Selling Out With Russ Stanley
As the Managing Vice President of Ticket Sales and Services of the San Francisco Giants, Russ Stanley is responsible for selling a lot of baseball tickets each season. And he’s doing remarkably well. The team has sold out 246 games in a row — that’s 81 games a year and 42,000 tickets per game! Stanley accomplished this thanks to factors like their loyal season-ticket base and a string of fun promotions, like “Elvis Night,” “Yoga Day” and the surprisingly successful “Grateful Dead Night.” After 24 years working with a team that’s won two out of the last four World Series, Stanley has learned quite a few lessons, including how to use dynamic pricing to improve sales, the benefits of teamwork and, the biggest one of all, the rewards of taking chances.
Jim McCarthy: At this point, you’ve sold out hundreds of games in a row. What’s that been like? Tell us about the streak.
Russ Stanley: We’re at 246 and counting. It’s been great, although it can be stressful at times. I’m very proud of what our sales and retention team has put together. It helps when you win two out of the last four World Series, but we still have a number of low-demand games. It’s a challenge when kids are in school, and you have a weak opponent on a Monday night. We do a lot to create demand for those games by adding special events and pricing the game properly. In my mind, the key is the 29,000-plus season-ticket holders. Their loyalty is what made the streak possible.
JM: The team’s been successful on the field the last few years, but is that the key to all the sell-outs?
RS: I truly feel that without our season-ticket base, it would be impossible. We have 42,000 seats and 29,000 full season ticket holders, so we have 13,000 single-game tickets to sell. We have a creative team selling groups, special events and premium spaces. They face many challenges, but we try to arm them with the tools to get us there. One of the tools is allowing them to be creative and come up with ideas like “Elvis Night” or “Yoga Day.” When we have low-demand weeknights, it takes effort from everyone to ensure we sell out. Goldstar can certainly take credit for helping us keep the streak alive. Helping us market to the entertainment fan rather than a traditional sports fan adds to our attendance numbers. One of the biggest keys is our dynamic pricing program, which allows us to adjust prices, down if necessary, for the lesser-demand games, which makes them more affordable and accessible to ALL fans.
JM: Talk about marketing baseball. It’s 81 games a year and 40-50,000 tickets per game. That’s a lot of inventory! How do you approach it?
RS: We do have a LOT of inventory, and many times will play seven to 10 games in a row. We have a very analytical approach. We sit down at the beginning of the selling season, and we project what we need from each business unit to hit our goals. That’s a combination of season ticket, group and premium-seat retention as well as new business in each of those categories. We also add in special events, advance sales and walkup. Once we figure out the goals of each area, we build a strategy and road map to achieve our goals. Our ticketing group takes great pride in OVERachieving every year. I’m very proud of what we have accomplished so far.
JM: You and I were discussing the cultural and demographic challenges baseball has right now. Talk about those a little bit, and how you approach them.
RS: When we spoke, I had just read the stats from World Series viewership, and the average age was 53 or 54. I found that incredible. You and I laughed at how we would rush home from school to watch the World Series because it was played in the afternoon. There’s so much competition for kids’ and teens’ attention. Baseball is a GREAT game, but we’re competing against video games, 200 channels of television, social media and other entertainment. Future baseball fans are not focused on the game as in the past. I used to get up early and read the box scores of every game to keep up. I couldn’t get enough, but it’s rare to see that. We really need to get kids to play the game at an early age. Little Leagues are strong, but the next-level player is doing other things. I have to applaud our Giants Community Fund, which runs our Junior Giants program. They give thousands of kids the opportunity to play baseball at no cost. These players are our future fans. Baseball is a fantastic game to play and watch.
JM: I tell people who market other kinds of live entertainment and art that they should pay close attention to baseball because you guys and gals are some of the most innovative people marketing tickets today. What do you think people in other genres can learn from you and from baseball marketers in general?
RS: I’m very fortunate to work with the people I do. Many of us have been here 20-plus years. In fact, some are more friends than co-workers. We have a great working relationship, which fosters the creativity you’re referring to. Our challenge is 81 games, 42,000 tickets. Most teams have even MORE tickets per game. So, we HAVE to be innovative. I’m fortunate we have an ownership group that allows us to push the envelope with new and innovative ideas that help our fans use 81 games. We rolled out the first team-sponsored secondary market as well as dynamic pricing — two pretty bold programs. Never once did we face negativity because it just made sense. Puts pressure on us to come up with the next big idea. That’s what keeps me up at night! Other genres can definitely look at what MLB teams do and learn. The biggest message is to take chances. Not EVERY idea works, but keep doing the ones that do and stop the ones that don’t. If you don’t try, you’ll never know. Our Special Events team is always pushing the envelope with new ideas. Who knew “Grateful Dead Night” would sell 5,000 tickets? Sounded like a good idea that just exploded.