Healthy Santa Cruz Warriors coffers signify a dedicated fan base and solid business partnerships
As the Santa Cruz Warriors approaches the start of its second season of NBA Development League basketball—operating as the affiliate team to the Golden State Warriors in Oakland—both sports fans and the business community, alike, are eagerly re-investing for more of what they got with season one.
Of the D-League's 17 teams nationwide, the Santa Cruz Warriors are leading in season ticket renewals at a rate of 88 percent, which team president Jim Weyermann says is a key indicator of how well a sports franchise is doing.
“It's the quickest single measure as to whether or not you're fulfilling the entertainment promise that you give the fans,” he says.
For the 2013/14 season, the home team has about 980 season ticket holders thus far and is quickly closing in on a thousand, says Santa Cruz Warriors spokesman Matt De Nesnera. That's a 37.5 percent increase over last year.
Idris Nolan, who purchased season tickets for year one and even traveled with friends to Reno, Nev. to see the Santa Cruz Warriors play their first game against the Reno Bighorns, says renewing his season package was a no-brainer.
“Last year, every game was exciting,” Nolan says. “It wasn't even a question in my mind as to whether I was going to renew—it was just [a question of] how many tickets I was going to add to my package.
“Everyone I know loved coming to the games,” he adds, “and people who didn't have season tickets were always looking for them.”
As fans like Nolan lock in for a second year of pro basketball, local business sponsors are also vying to get in on the action.
So far this year, the franchise has generated about $635,000 in sponsorships and is continuing to gain momentum.
Weyermann estimates that altogether this season, sponsorship deals will generate between $700,000 and $800,000—about a quarter million dollar increase over last year’s $441,000 in total sponsorship deals.
“If we under-performed in an area last year, it was in the sponsorship area,” Weyermann says, “mainly because sports marketing was new to local businesses. Nobody really understood the best way to take advantage of the team. And they really didn't understand what the product was going to be.”
Two new, substantial sponsorship deals this year came from Hotel Paradox and Epic Wines.
Jane Prough, vice president of Epic Wines in Capitola, which distributes nationally, says her company had a fairly basic banner advertisement last year at the Kaiser Permanente Arena and that it was great for business. This year, Epic Wines upgraded to on-floor advertising.
“We've upped our ante,” Prough says. “Last year, I think the business community wanted to wait and see what this was before they were the first ones to jump into the pond. And it's been incredibly well received.”
One of the reasons many fans are getting hooked, Weyermann says, is the fact that the Santa Cruz Warriors franchise takes its business plan as a comprehensive entertainment experience very seriously.
While some of the lower-end D-League teams have operating budgets of approximately $1 million, the Santa Cruz Warriors are at around $2.3 million.
Weyermann explains that this higher operating budget allows the team to create a “symphony” of entertainment that includes quality advertising, ESPN feeds, half-time performances, and, of course, top-notch basketball.
The average season ticket cost for the Santa Cruz Warriors' 24 games is the highest in the league, at $892. The average cost throughout the D-League is $627.12.
This is, in part, because it is more expensive for a D-League team to operate in California, Weyermann says.
“It costs us a hell of a lot more to operate here than in Fort Wayne [Ind.],” he says. “So your season tickets are going to be significantly higher.”
In Santa Cruz, that has a lot to do with seating capacity. The Kaiser Permanente Arena is the third smallest venue in the league, with 2,505 seats, so each ticket has to generate more revenue than with other teams. The Texas Legends, with the Dr. Pepper Arena, for example, can seat close to 6,000.
“They make their ticket revenue up in volume,” Weyermann says.
And while local ticket prices do run high, the numbers show that the fans are happy enough to come back for more.
Ticket sales make up between 50 and 70 percent of the franchise’s revenue, with sales amounting to about $1.4 million last year. This was the highest in the league, Weyermann says. This year, he projects the team will generate about $1.8 million in ticket sales.
The average income from season tickets among all D-League teams is $407,000, which puts the Santa Cruz Warriors at more than double with their $866,000 in season package sales.
On the lowest end, D-League renewal rates are below 30 percent. The Reno Bighorns are at just 28.3 percent this year, Weyermann says.
“When your renewal numbers go down, the people are telling you that your brand promise is shit,” he says. “Anything below 50 percent [means] you're reassessing. And below 30 percent, you're shooting yourself in the leg.”
At that point, a team is falling short of what it should be providing its community, he says.
“You say you’re fun family affordable entertainment, [but] it's like going to a petting zoo with a three-legged dog and a half-antlered reindeer,” he adds.
The Santa Cruz Warriors on the other hand, he says, are the full package.
The Santa Cruz Warriors will play their first pre-season game on Thursday, Nov. 14 against the Reno Bighorns, and their second on Sunday, Nov. 17 against the Bakersfield Jam.
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