring About [#CZLSF]

  |  August 15, 2014   |  Comments

At their session at ClickZ Live San Francisco, the Portland Trail Blazers' Dewayne Hankins and Sq1's Gabe Winslow explained how they improved digital ticket sales to achieve a 630 percent return on investment.

The sporting world is always a popular discussion point amongst fans, with people always sharing opinions, both online and off, about the latest games, players, transfers etc. Yet surprisingly, as an industry, the promotion around selling tickets is still very much offline-focused.

Dewayne Hankins, vice president of marketing and digital for the NBA basketball team the Portland Trail Blazers and Gabe Winslow from Sq1 gave a joint presentation at ClickZ Live San Francisco to explain how they tackled this problem in order to deliver a 630 percent return on investment (ROI) through digital.

Understand the User Journey

Before rushing into any digital strategy, it's hugely important to find out more about the user journey:

  1. Who are they? What are the typical demographics of fans?
  2. What is it they want to see? 
  3. What are the biggest pains points?

Once you've figured this out, it's easier to build a clearer strategy on how you can improve the current experience.

As Hankins explained, the plan was simply to "Take the user journey, find out what people want, and make it available as easily as possible for them to achieve that."

In this case, what the fans wanted to see was a straightforward process of being able to purchase tickets to games - and the biggest pain point was users not always being able to find and buy available tickets.

By their own admission, Portland didn't have the best season in the NBA. So there are factors out of marketing's control that influence the demand on people who want to purchase tickets.

Equally, while the goal is to fill seats - it's also to get people interested in the Blazers in a new way - driving increased engagement from fans.

Improve Measurement


You can only improve what's measured - and in the Trail Blazer's case, before they could move forward they had to prioritize their time and effort toward fixing issues in measurement.

This included implementing e-commerce analytics tracking, which previously wasn't set up, and then setting up cross-domain tracking to make sure the correct source of sales was credited within their attribution model.

Landing Page Optimization

The key to improving conversion rate for the Blazers was making it easier to sort and find available tickets on the booking landing page - here is the new version they tested and rolled out:


The key items tested were:

  1. Sorting order of tickets - making it easier for fans to find tickets based on opposition location, date, availability, price etc., so that they can highlight the tickets which are of most interest to them.
  2. CTA - users are looking to "find tickets," making it clearer how to do this via the call-to-action on the button, plus clearly showing where tickets are sold out so that people don't end up searching for tickets which aren't available. 
  3. Colors - having a simple and easy to use color scheme for users to help people scan the page quickly for the tickets they are looking for.

Maximizing Sales and Conversion Value

Based on the measurement, Winslow and Hankins found that Monday was the highest selling day each week. While Thursdays were the worst converting days.

As a result, they introduced a discount offer to remove all additional fees on tickets each Thursday, helping to increase conversion rates when the demand was lower.

Another consideration was that third-party ticket marketplace sites have meant that it's easier for fans to buy tickets, but the prices are driven up significantly once a game is sold out. So rather than pricing too low and selling out straight away, the Portland Trail Blazers would rather sell tickets at a slower rate and collect the revenue for themselves, instead of having customers overpay for re-sold tickets via the marketplaces who will end up taking a larger cut of revenue.

With an increasingly high percentage of visits generated via social engagement, ensuring the site was fully responsive was also a hugely important aspect of improving the campaigns performance.


The results were very impressive, most notably seeing:

  • 40 percent of single game purchasers had never bought tickets before last year
  • Franchise record for season revenue in individual ticket sales
  • Conversion on individual tickets page was 47 percent higher than control
  • 630 percent ROI using last-click attribution with no view-throughs counted

Lessons Learned

Winslow and Hankins learned a great deal from the campaign, including:

  • Invest time and money to get your site tagged properly, otherwise your decisions will be based upon faulty data
  • Give consumers what they want in the easiest way possible
  • Utilize on-site action by consumers to drive personalized ads
  • Better control our inventory across single-game tickets and group tickets

What 2014-15 Looks Like

Based on their results and findings, they can now move forward more strategically, to:

  • Target weekend games outside of Portland DMA (Seattle, Vancouver, Boise, etc.)
  • More data on fans means more customization with the marketing automation platform
  • Upgrade opportunities in-game (better seats, sit with friends, etc.) for fans and season ticket holders
  • Putting the same principles to use for concerts

Overall, this was a very successful campaign - with lots of learning on how they can take things even further forward into the next season, especially with more social integration, and hopefully some better results on the court, too!


Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons is Managing Director of digital marketing agency BlueGlass UK. A highly respected blogger on search engine marketing and social media, Kevin also speaks frequently at leading industry events.

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