When a then season-high 12,102 fans showed up at Allstate Arena to watch the DePaul University men's basketball team host Syracuse University on Jan. 1, the larger-than-average crowd didn't happen by chance. Instead, it resulted from the holiday weekend, the allure of the then-top-ranked Orange, and a special promotion--discounted tickets through Groupon.
Partnering with the popular discount Web site, DePaul offered the chance to purchase lower-level seats behind the baskets--normally a $20 value--for around $12, with the goal of luring new fans. Nearly 800 of the discounted tickets were sold through Groupon.
Popping up in more and more cities, Groupon works by offering one deal per day in each market it serves, with a predetermined number of people required to sign up for the discount to be valid. The merchant--in this case, DePaul--pays no upfront cost to participate, but splits the money brought in with Groupon roughly 50-50.
"The idea came from our Assistant Ticket Manager, Marty Murphy, who uses Groupon himself," says DePaul Athletics Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto. "Some of our peer institutions in the Big East, like Georgetown and Seton Hall, have also used Groupon, so we thought we'd give it a try.
"Setting everything up was pretty easy," she continues. "We signed a contract, which is typical in any kind of ticket sales relationship with an independent contractor. They were very easy to work with."
For the Syracuse game, DePaul decided to publicize the promotion on the athletics department Web site, which helped build a bigger crowd, but didn't help with the main goal of getting new fans. "By putting it on our Web site, there were probably people buying the discounted tickets who were already DePaul fans and had been to games before," Ponsetto says. "It helped us sell tickets, but it didn't necessarily get us a new audience."
With that in mind, the next time the school partnered with Groupon for a men's basketball game--Jan. 17 against Georgetown--it did not promote the deal on the department Web site. Instead, the only way to learn about it was through Groupon.
"The results weren't as encouraging--we probably sold a couple hundred tickets. But they were people who were less likely to have previously experienced a DePaul event," Ponsetto says. "There was also the fact that Syracuse was over a weekend and the Georgetown game was at 6 p.m. on a Tuesday night."
DePaul also used a Groupon promotion for a women's basketball game against the University of Pittsburgh on Jan. 14, which yielded about 100 tickets sold. Going forward, Ponsetto says she plans to use Groupon again for men's and women's basketball, but will likely target mid-week Big East conference games, since weekend games tend to sell fairly well on their own. Perhaps more important is the work that will be done between now and then, using the information gathered from this past season's promotions.
"Folks who we know bought Groupon tickets and then bought tickets to games after that will be prime targets for season tickets or mini packages next year," Ponsetto says. "Those are people we'll be sure to make a phone call to, rather than just mail a brochure. We're using Groupon to get them in the building for the first time, then hopefully we can encourage them to come back again."