Colts extend home sell-out streak

June 22, 2009

Despite a ticket price increase, the terrible economy, and an uncertain season ahead, the Indianapolis Colts have sold out of season tickets, assuring the team will extend its sell-out streak to 97 regular-season home games.

The Colts' 95 percent season-ticket renewal rate for the upcoming season was several percentage points ahead of the league average, said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based Sportscorp Ltd., a consulting firm that works closely with the National Football League and its teams.

"Anything over 90 percent is very good," Ganis said.

In recent weeks, the team used its season-ticket waiting list to sell out its supply. About 3,500 tickets were held out for group sales, and Colts officials said they will have no problem selling out all eight regular season home games.

"We think our season ticket sales this year says a lot about fan avidity in this market," said Tom Zupancic, the Colts' senior vice president of sales and marketing. "We feel good about where we are."

But there's still debate over how solid Indianapolis is as a football market.

Colts officials said they had to call about 7,000 people on the team's season-ticket waiting list to sell 5,000 remaining season tickets.

"The fact is, you have a big-market facility in a small market, and that's a difficult balance to strike," said Larry DeGaris, director of academic sports marketing programs at the University of Indianapolis. "The Colts sold all their tickets without lowering their prices, so that's doing really well. But I wouldn't get this market confused for Chicago with the Cubs or Green Bay with the Packers. They haven't built that kind of tradition yet."

There are still about 11,000 people on the Colts' season-ticket waiting list, Zupancic said. Fans have to pay a $150 onetime fee to get on the list, and those that take a pass on season tickets remain on the list. According to league sources, the Colts are one of 23 teams in the 32-team league that have a waiting list.

What makes the season ticket sell-out more impressive is the uncertainty of the upcoming season, with coaching changes and the departure of several key players. On top of that, some ticket prices rose, with $24 tickets bumped to $34, and $64 tickets increased to $74.

"I think now you can really begin to make the argument that this is a football town," said Milt Thompson, president of Grand Slam Cos., a locally based sports marketing consultancy. "Given the size of this market, to have the kind of season ticket sales they've achieved and still have a waiting list of 11,000 is amazing. Consider where this franchise was just a few years ago."

As recently as 2003-five years after Peyton Manning was drafted-the Colts sales staff still was doing a fire drill each week trying to sell out the 56,000-seat RCA Dome. That year, the Colts sold 39,000 season tickets.

After the team started to perform better and owner Jim Irsay made heavy investments in regional-sales-and-marketing efforts, ticket sales began to increase. In 2004, the team sold 43,500 season tickets, followed by 48,500 in 2005. In 2006, the team sold out of season tickets-54,500-for the first time in a decade. Last year, the team easily sold out 60,000 season tickets in Lucas Oil Stadium, which seats 63,000 for football.

With the bottom dropping out of the economy during last season, there was concern among Colts officials about how season-ticket renewals this off-season would go.

Season-ticket renewals are important because they are one of three primary revenue streams for the team-along with sponsorship and TV/radio money. But it's also key, Zupancic said, because it's a significant added expense to try to sell a large number of single-game tickets.

Fortunately for the Colts, selling club seats and suites is not an issue this year. Lucas Oil Stadium's 7,100 club seats were sold out last year in three- to five-year deals. The stadium's 137 suites were sold in six- to nine-year deals.•

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