Interview: Owen Shull, Vanderbilt Marketing

VandyMania talked this week with Owen Shull, Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing and Promotions, about the new "Your Team" ticket incentive selling program for the women's basketball team as well as other marketing initiatives, including the new billboards about to become part of the Nashville Skyline.

VM: Over the summer we had a Vandymania meeting. At that meeting there was some talk about marketing women's basketball. There are some changes for this year, right? Could you talk about them?

Owen: Let me give you a little bit of background. Our season ticket base is good. We have 936 season ticket holders with over 2100 season tickets sold -- it's top 2 or 3 in the conference. We liked where we were, but we wanted to go further. Our women's fans tend to be very loyal. We tend to have a very high retention rate -- we had a 91% renewal rate this year with the coaching change. And since I've been here, I've heard a lot from our women's fans, asking how can they help.

So we decided to let them know how they could help and put together the "Your Team" ticket incentive selling program. It boils down to: "We're going to tell you exactly what you get if you want to go out and help sell the program."

My marketing staff is a total of five people, two of which are interns, and they're great, but there aren't 936 of us. But there are so many people who are so proud of this particular program that I thought it made a lot of sense to try to get them to go out and speak to others. Everybody knows people that are neighbors or go to their church or school or whatever. I think $75, which is actually down a little bit from last year, is a reasonable price. I didn't feel like it would awkward for someone to go out and try to get other people.

So last Friday we mailed a videotape with last year's highlights along with interviews with Ashley Mac, Chantelle and Coach Balcomb. Along with that we sent the "Your Team" incentive card, which explains to fans "If you sell this amount of tickets, you're going to get this much in return" and five season ticket brochures to give to prospective fans. It also explains how they can fill it out, so if they do get a new fan to buy tickets, they'll get the credit for it.

In a way I guess we're kind of bribing our ticket base to help us, but we're doing it with things I think are good, and things they can't necessarily pay for. One of them is you can go travel with the team. You can't even buy that.

VM: Does that mean actually traveling with the team?

Owen: Yes, on the bus or plane. It's an SEC road trip. We really want it to be down to Florida when we go down to Gainesville. We don't know if that will work out for logistics reasons, but it will be an SEC road -- and it will be with the team. You'll stay at the team hotel, you'll go to the practice the day before or certainly that morning the shoot-around. I want them to feel for that trip like they're part of the team.
So we not only wanted to put some stuff in there like you getting money back on your own ticket, but I really wanted to give them something that you can't necessarily buy.

VM: About that "money back" on your ticket, how much money do you actually get back?

Owen: If you get 2 new people to come in, you get your ticket money back on one of your tickets. If you sell a $150 worth of tickets, you're going to get $75 back on your own.

VM: Let me be sure I've got this right. I already bought $210 of tickets. You're saying that if I get 2 new people to buy season tickets, I get $75 back?

Owen: Yes. You get it back. A refund. If you sell four tickets for us, you get $150 back.

VM: When I ordered my season tickets this year, I increased the number I bought so I could bring friends, and I know other people who did the same thing. Is that water under the bridge, as far as this goes, or is it possible to get credit for it?

Owen: We're asking people to call us with those questions, and we're going to take them on a case by case basis. There's no hard and fast rule. I want people to call us and let us know what their situation was because, yes, they did help us, and I want to help them. Call us and talk about it.

Another incentive is the Commodore Club membership. The Commodore Crew is very important to us and very important to the women's basketball program, but every year come tournament time, every year, seating is based on the Commodore Club priority points system.

I wanted this to be one way that people could become a Commodore Club member without having to spend the money so they'll receive some priority for Little Rock when we play there. So I thought it would be a benefit to some of our Commodore Crew members and some of our basketball season ticket holders who weren't the Commodore Club.

If you're already a member of the Commodore Club, this money will be in addition to your Commodore Club membership if you maintain that. By that I mean, if you're a $500 member of our Commodore Club and you sell us 8 season tickets, you will get $200 additional credit in the Commodore Club -- but only if you keep that maintain that $500 level yourself. And if you aren't a member at all, you just come in at that level, either at $25 or $200, depending on the number of tickets you sell.

What I want people to understand is that it's not just for us. It's really for everyone. Obviously, the more crowded the gym is, the more fun it's going to be, the better chance we have of winning, and the more you win, the more that is. So it's all for the same goal, which is to support the program.

VM: Can you talk about some of the other things you're doing? I've heard that you'll be putting up some billboards. Can you talk about that?

Owen: There are two of them. This one [the one with Matt Freje and Chantelle Anderson] will be 50 feet by 40 feet on the Ramada Inn on Broadway. It is the exact size and location of the Dancin in the District one that's been up there. This is what it will look like.

It will make a bit of a splash downtown. I think the players themselves are going to be over 20 feet tall when all is said and done. It's going to be big, and people are going to see it coming back from Predators games and coming back from Titans games and from downtown eating and everything else. Thousands and thousands of people drive by there. It has nice lights on it, and it'll be lit 24 hours. It's something we're certainly excited about.

The other one is 40 feet by 20 feet. It's going up on Wesley Place (over Alpine Bagel on 21st Avenue). It'll be hanging from the top and go down to the brick. It's going to be Russell Lakey and Ashley Mac. It'll have their two schedule cards, with one going like that and one going like that, and it's going to say "Commodore Basketball" going vertically. It will not have the schedule like the other one does. We didn't have as much room, but we at least wanted to get something up there that promoted Commodore Basketball. That one will be up all season. The one on the Ramada Inn will be up through January or February. We're hoping they'll both be up by the end of the week.

VM: Anything else?

Owen: For the most part in the women's game, most of what we're doing on the season ticket base marketing-wise is this incentive selling programs as well as these boards. we really think this is going to sell us a lot more season tickets than just putting a spot out there. But we also have held a significant amount of money back for TV commercials and radio commercials and all that kind of stuff to promote single SEC games. We'll promote all those games, and we'll promote our fan day, which was a big event for us last year, it drew 9700, which is going to be nearly the same day (January 4).

For further information, call Owen Shull (322-4189) or Kristin Zaleuke (343-5462) in the Vanderbilt Athletic Department. Top Stories