West Virginia University’s IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions was named “Rookie Property of the Year” for 2014 at its recent year-end meetings.
The award is presented to the property that has excelled in the following areas:
– Impact on site at one of the newly partnered properties
– Developing a great relationship within the athletic department by cultivating a “one-team” concept
– Building a solid foundation for future success
The West Virginia University IMG Learfield property, headed by general manager Robert Kristiniak, has certainly accomplished that in the short time they have been on board.
In the first six months, Kristiniak’s staff have made nearly 28,000 outbound sales calls to Mountaineer fans and supporters throughout the region, sold more than 9,000 group tickets and more than 1,000 partial season ticket plans.
It was the highest producing new property for IMG Learfield in the last two years, which is certainly music to the ears of Matt Wells, West Virginia University’s associate athletic director for external affairs.
“The driving force for us bringing in IMG Learfield was to sell more tickets,” said Wells. “To simplify that, we were looking for help selling those last 1,000 to 2,000 tickets (at football and men’s basketball games). We’ve had really good crowds through the years, but what we’ve seen over the last few years is we were typically 1,000 tickets short for this game or 2,000 tickets short for that game.
“We wanted them to help us by dedicating more resources (to out-bound sales) to supplement and enhance the work already being done by our ticket operations staff,” said Wells. “That’s five more bodies than we had before to focus solely on fan outreach.”
Wells noted that West Virginia’s ticket sales have been declining over the last several years for a number of reasons, requiring a more thorough examination of WVU’s overall ticketing process.
“We looked at doing this in-house by adding to our existing staff or by going out and seeing what the market would bear by partnering with a third party. We decided to go through the RFP process and through that we selected IMG Learfield,” said Wells. “We determined they were the best fit for us once we went through that process.”
Consequently, at the end of last June, Kristiniak left an Assistant AD position at the University of California to run the WVU property; he was in a makeshift room at the Coliseum after the July 4th holiday and began assembling a sales staff to make outbound sales calls.
“The first few weeks we were here we were doing training, learning the market, learning what Mountaineer fans are looking for by going through surveys we were provided and then, ultimately, it’s finding out ways that we can help them,” said Kristiniak.
He explained further.
“Our fans have to work, they have their kids and they have life happening and they may not have a lot of time to think about (purchasing Mountaineer tickets), so we are there to help them with that process,” Kristiniak said.
While their No. 1 location for outbound calls is West Virginia, naturally, Kristiniak said his staff is taking a more aggressive approach in outlying markets as well.
“Our outreach has gone up to Pittsburgh, over to Ohio, Western Maryland and we’ve really reached out all over the place based on the data we’ve seen,” Kristiniak said.
What the WVU IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions team has discovered is a very passionate, motivated fan base, says Kristiniak.
“We all love sports and we’re passionate about the teams we work for,” he explained. “At the end of the day everybody wants to play the Monday morning quarterback and it’s fun having those conversations because we’re talking about things that everyone is interested in, which is great.”
There are times, too, when Kristiniak’s team gets interesting ideas from fans that they have been able to pass along to Matt’s sport marketing and ticket operations group.
“We have a standard weekly meeting and each day we are bouncing ideas off each other, answering questions and just talking through things that come up,” said Wells.
“You kind of focus on what are the upcoming events?” said Wells. “When you are in the middle of football season basketball season is rapidly approaching so they are focusing on selling single-game football tickets and basketball season tickets and mini-plans. As the calendar moves forward they have to change their focus to meet what our priorities are internally.”
Of course, No. 1 on that list is selling more tickets at Milan Puskar Stadium and the WVU Coliseum.
“We gauge it on total tickets sold, but also how many games are we selling out?” said Wells. “Or, when we are not selling out, how close are we getting to selling out? Are we taking it down from 1 or 2,000 down to 3 or 400 tickets left?
“It’s been a tremendous asset to the university to have them on board,” added Wells.
Kristiniak, who also worked in professional hockey and professional basketball, currently has an out-bound sales staff of four account executives: Nick Olsson, Zach Deutsch, Sheldon Adams and Lee Harris.
With a little more room now at the Coliseum and some company-wide appreciation for their strong start, Kristiniak’s team is ready to enhance the outbound aspect of West Virginia University’s athletic ticket sales.
“Winning the award was the entire team,” Kristiniak noted. “We could take a quick look at other properties not only within IMG Learfield where they are viewed as an outsider but here we are one team, and that’s what it needs to be in order to provide the best customer service to Mountaineer Nation.”