Are You Ready for Some (Cheap) Football?

Weak economy spurs deal sites to pitch pigskin tix; enter Crowd Seats

In a climate where Groupon’s stock plummet has sullied the general outlook for deals sites offering everything from pole-dancing classes to Bermuda vacations, maybe a pure sports platform is just the ticket.

One-year-old Crowd Seats, which promises steeply discounted tickets to major sporting events, opens shop in Miami this week and is now in 11 major markets. CEO Justin Cener said his email list has tripled in size since April.

To celebrate the grand opening, Crowd Seats will pitch a 44 percent discount for lower-level tickets to the Miami Hurricanes’ Sept. 15 home opener against Bethune Cookman. Cener said later next month his company will offer a discount in the 40 percent range for the Miami Dolphins’ Oct. 14 tilt against the St. Louis Rams.

“We are cash-flow positive,” said Cener, “and we are expanding.”

And the economic landscape could mean more expansion for Crowd Seats. For the last two years, football events marketers have dabbled with deals sites while trying to spark game attendance. Now, with sports fans watching their wallets like never before, the scene this season looks comparatively like a wildfire.

It's not just low-interest affairs between struggling teams. Marquee matchups at lucrative venues are being hawked on deals sites in liquidation efforts that are spearheaded by either the teams themselves, the stadium marketers or third-party tickets brokers. Crowd Seats last week pitched 41 percent off tickets ($47 per seat) for the University of Hawaii’s Sept. 1st visit to top-ranked Southern California at the storied Los Angeles Coliseum. LivingSocial has offered $89 game passes for this Saturday's highly anticipated Alabama vs. Michigan game, pitting two teams ranked in the top 10.

Not only is Alabama the defending national champion, but the game will be played at the state-of-the-art Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. For college football fans on Sept. 1, there is no better place to be. But sellouts are just that hard to come by these days.

“It’s the economy more than anything,” said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing analyst for Baker Street Advertising. “And with high-definition television in so many households, the viewing experience has improved dramatically at home. It’s pretty easy to stay home and watch the games with family and friends while saving money. Also, ticket prices for good stadium seats have really gone up. All these factors combined are the reason you are seeing more tickets available through deals sites.”

Thus, expect more college game offers to appear via email in-boxes in the next few months from Crowd Seats, LivingSocial and daily deals leader Groupon.

Through Groupon, North Carolina State will offer family four-pack specials for two games this year when students are on break from school. “We have to find ways to sell those seats,” said Chris Alston, an assistant athletic director in charge of marketing for the Raleigh, N.C.-based university. “At the same time, we have to be selective how we do it because we don’t want to [hurt] the value of the tickets for season ticketholders.”

Cincinnati University is planning a similar effort in November. Jaime Junger, a marketing manager for the inner-city school, said her team was able to get an extra 3,700 tickets sold last year via Groupon.

This season, the Bearcats marketers are giving Groupon purchasers the personal touch while seated at Nippert Stadium. A staffer will go to their seats and ask them if they are enjoying the atmosphere, while offering them a pocket schedule for Cincinnati men’s basketball.

“It’s more people in the seats who spend money once inside the stadium,” she said. “We think it will help bring people to the basketball games as well.”