Groupon Helps College Football Teams Put Butts In Seats

grouponThe University of Colorado athletics department didn’t count on a losing football season or on firing its head coach before season’s end – a development that culminated yesterday. Even if the on-the-field results had been better, CU’s marketing director Prema Khanna knew back in August that filling Folsom Field’s 53,000 seats for the game this Saturday against Iowa State would be a challenge.

“It’s later in the season,” she explained. Also, many previous home games were special events: homecoming weekend, family weekend, a commemorative event for the 1990 national championship team, and ‘Alfred Williams Day’ in honor of the two-time All-American linebacker.

Khanna wanted to give the late-season clash with Iowa State an extra nudge. So like a lot of event marketers nowadays, she turned to Groupon to put butts in seats. Khanna scheduled a Nov. 3 campaign to move a boatload of $65 tickets priced at just $15. Up to eight tickets could be purchased per individual buyer, and Khanna looked at the deal as a loss leader to recruit parents with children who couldn’t normally afford entry to a game. Once inside the stadium, she knew people with ticket vouchers would spend on popcorn, hot dogs, nachos, and beverages.

The effort targeted a subset of the group-buying platform’s Denver area e-mail audience, which totals 270,000 subscribers. Julie Mossler, Groupon spokesperson, explained the e-mail segmentation to ClickZ. “This was not a standard feature deal that ran in all markets – it ran as a deal for customers who have opted in to our personalized deals. We connect these customers to deals they’re most likely to be interested in based on their sex, zip code, and shopping history.”

Khanna and her team were hoping to see sales reach 2,000 tickets. They didn’t quite get there, but still moved 1,177 tickets in less than 24 hours.

“While we would have liked to have sold more, we are happy with the results,” Khanna said, adding the CU marketing team will “for sure” look to use Groupon in 2011. “What it does for us is potentially bring new people that may not otherwise go to a Colorado football game. It’s a way to introduce them to our product, get them to a game…and then, who knows? Maybe next year they buy a three-game pack. The idea is to see if they go beyond this year.”

The Buffaloes from Boulder, CO, are not the only college football team to employ Groupon this season. The University of Kansas ran a $60-tickets-for-$25 deal on Sept. 21 in one of the more recent examples, selling 913 tickets for a Nov. 6 Jayhawks match-up against Colorado, in Lawrence, KS. And in August, Boston College sold 2,762 tickets on Groupon, while North Carolina State moved 1,362 tickets.

Professional sports teams are testing Groupon, too. The Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, and Cleveland Indians each ran one-day campaigns during this past MLB season. And on Nov. 6, the New Jersey Nets sold 989 vouchers ($100-tickets-for-$35) while giving area fans a choice of up to five games this season.

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