Being Data-Driven Even When Games Are Paused PART 1: Approaches to processing refunds, credits, and exchanges


Apr 16, 2020


A week ago, StellarAlgo hosted a community call to dig into topics that kept resurfacing in our weekly and bi-weekly meetings with clients. Although each sports organization and market is different, in this covid-19 climate, there are many similarities and questions being asked by all teams.

We’re here to listen and we’re here to help, which is why we’re releasing recaps of each topic as part of a 3-part written series and sharing the full audio recording of the call. Our clients are eager to share organizational strategies and we’re committed to helping them get the most out of their data. Now more than ever, we all need to understand our customers and how we can best nurture them in order to win them back when games and events do return.

We strive to produce helpful and relevant content and would appreciate any feedback about this call or your interest in attending a subsequent call, which would be open to everyone. Please help us by filling out this 2-min survey after reading or listening to this community call recap.

For those who would prefer to listen to the community call, get even more from the audio version with questions, answers, and more best practices:

Part 2: How to be successful with data during the COVID period

Part 3: How StellarAlgo is helping clients now

As an industry we can’t play defense. It’s so important to be proactive, forward-thinking, and resourceful right now.

“Refunds and exchange strategies”, “Best way to handle refunds, credits, and exchanges once games start again”, “Creative ideas to keep 2020 season ticket holder revenue in 2020 vs creating a credit for 2021 (assuming there’s a season)”. These are all questions that came through our community call registration form and for good reason. These are unprecedented times and the way sports has always done things no longer applies in many situations now.

While we at StellarAlgo track, manage, and model fan behaviors off refunds, credits, and exchange data in order to provide timely and actionable insights, we recognize that our clients are the ones who can best speak to how best to execute on those insights. As a result, we asked one of many thought leaders that we work with to share how his organization is working directly with groups, season ticket members, hospitality and suite rentals, and other fans on this subject.

Turning credits, exchanges, and refunds into opportunities to nurture and connect with fans is very important during these times. John Katz, President of the Columbia Fireflies, has over 20 years of senior executive experience in the sports industry and has been named Executive of the Year multiple times. At a minor league team, he’s also intimately familiar with the cash flow challenges that this pandemic creates. As John likes to say, Cash is King – especially for the next 18-24 months. Although the postponed or cancelled games are wreaking havoc on 2020 so far, cash flow challenges will likely extend through 2021 any way you slice it. Even with a shortened season, refunds and even credits toward next year will affect teams’ bottom line as operating costs stay relatively the same (we encourage all organizations to research government support programs like PPP loans and SBA EIDL loans in America and the COVID-19 Economic Response Plan in Canada). That’s why it’s critical for teams to manage how they work with fans on ticketing options.

Just like other sports teams, the Columbia Fireflies are planning for multiple scenarios including a shortened season and a fully cancelled one. Regardless of which scenario plays out (and we’re all hopeful it will be the first one), the Fireflies have implemented a fan-first service approach to working with their fans on how tickets will be managed. Sales reps have a process for offering solutions to games that have not been played and work diligently with each customer directly to find a solution that works best.

Groups, Hospitality, Single Games tickets, and Suite Rentals

Sales reps are working with groups, hospitality and suite rentals, as well as single game buyers on solutions to postponed games. Reps have four options to present to fans, the first two – rescheduling and crediting for next season – being the preferred methods.

  1. ReschedulingWhere feasible for the customer, sales reps will try to reschedule individuals for a game later in the season (assuming there’s a season). The Fireflies start at the last home game and work back from there to give them the best opportunity to successfully have fans come to a game in 2020. To incentivize fans to reschedule for a tentative game this season and keep revenues in the current fiscal year, the Fireflies are also adding a 10% stadium cash bonus to anyone willing to reschedule.
  2. Offering a credit for next season

    For those who can’t reschedule for later in the season, the team is offering to credit their account for next season plus 8% stadium cash bonus. The 8% bonus (similar to the 10% bonus mentioned in the rescheduling option) is based on the deposit or total amount that’s been paid already.

  3. Refund as part of stadium cashIf neither of the first two options work for the customer, the next best solution is a full stadium credit refund. The stadium credit never expires, can be used in multiple ways (i.e. tickets, merch, consessions) and an additional 10% credit is applied to the account. While this helps increase the likelihood that fans will return, it doesn’t necessarily mean that these fans will come back later in the season or next season so monies may not be recouped in that critical 18-24 months.
  4. Refund by method of paymentExactly as it’s described, the last option is a full refund of the amount paid. Understandably, this is the last resort method for reps but also not one they will shy away from if it’s the best solution for the fan.

Season Ticket Members – Minis and Flex Plans

If the industry has its way, sports will be back in time for a shortened season. If that’s the case, fans with mini and flex plans are in an ideal situation – their tickets will just be redistributed for the games that will be played. Although reps are still keeping in close contact with these plan members, it’s less urgent than solutioning for single game or group buyers who’ve already missed games.

Season Ticket Members – Fulls and Half Season Packages

For the most part, reps follow the same process for full and half season members as they do for groups and hospitality. The slight difference comes in option one where ‘rescheduling’ might not be as simple for someone who already invested in most if not all the games. In this situation, full and half season members have the option to convert any tickets from cancelled games into a group night later on in the season. Ultimately, the organization wants to ensure that season ticket members feel like they’re getting the full value out of their investment and tickets don’t go unused.

SEASON TICKETS – Premium Suites

As speculation for when seasons will resume continue, the Fireflies are working diligently with premium suite members to not only retain them but potentially even extend longer-term agreements. Premium suite members are being offered reduced rates for next season if they renew with the team or even no payments for the rest of 2020.

It’s important to note that while the Fireflies offer to reschedule or credit all fans first, the team realizes that those solutions don’t work for everyone or in every situation. The team remains compassionate to meet the needs of all fans and will issue immediate refunds for those who need it. Birthday parties and fans who may have been recently laid off are issued immediate funds. According to John, it’s about listening to fans and working with them to find the best solution that fits each individual.

We are surrounded by really innovative and forward-thinking clients who understand that being nimble today is critical to tomorrow’s success. To listen to more ideas from John and other teams on the community call, skip to 19:50 and 39:39 in the audio version.

Did we answer some of your questions about managing credits, exchanges, and refunds? We strive to produce helpful and relevant content and would appreciate any feedback about this call or your interest in attending a subsequent call, which would be open to everyone. Please help us by filling out this 2-min survey and reserving your spot now.

More fans.

Better Engagement.

Stellar Results.

Get Started