Gophers athletics will outsource ticket sales

Minnesota’s athletics department announced Monday a partnership with The Aspire Group to sell tickets by calling or contacting potential customers.

Andrew Krammer

The University of Minnesota’s athletics department announced Monday it has hired a group to outsource its ticket sales. 

Starting this summer, The Aspire Group will proactively sell season or group tickets to Gophers athletics events by calling or contacting potential customers.

It’s a method traditionally employed by professional sports teams, but Gophers athletics needed additional help to sell tickets, associate athletics director Jason LaFrenz said.

“We need to put more butts in seats,” he said.

Gophers athletics will pay the Atlanta-based sales group 10 percent of the ticket revenue it helps generate — the standard arrangement for The Aspire Group’s clients, LaFrenz said.

Starting in June, 12 sales associates and one manager will work from the University’s Minneapolis campus to sell tickets.

Since 2010, at least 20 of the 120 programs in the NCAA’s top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision have tried their hand at proactive sales, either on their own or by hiring a third-party company, USA Today reported in August.

The Aspire Group has worked with athletics departments at the University of Miami (Fla.), Rutgers University and Texas Tech as well as professional sports teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Minnesota Wild.

“Aspire is thrilled to be joining forces with Minnesota Athletics and to connect and communicate with Gopher fans,” Bill Fagan, general manager of fan relationship management at The Aspire Group, said in a release. “Our main focus is building the fan base and providing a great fan experience when communicating about future athletic events.”

Even as college sports grow in popularity, schools look to hire outside partners that help sell tickets and professionalize aspects of sales, said Andrew Giangola, vice president of strategic communications at IMG College.

“In today’s economy and with pressures from increasingly better entertainment across the board, it’s more challenging for schools to sell tickets,” Giangola said.

IMG College — a company that provides similar services as The Aspire Group — jumped into the outsource-ticketing business as recently as 15 months ago, Giangola said.

Since expanding on its marketing and multimedia rights business, IMG has provided ticketing services for Duke University, Penn State and Tennessee University, among others.

Athletics departments like Minnesota’s outsource many things, from multimedia rights like advertising and sponsorship to radio broadcasts for various sports.

Minnesota hired Learfield Communications in the early 2000s to take over corporate sponsorship, signage and radio broadcasting for Gophers athletics. IMG College announced its partnership with Learfield in March to provide a more comprehensive ticketing solution, Giangola said.

“In the past, we did it all in-house,” Joel Maturi, Minnesota’s athletics director since 2002, told the Minnesota Daily in December. “But none of us were experts, so Learfield has taken over and been one of the real positive partnerships that we’ve established.”

But with ticket sales stagnating in recent years, Minnesota sought to make the change in ticketing that many other athletics departments across the NCAA’s Division I have already made.

“It gives you a lot more flexibility,” LaFrenz said about partnering with The Aspire Group. “More so than the flexibility is the expertise. We could do it, but telemarketing is a pretty unique skill set, and the group we hired are experts in it. For us, it’s a way to get in and test how this works without hiring 12 full-time employees.”

Gophers athletics will implement preferred seating — a system that reseats all nonstudent fans and forces them to pay an additional donation — in men’s basketball and men’s hockey next season. LaFrenz said The Aspire Group could help with that.

“We’ll evaluate [our ticket sales] at the end to see if there’s any attrition,” LaFrenz said. “If there are any holes in the end, [The Aspire Group] will help work to fill those.”