National Football League season-ticket holders pay for tickets, personal-seat licenses, pricey beer and parking. Yet the only communication they typically get is a yearly invoice for their 10 regular/preseason games.
Realizing that in a struggling economy it needs this core to keep paying for live games instead of watching them on TV, the NFL and its 32 clubs are launching a customer-relationship marketing effort to reward season-ticket holders with frequent-flier-style perks.
Fan loyalty "is not a given," said Eric Grubman, NFL exec VP.
The NFL doesn't release figures, but the number of season-ticket holders nationwide runs into the hundreds of thousands, said Mr. Grubman.
They are the "lifeblood" of individual clubs, said Jake Bye, VP-tickets and premium seating for the St. Louis Rams, driving concession, parking and merchandise revenue. Plus, empty seats look bad on TV. "It all starts, and ends, with your season-ticket base," he said.
As the NFL formulates its platinum-fan strategy, some clubs have already introduced programs.
Private draft parties: The Rams will hold a party for season-ticket holders April 24, where they'll meet Coach Jeff Fisher and General Manager Les Snead. The free event was booked solid in less than 24 hours. The shift to a "relationship-based marketing approach," is paying dividends, said Mr. Bye. Despite a losing record on the field, the team's renewing 90% of season-ticket holders.
"When we approach somebody to buy a season ticket, it's not "Here's our schedule, here's our price' anymore," Mr. Bye said. "You're buying a partnership with the Rams that costs $300 ... not tickets to 10 games that cost $300."
Access to players and team executives: The Indianapolis Colts staged a "season-ticket holder" lunch in 2012, where they met Colts players. The Atlanta Falcons invited their season-ticket holders to privately quiz coach Mike Smith and owner Arthur Blank on the state of the franchise.
Money-saving deals: The Jacksonville Jaguars have teamed with local restaurants and retailers to offer season-ticket holders up to $3,000 in discounts, and its "Jaguar Rewards" shopping portal invites season-ticket holders to earn credit back on in-stadium purchases.
The NFL's embryonic relationship-marketing effort supports a league-wide drive to improve the in-stadium experience for all fans. This year, the NFL will mandate cameras in all home-team locker rooms so attendees can watch footage not available to viewers at home. The league and some individual clubs are working with the Disney Institute -- legendary for its use of data to improve customer experience -- to improve its fan relationships.
The real end-game for the NFL is to persuade league and team sponsors such as Anheuser-Busch, Nike, Verizon and Papa John's Pizza to reward season-ticket holders, too.
"We have a good opportunity, I think, to take this to our partners and say: "Do this with us. This is your interest,'" said Mr. Grubman.