University Northern Iowa Case Study

Objective

With an undergraduate student body of 12,159, the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) is ranked #13 among Regional University Rankings (Midwest) by the U.S. News.  Iowa is home to approximately 60,000 Panther alumni with over 16,000 in Cedar Falls and surrounding areas.  A relatively small college town, Cedar Falls has a population of 39,993.  Community and alumni support of the Panthers was essential to recognize an increase in ticket sales, ticket renewals and athletic donations.

The school’s basketball and football facilities are two of Iowa’s most recognized venues.  UNI’s basketball facility, the McLeod Center has a capacity of 6,650.  Connected to the McLeod Center is the UNI-Dome where football games are held.  The UNI-Dome seats 16,324. The Panther’s football team competes in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and a few of UNI athletic programs have seen success on the national level.  Most notably, the Men’s Basketball team was a Cinderella story in 2010 when they defeated UNLV and Kansas to advance to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament.

With strong momentum from previous seasons, UNI saw an opportunity to increase revenues through new ticket sales while also improving the overall retention of their current fan base.  The challenge for UNI was committing additional financial resources towards increased staffing and overcoming a lack of expertise as it related to the development of ticket sales strategies and pricing.

Solution

UNI hired IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions (IMGLTS) to help fill a void in their organizational structure.  Forming a multi-year partnership, IMGLTS hired a professional staff of 3 full-time employees to be compensated by IMGLTS, but work within UNI’s offices.  This staff includes one General Manager and 2 Account Executives who have a dedicated focus on increasing attendance at football and basketball games through season ticket packages, partial plans, group sales and single game sales.  A detailed business plan was created by IMGLTS to create a comprehensive approach to improving UNI’s season ticket retention rate and maximizing new revenue streams.

The IMGLTS staff at UNI is highly trained in tackling objections and building relationships.  Staff members participate in the IMGLTS Most Valuable Practices (MVP) sales training.  MVP incorporates an understanding of the dynamic make-up of the college athletic fan and provides a detailed sales training approach that is tailored specifically to college athletics.  With this training, the staff was equipped to maximize all ticket revenue opportunities and provide superb customer service for UNI.

As part of the partnership, IMGLTS was expected to help improve the connection between the athletic department and the fan.  All inbound calls were directed to IMGLTS, which provided the opportunity to build strong fan relations leading directly to increased expenditures by UNI supporters.   As part of their customer service initiative, a dedicated “Personal Account Executive” was assigned to all season ticket accounts, creating a direct line of communication between the buyer and UNI.  In addition to servicing inbound calls and previous buyers, IMGLTS also placed over 15,000 outbound calls to secure new business for UNI.

In only eight months of operation, IMGLTS made an immediate impact through their outbound call efforts, setting business appointments and attending numerous networking events.  Additionally, leadership was provided to UNI in areas of focus such as renewal strategy, sales events, lead generation and implementing an all-inclusive group sales plan.

Result

“Our partnership with IMG Learfield has moved the ticketing needle at Northern Iowa from passive to active.  We have seen strong gains in new ticket sales and record renewal rates in just the first few months.  We have been able to take ticketing beyond a simple transaction and now can treat ticketholders with the same value we place upon our donors.  Those individuals and the groups that are purchasing tickets have more reason to feel invested because of the personal interaction that was limited before IMG Learfield came to campus.  Additionally, we continue to gain valuable insight into improving the game day experience for those ticket purchasers.  The expertise IMG Learfield brings to our campus puts us in a position to succeed at our highest level.  Ultimately, that measure defines the value of any partnership.  We look forward to the future with our IMG Learfield partners.”

  • Troy Dannen, Director of Athletics at UNI

Since beginning the partnership with IMGLTS, the following favorable impact has been realized by UNI when compared to the prior year:

  • 145% increase in football group ticket sales, setting new records.
  • 20% increase in new basketball season tickets.
  • 15% increase in total football season ticket revenue.
  • 9% increase in basketball ticket renewals.
  • 3% increase in football season ticket renewals
  • Before the start of the ’13-’14 basketball season, group sales had already surpassed the prior year’s totals.
  • With increased staffing capital and an increased focus, Wrestling saw their revenue more than double from the prior year.

Overall the first year of operation was a great success and UNI was able to increase revenue streams without the upfront costs associated with additional headcount in their athletic department.