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How the Washington Wizards Are Winning With Online Search

Building on lessons learned last season

The Washington Wizards and New York Knicks face off in the preseason. Who will sell more tickets? Photo: Getty Images

When the Washington Wizards' first game of the season kicks off tomorrow night, the NBA team will already be ahead of the game in digital.

Google claims that searches made for the keywords "NBA season" have increased 400 percent since July as the season gets closer. And with NBA games now in full gear, the Wizards have already set up search campaigns to drive quick ticket sales.

"We had done a few other types of advertising in the past that really weren't driving any results that could be trackable—like, for example, direct mail. It's really hard to track the success of direct mail, at least in the way that we do business," said Josh Brickman, senior director of strategy and research at Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Wizards.

The Wizards began experimenting with Google's AdWords search ads last year, resulting in a 277 percent return on ad spend between November 2013 and February 2014. During March and April—the last two months of the regular season—return on ad spend spiked to 400 percent.

For the 2013-2014 season, the average price of a Wizards ticket sold as a result of the search leads was 20 percent higher than other tracked online sales. Plus, new customers accounted for 72 percent of ticket sales from the Wizards' search ads.

Buoyed by the results, the team has bumped digital to 30 percent of its marketing spend, up from 25 percent last year. The team has also zeroed in on Google AdWords to increase spend on search by 30 percent to 40 percent.

The team primarily leans on digital to drive single-game tickets, a crowded space that is already carved out by companies such as StubHub, Ticketmaster and Razorgator that have sizable marketing spends that can be used to rank higher in search results. To compete against the big ticketing companies, the Wizards prioritize keywords around specific games and match-ups.
     
The goal to boost single-ticket sales through paid search has a trickle-down effect too. Per Brickman, information about full-season and partial-plan tickets organically move up in search results thanks to campaigns that drive single-game tickets.

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