Penguins Sell Tickets via Cellphone Alerts

Team Scores With Effort to Sell Empty Seats, Now Trying Contests, Updates

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CHICAGO ( -- Several major marketers have found themselves stonewalled when it comes to measurable and effective uses for mobile technology, but a National Hockey League team is scoring big with a text-messaging program.
Hot ticket: Fans of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins form around-the-block lines when discounted seats are advertised via text message.
Hot ticket: Fans of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins form around-the-block lines when discounted seats are advertised via text message.

Faced with persistently unsold tickets and a bevy of would-be attendees priced out of the action at area colleges, the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006 started sending news of available, severely discounted seats to college kids on the mornings of home games. The messages noted how many tickets were unsold, letting students know if they needed to camp out all day to get one of a few available, or if tickets were ample enough that they'd be available at the booth just before the puck was dropped.

Get 'em while they're young
Jeremy Zimmer, the team's director of new media, said the promotion helped fill otherwise empty seats and strengthened the Penguins' bond with students it hopes will grow up to become season-ticket holders. "We want to engage them while they're young, and get them excited about the team early," he said. "This was a great way to do that."

The around-the-block lines of students waiting to buy $100 tickets for $20 on some days proved as much, but the Penguins -- who feature two of the NHL's top young stars in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- improved enough this season that every game sold out on its own, leaving the division-leading team searching for a new way to reach out to younger fans.

So the team tapped mobile agency Vibes Media to run a series of contests and giveaways via cellphone. In one, it promised to give away a puck autographed by Mr. Crosby on the young star's 21st birthday.

Messages went out to 2,000 subscribers, and 1,800 replied for a shot at the signed puck within the first hour. "That response shows that we're tapping a fan base that's just rabid," said Michael Cahan, Vibes' director-sports and media.

The Penguins also offered a mobile program aimed at its general fan base, sending team news alerts, including game recaps and each game's three stars (a nightly hockey honor awarded after most TV broadcasts end) to 20,000 fans this year, compared with 8,000 a year ago.

The team has yet to tap the channel as a major new source of sponsorship revenue just yet, but that may be coming. Pizza Hut has sponsored some of the alerts and has also delivered free pizzas to fans camping out for a shot at text-promoted tickets.
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