For the Grand Rapids Griffins’ back office operation, that’s meant adjusting to market pressures that have more people coming to games, but fewer of those fans are buying season tickets.
“Tickets sales are the trunk of the revenue tree,” said Tim Gortsema, the Griffins’ senior vice president of business operations. “Those ticket sales determine other revenue such as sponsorship revenue and merchandising revenue. It all feeds off having people in the building, though.”
Attendance figures for the Griffins have improved in five of the last six seasons as the mix of ticket sales has changed.
How the Grand Rapids Griffins arrive at their revenue goals has evolved since the team first took to the VanAndel Arena ice for the 1996-97 season. The team originally emphasized the sale of full-season ticket plans, while the emphasis now has shifted to the sale of partial-season ticket plans, group sales and walk-ups.
“We had as many as 7,000 season ticket holders the first few years and walk-ups and group sales were a smaller part of it,” Gortsema said. But the team knew that level of season ticket holders wouldn’t last forever. Sports teams have a honeymoon period, he said. “Once the newness wears out, you’re down to your core fans and we support that with more group sales and walk-ups. … Now we sell a lot more season tickets in edible bite portions. We have to evaluate from year to year and even sometimes within a year.”
Gortsema said that the Griffins sell approximately 2,000 seats per game to season ticket holders. Half of those are full-season ticket holders while the others purchase a variety of partial-season plans. In addition to the 38-game, full-season tickets, fans can purchase 10- or 20-game plans.
Another innovation that has helped bring more fans to Griffins games has been the team’s Flex tickets.
“Another thing we’ve done is look at people’s scheduling,” Gortsema said. “People don’t know what they’re doing in three weeks or even in three days sometimes, so we have had good success with our Flex tickets.”
The Griffins Flex tickets are undated vouchers that can be purchased at a discount and that can then be redeemed for tickets to the games of the fan’s choice. If a fan purchases 10 Flex tickets, he or she can redeem six for one game and four for another game, or two for five different games, or any way he or she chooses.
The Griffins also consider entertainment options and giveaways in an effort to bring fans to games.
“We have a lot of creative folks on the staff here and they come up with a lot of good options,” Gortsema said. “We look at the entertainment options out there as well as the uniqueness of new giveaways.”
The Griffins are scheduled to open their season at home when they host the Milwaukee Admirals at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12. Of their 38 scheduled home games this season, 25 will be played on Friday and Saturday nights.
“We’re excited about the upcoming season,” Gortsema said. “The beauty of professional sports is that every year is a new year, and we are fairly optimistic heading into this year.”
Gortsema said the Griffins’ affiliation with the Red Wings was more of a venue boost earlier in the relationship than it is now.
“It made a difference early on and it helps now, although we don’t know how much,” he said. “We gain visibility through our affiliation with the Red Wings. The big thing now for the fans is that they can see a guy skate here on Wednesday, in Detroit on Friday and maybe back here on Saturday.”