If You Phone Them, They Will Come

Case Study: NBA's Grizzlies Boost Attendance by Leaving Voice Mails for Fans

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Faced with dwindling attendance thanks to the National Basketball Association's worst record and a midseason firing of their coach, the Memphis Grizzlies needed an innovative way to put fannies in the seats of FedExForum. So the team turned to an old-fashioned instrument -- the phone.
Grizzlies star player Rudy Gay recorded a message sent to 6,000 fans using Vontoo's service.
Grizzlies star player Rudy Gay recorded a message sent to 6,000 fans using Vontoo's service.

Two tickets for $22
Partnering with Indianapolis-based technology firm Vontoo, the Grizzlies sent a recorded message from player Rudy Gay to a database of 6,000 fans who purchased single-game tickets in the last year. Mr. Gay offered a promotion in his recorded message of two seats for $22 (his jersey number is 22). The message went out five days before the game and resulted in $33,000 worth of tickets sold for a total cost of $650.

"We weren't going to have our telemarketing people make 6,000 phone calls," said Dennis O'Connor, VP-ticket sales and service for the Grizzlies. "But it was a game against Dallas [the defending Western Conference champions] and it was also a giveaway night, and it wasn't selling as well as we'd hoped. It just wasn't moving the needle. We needed something [else] and then it became a question of how we get the message out quickly and effectively."

Just before the season started last November, Mr. O'Connor had met the owners of Vontoo. The company, which started up in September, enables organizations to create, send and track permission-based voice messages. Companies that build opt-in lists of customers are able to upload those lists into Vontoo's system, record an audio message and then schedule the call for delivery.

Data-rich system
Vontoo's technology instantly recognizes whether the call goes to an answering machine or is picked up live -- allowing for different messages to be tailored for either outcome. And the tracking software allows for detailed reports on the number of calls picked up live, the number answered by a machine and how long the recipient listened to the message.

"It's the next generation of VoIP [voice over internet protocol]," said John Wechsler, president-chief operating officer of Vontoo. "Still, at the end of the day, we're a company that connects brands with consumers."

Vontoo did a similar promotion for country music star Dierks Bentley, who recently released a new CD. Through Mr. Bentley's website, 12,000 fans signed up to receive a phone message from him. On the day of the launch, those fans received a recorded message and one person won a live phone call from the singer.

Let's do it again
The Grizzlies were so pleased with the outcome of the Rudy Gay promotion that when new coach Tony Barone took over for the fired Mike Fratello, the team used Vontoo again. This time it sent a recorded message to its season-ticket holders -- minus a sales component -- in which Mr. Barone introduced himself, said that the team was developing its young talent and asked for continued fan support.

Mr. O'Connor said the team plans to undertake another sales promotion soon, and will use Vontoo's technology to allow customers to hit a key at the end of the message that takes them directly to TicketMaster to purchase tickets.

"I'll be honest, we weren't initially sure about this. I mean, we were just coming off a political season where candidates used a lot of recorded messages," Mr. O'Connor said. "But it was a positive experience and we got a lot of good feedback."
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