Breakfast With Bernie

UConn, Aspire Partnership A Real Winner

June 8, 2017

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Originally posted on UCONNHUSKIES.COM

The silence of a quiet day in the lower hallways of Gampel Pavilion is broken up by the sound of the sales bell and a few cheers. It can mean only one thing — more Husky fans will be coming to games this upcoming year.

The cubicle-filled office of The Aspire Group in Gampel Pavilion is full of non-stop energy, endless enthusiasm for UConn and the desire to make every Husky event a sellout.

The UConn Division of Athletics partnered with Aspire last summer to enhance ticket sales and revenue. Aspire is a global sports and entertainment marketing firm specializing in providing partners with the most innovative ticket marketing, sales and service solutions in the sport industry. Over 200 collegiate and professional sports properties have trusted Aspire to drive revenue, attendance and enterprise value growth through the combination of strategic consulting and research services, data insights and best-in-industry fan relationship management.

Aspire’s on-campus team, led by Director of Sales and Service Tyler Shaker, in addition to Manager of Service and Retention Christopher Mead, has six full-time sales and retention consultants all working together to ring the bell as much as possible.

Although they are employees of Aspire, they are also members of the athletic department who are very important in the development of Husky Nation.

“Our approach is to retain, grow and acquire,” said Shaker, a Wisconsin native who also worked for Aspire at Louisiana Tech, Minnesota and Kansas. “Retain is keeping our fans on board through superior customer service, as they are critical to building our athletics program.

“Growing is to take current customers and introducing them to other packages that help maximize their value and enhance their experience.

“Acquire is to identify new relationships and reconnect with old ones. We often find fans have a lot of information to consider when making a purchase and through our consultative approach we have found a lot of success bringing on new fans and bringing back past purchasers.”

Numbers provide strong evidence that the UConn-Aspire partnership is a productive one and it’s only ten months old. Total women’s basketball ticket revenue was at a seven-year high in 2016-17 and group sales revenue for women’s basketball games grew by 99%. There were also significant jumps in revenue for group sales in men’s basketball (88%) and men’s ice hockey (79%).

Season tickets sales for the 2017 football campaign are running at a higher pace than they were this time last year.

Every UConn season ticket holder in any sport has a personal account manager on the Aspire team who they can reach out to at any time with questions, need for assistance or special requests.

“It’s nice to have direct access to someone when people are so busy,” said Diana Payne, a 2007 UConn graduate who is an educator coordinator at the Connecticut Sea Grant College Program at the Avery Point campus. Payne is a long-time football season ticket holder, has attended all of UConn’s bowl games and frequently gets tickets for Husky basketball and hockey games. Her Aspire customer service representative is Nate Nieffer.

“I talked to Nate a few times on the phone and he wanted to introduce himself to me in person, so we met at a Husky Walk. He took the time to get to know me as a person and not just as someone who buys tickets. I feel comfortable now to email him with any kind of questions I have.”

The service representatives enjoy getting to know their Husky clients and developing a relationship with them.

“I know the UConn experience and love talking to our fans about it,” said Aspire sales consultant Matt Schumacher — a 2016 Husky graduate and a native of Naugatuck, Conn. “Even if we have had a tough game, I like talking to people on the phone about the next game and how exciting it will be.”

Kristina Tedford is a 2014 UConn graduate and a native of South Windsor, Conn., serving as another sales consultant on the Aspire team.

“I love to hear the great stories and memories from the hard-core fans I talk to,” said Tedford. “I get to work with season ticket holders and enjoy seeing how I can make their experience better.”

One of Tedford’s clients is Neil Gorfain of Hamden, Conn., who first developed an interest in UConn women’s basketball when his daughter was a student 20 years ago.

“She put us on a pedestal when we first talked to her,” said Gorfain of Tedford. “We were excited as followers of women’s basketball that she was able to help us find good seats to the games we were able to get to. All the people at UConn have been phenomenal with us when we call with any kind of question about parking, weather, directions, whatever. No matter how trite the questions may seem, we always get a pleasant answer.”

Shaker said the one-on-one approach that Aspire takes with each customer is important in this day and age of specialized tastes.

“We check in with our season ticket holders during the year to see how they are doing and if there is anything we can help them with,” said Shaker. “We see if they might want to buy extra tickets for a particular game or upgrade their current seats. Most of all, we want to make sure they are having a positive experience as a UConn fan.”

Technology has changed the ticket-purchasing habits of sports fans and what they are looking for when attending a game.

“It is much more about the total experience than just the game now,” said Shaker. “Customers have a desire for more incentives and value-adds. We have done that this year in football with some exclusive events, merchandise discounts at games and friends and family ticket offers.”

Shaker has been impressed with the passion and loyalty of UConn fans and how much they care about their Huskies.

“UConn fans are not afraid to tell us what they like and what they don’t like and that is a positive thing,” said Shaker. “It makes it easier to put the right tools in place to keep our customers happy.”

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