Thursday, December 14, 2017

Under new policy, Tampa Bay Lightning to monitor selling habits of season ticket holders

TAMPA — Throughout last season's Stanley Cup playoff, the Tampa Bay Lightning acted aggressively to ensure its fans had first dibs on playoff tickets over those from opposing teams.

This season, the Lightning is taking it to a whole new level.

The Lightning informed season ticket holders in August that the front office will be watching to see how often they sell their tickets. The gist of the new policy: Sell too many — more than half, to be exact, of any plan — and the ticket account could be canceled.

The team also told some season ticket holders they weren't welcome back because they acted more like brokers than fans.

It's all an effort to keep tickets out of the hands of scalpers and secondary markets — which often drive up prices and sell to out-of-town fan bases — in anticipation of higher local demand following the team's exciting postseason run.

The Lightning announced last week 3,000 new season-ticket holders from their playoff push, bringing the total to 13,500. The preseason begins Sept. 22.

"Our primary goal is to limit scalpers from reselling tickets because it's not in the best interest of Lightning fans," said team spokesman Bill Wickett.

Wickett added that it will help prevent fraudulent ticket sales, which spiked during the playoffs.

But the new policy also reflects a trend in professional sports to crack down on people and entities that might try to profit off the team.

"Teams are trying to enforce the fact that a ticket is a license and not a guaranteed right," said Bill Sutton, director of the sports and entertainment business program at University of South Florida. "As teams become more popular and the tickets become scarce, they want to make sure that the supporters of the team can buy it at an affordable price.

"This is the way right now in pro sports."

Here's what the new policy says: "Resale and/or trade activity may be monitored and tracked by the Tampa Bay Lightning, and, in the event that (a season ticket member) sells, attempts to sell, or engages a third party to sell on his/her behalf a majority of the account tickets, the Tampa Bay Lightning reserve the right to cancel the STM account."

Season ticket holders were notified by email in mid August that there were updates to the team's policy. The email, obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, included a link to the two pages of fine-print legalise, and it wasn't readily apparent which terms had changed.

Members had until Aug. 26 to inform the Lightning if they wanted to cancel their plans due to the changes. Only a couple people responded negatively, Wickett said.

In a related development, the Lightning will begin a partnership this season with Dynasty Sports and Entertainment, a consulting and ticket-resale company, the Times has learned.

Why is the team employing a resale company just as it's squeezing out brokers and scalpers?

Information, Wickett said.

Individual scalpers and even larger brokers don't tell the Lightning anything about their buyers. As an exclusive resale partner, Dynasty can collect micro and macro data on customers that the Lightning can put to use.

Dynasty sells its tickets on the Ticketmaster Exchange.

"Dynasty will be great for us because they'll give us the type of tracking information all teams are looking for these days: who our buyers are and where are they coming from," Wickett said. "Hopefully they'll educate us better on how we can sell to them directly."

It's a strategy that has been under way for more than 15 years in the NBA, said Sutton, who helped start that league's Team Marketing and Business Operations Department in 2000.

The department provides consulting advice to NBA teams to improve ticket sales and services based on the data collected from each franchise.

Lightning CEO Steve Griggs would be very familiar with the concept from his time as executive vice president of sales and marketing for the Orlando Magic.

But those aggressive efforts have also sparked criticism that teams have become too controlling of their tickets. In what could be a landmark case, StubHub, a large ticket-resale website, sued the NBA's Golden State Warriors in March because of the team's restrictions on how season tickets could be sold.

StubHub spokesman Cameron Papp said the company was "aware" of the Lightning's new policies and "will continue to monitor it."

"As with the Golden State Warriors case, StubHub believes in a free, open-ticket marketplace and will support fans' rights to choose where they list their tickets," Papp said.

The Tampa Bay Rays season ticket policy, available online, doesn't restrict how many tickets can be sold or transferred.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wouldn't comment on the team's policies and wouldn't say whether the front office has worked with Dynasty or a similar consultant.

The new Lightning policies are a continuation of efforts that started last postseason.

During the Stanley Cup playoffs and Final, the Lightning restricted opposing fans from wearing their team colors in the Chase Club and Lexus Lounge. They also blocked out-of-state ZIP codes from purchasing tickets directly from the team on Ticketmaster.

Those rules won't be in effect during the regular season, but could re-emerge in the playoffs, Wickett said.

The Lightning also paid close attention to whether season-ticket holders sold their seats during the playoffs. Some were told they weren't allowed to buy them again this year.

The Times reported in June that policy ensnared an Army captain who had his season ticket privileges revoked for putting them up for resale. The captain, Paul Dhillon, could not attend Stanley Cup Finals games because he was training at Fort Knox in Kentucky.

Tod Leiweke, then the Lightning CEO, apologized and offered to get coffee with Dhillon. However, that meeting never occurred, Dhillon told the Times last week, and Leiweke has since left for a front-office job in the NFL.

Jim Macksam of Palm Harbor was one of the individuals denied season tickets this year.

Macksam, 71, has purchased season tickets since the Lightning's inaugural season, he said, starting with a couple and picking up some more over the years until he had 20 tickets — 10 in the 100 level and 10 in the 300s. He would attend a dozen games or so a year, and he said he would sell a few for a small profit when he could or give them away to friends, family or clients, when he was still working.

The Lightning considered him a broker and took away his seats this year.

"I'm just a stupid fan that has got 10 stinking sets of tickets," Macksam said. "I've been loyal since they were the laughingstock of the NHL. Now all the sudden my money isn't as good as somebody else's money."

Contact Steve Contorno at [email protected] Follow @scontorno.

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