College Athletics Seek Bigger Profits Outsourcing NCAA Ticket Operations

February 11, 2011

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Sales people in the Georgia Tech box office used to sit by the telephone waiting for fans to call and place an order.

When the administration got tired of seeing empty seats in its football stadium, it outsourced its ticket operation to Aspire Group, a closely held company in Atlanta that inserted its own sales team and called alumni, parents and former ticket buyers.

Revenue from new ticket sales rose $1.75 million last year, according to the school. Aspire Chairman Bernie Mullin says universities like Georgia Tech in Atlanta are part of a trend in athletics as schools seek to reduce overhead expenses while increasing revenue.

“The overwhelming majority of universities don’t aggressively market and sell their tickets,” said Mullin, a former college athletic director and chief executive officer of the company that owns the National Basketball Association’s Atlanta Hawks. “They are order takers, not salespeople. They don’t know how to build a database, initiate outbound e- marketing or how to initiate a call. We train our people to do all that.”

There are about 70 Bowl Championship Series schools that have an average of $2.5 million in unsold football and men’s basketball tickets each year, amounting to $175 million in unsold tickets, according to Aspire.

Mid-major schools, like those in Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference, have another $1 million to $1.5 million in unsold tickets, the company said.

Not all schools agree that outsourcing ticketing operations are necessary, though.

Outsourcing Sports

Ticket sales are the most recent example of college athletic departments’ outsourcing their business to private companies. Many schools outsource stadium and arena food and beverage businesses; they hire outside companies to market their logos for use on licensed merchandise; and have other companies package broadcast deals for them. As more stadiums get luxury boxes, schools hire other firms to manage them, too.

Now, it’s ticket sales.

Former Lineman

At Georgia Tech, the Aspire Group has 15 sales people and a manager. The top salesman there is A.J. Smith, 25, a 6-foot-7, 300-pound former offensive lineman for the Yellow Jackets.

He sold two season tickets for men’s basketball his first day on the job by helping the customer imagine “being in the coliseum, when it’s packed and we’re playing against the Duke Blue Devils in seats close enough where he can throw popcorn at coach K if you want,” Smith said in an interview.

As the computer signaled that the man’s credit card had been accepted, Smith did what he was trained to do; he tried to get a referral for his next sale.

“I said, ‘Who are the two biggest Tech fans you’d like sitting next to you?’”


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