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The Group Sales Fortress

Why group sales are so important to the Rapids.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

A couple years ago the employee social committee at the company I work for sent out a way too enthusiastic email to the cubicles: 'Free Rockies Tickets!' it said along with 'Free [Company] T-Shirt to the first 50 replies!' So, not wanting to come across as the miserable guy, I duly hit the reply button & joined my co-workers after work at Coors Field.

It will probably come as no surprise that the t-shirt had the company logo on the front along with a the company name & the number '1' emblazoned on the back in the baseball style. No real problem with that, I suppose. The issue was that the t-shirt was blue, which was in line with the company's color palette but sadly had nothing to do with that of the Colorado Rockies. Let's just say that I put said t-shirt on, sat there along with 49 other people in the Rockpile feeling embarrassed for about 10 minutes and then decided that it can get really, really cold on a July night in Denver meaning that I needed to put a jacket on.

As for the game, I simply don't remember it. As I was with my co-workers I clearly had to behave as regards to hitting the bar but I still have no idea who the opposition were or who won. None of my co-workers seemed that bothered by what was happening on the field and to tell you the truth, were more interested in what Karen (not her real name) from accounts (not her real department) was doing later. When 'Karen' left at the end of the 7th inning, most of my co-workers took that as the sign you could make your excuses & call your only visit to Coors Field a wrap for the year.

To sports teams in Colorado which don't have 'Broncos' in their name, corporate group ticket sales are a great source of revenue to go after. Just like donuts & coffee in the mornings or pizza at lunchtime, companies see tickets to a sporting event as another way to make their employees feel good about where they work which is a lot cheaper than adding a percent or two on to people's salaries. For the team's sales staff, a couple of calls to one corporate contact (who is not spending their own personal money) can yield a huge amount of tickets going out of the door. It's clearly a win-win for both sides.

Funnily enough, the Colorado Rapids & their fellow KSE owned teams in Denver are all over this. The Rapids group sales team is about the same size as the the one that is selling season & individual tickets to regular fans. It should also be noted that group sales are not just restricted to corporate clients. Youth soccer clubs & special interest groups who hold events such as 'Jewish Community Night' are part of the group sales figures as well. It should also be noted that the Real Colorado Cup, held annually on the fields at DSG Park on Memorial weekend, includes a Rapids group ticket for every kid who plays which translates into something like 14,000 group tickets being distributed for the two home games that occur during & after the tournament weekend.

This week the group sales team was recognized by Major League Soccer for their achievements, with individuals & the team as a whole picking up awards. One individual, Lionel Orozco, was recognized for selling 25,000 group tickets over the course of the season while another team member, Amanda Dennis, carried off an award for shifting 13,000 tickets. The team overall was recognized for selling 75,000 group tickets which over 17 games equates to just over 4,400 tickets a game.

Lionel, Amanda and the rest of the ticket sales staff are some of the nicest people you will meet. They work hard and I am genuinely glad that they have been recognized for carrying out the jobs they have been given well & exceeding their targets. The Rapids truly are fortunate to have these individuals on their staff. Likewise, I can't write about the Rapids tickets staff without mentioning Dillon Ross, Dan Luce & Cody Clough who are part of the season ticket member service team & deal directly with the clubs fans on a day to day basis.

The issue here, which quite frankly made me want to throw things at the wall, was the quote from Emily Maguire, Senior Director, Ticket Sales & Service, that was included in the article announcing the the group sales team's achievements.

"The entire group works tirelessly to support our fans and turn Dick’s Sporting Goods Park into a fortress at all the Rapids home matches. We are looking forward to being able to celebrate more accomplishments in the 2016 season."

You have got to be kidding me.

How on earth does Emily think that having a large part of the crowd made up of people who generally come to one game a year, don't wear Rapids gear, and are only there because of free or subsidized tickets creates a fortress?

Maybe she was told that Arsenal get 60,000 people for most games and that they have a fortress because the big crowd all sing (occasionally!) so it's simply a factor of how many tickets get sold.  I don't know.

Just like the team under her, Emily is a very pleasant individual who has worked very hard in the past few years to climb the ladder in the Rapids front office. She deserves to succeed and it is certainly not my intention to bash someone here who is only trying to earn a living.  It's just that I wish staff like her showed some understanding of what a real soccer stadium fortress looks (and more importantly sounds) like & how awesome attending a game at a venue like that is.

Last year I wrote about how 1000 Sporting KC fans out sung the Rapids faithful in our own backyard & explored reasons that the ticketing policy as it relates to supporters is harming the atmosphere. It was probably easy for the SKC fans to know what to do as Children's Mercy Park (new name for 2016) really can be described as a fortress.  The broadcasters certainly agree as we are scheduled to be treated to 10 games live from Kansas being shown on national TV this year.  While the action on the field is obviously the #1 attraction, the general atmosphere of the stadium certainly contributes to the TV feature. In contrast, the likes of FOX, ESPN & Unimas are scheduled to make a grand total of zero appearances at DSG park this year. My personal theory is if our team stayed consistently terrible, but our home support was amazing, the broadcasters would still come to Colorado at least once or twice a year for that factor alone.

The group sales numbers also indicate where the priorities lie on tickets. Clearly season tickets, which Tim Hinchey claims are at the 6,000 mark nowadays are still the largest ticket type held (remember the C38 & 7-Eleven deals means that this figure doesn't necessarily mean 6,000 loyal fans are showing up every game - but that's another story). But group sales at 4,400 a game are closely behind.  Let's say you manage to get 200 supporters to cancel their season tickets as part of a protest, a couple of good sales calls from Lionel, Amanda & Co means that those numbers are easily made up. It's a frustrating situation to people who really love the sport & its culture as it is clear we are dealing with a front office that has decided it's successful based on the number of tickets distributed & has no desire or motivation to change.  A substantial percentage of the stands at DSG Park are filled with people who don't love the Rapids and are not emotionally invested in them. This is OK to the front office as they know they can find the ticket buyers for every game by simply pounding the phones.

'But you have to remember this is a business', is a familiar line I hear when I write about this. Of course it is, but that doesn't mean that it has to follow the current model which makes the Rapids gameday experience as enjoyable as a trip to Walmart.  Sporting KC & Portland are businesses too, only they choose to follow a model that provides a quality gameday experience & puts the fans who show up week in week out truly at the heart of the organization's decisions. Done right, this results in thousands of the team's fans effectively becoming 'brand advocates' who will talk up the team in a way no marketing campaign can manage. Season tickets make up approx. 75% of capacity of the teams which do this as opposed to approx. 33% here. It means that the bigger games sell virtually on their own & group sales are only needed to help push the numbers up for that lowly midweek fixture against an Eastern Conference basement dweller. That's still a business, except it is one that Rapids fans could learn to appreciate.

The specific things that that Emily, Lionel, Amanda & their teammates could be instructed to do to get serious about building the fortress is the subject of a future article.  In the meantime, I once again offer congratulations for their recognition by the league.