Architect of Miami Heat's ticket program scores with local fans, NBA
By Sherri C. Ranta
A marketing initiative that's garnered praise from National Basketball Association President David Stern also scored points locally for a Miami Heat executive.
The Heat Group's Eric S. Woolworth, president of business operations, is the architect of the Miami Heat's fan friendly Season-Ticket Holder Buddy Program, which just completed its first year. Through the program, 120 members of the Heat Group's full-time staff - from administration and sales to shipping and operations - are assigned a certain number of season-ticket holders with whom they must follow up on monthly, said Mr. Woolworth.
By either calling, writing or meeting face-to-face, he said, the buddies inform season-ticket holders of upcoming games and promotions or assist them with special requests. They also make themselves available for season-ticket holders to contact.
"They've taken steps to make their organization as fan friendly and customer friendly as possible. I think they've done a remarkable job," said Ronald Albert Jr., in nominating Mr. Woolworth. Mr. Albert is a partner at the law firm of Holland & Knight, and chair of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's Sports Advisory Board.
"Heat season ticket holders are about as loyal as they come in the NBA and all of pro sports," Mr. Woolworth said. "It goes without saying that they've stuck by us through the ups and downs. They're vital to this organization, and I want to make sure they know that we value them immensely."
Former general counsel for The Heat Group, Mr. Woolworth was promoted in 2001 to president of business operations. In addition to the buddy program and other fan events, such as "Season Ticket Holder Monday," Mr. Woolworth has established a separate fan division in the company.
In addition to the Miami Heat, the Heat Group owns the Miami Sol, of the Women's National Basketball Association.
"The creation of the Fan Experience Division is an indication of how important we think the fans are. We needed to strengthen the bonds between the fans and the team. The buddy program and other changes have made a big difference," Mr. Woolworth said.
"The letters on my desk speak volumes for the fact that people have noticed and they feel the organization really does value their business. We value the business of season-ticket holders and all our fans. It's a simple message, but not one that all sports teams send very well."
The Heat Group's fan initiatives caught the attention of the NBA Commissioner Stern during a press conference at the opening of the 2001-2002 basketball season.
"For us, whenever we talk about our team marketing, business and community relations activities, the Heat's name keeps coming up as a team that has devoted an extraordinary amount of resources in those areas," Mr. Stern said.
Representatives of 14 NBA teams came to Miami this year to see what the Heat is doing to satisfy its fans, Mr. Woolworth said. The Heat's programs are unique, he said, and not copied from other teams.
Members of the Sports Council for the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce took notice of the changes at The Heat Group this year.
Changes in how to pay for season tickets have been helpful, Mr. Albert said in recognizing The Heat Group's Woolworth.
"People didn't like to pay for all the playoff games in advance. They've changed the way they bill for season tickets. People choose what is best for them," Mr. Albert said.
Some of the new renewal options, Heat officials said, are payment options that include discounts for paying in full with one payment, no price increase if paid by March 15, and no longer requiring fans to pay in advance for playoff tickets.
Attorney Bruce Colan, also with Holland & Knight and a member of the chamber's sports council, also praised Mr. Woolworth.
"I think basically, he's brought a good, new attitude - a fan friendly attitude."
Also receiving nominations this year for Best in the Business of Sports are Nancy Olson, executive director of the Florida Marlins Community Foundation, and The Miami Dolphins football team.
The Marlins raise money for community programs, such as the Daily Bread Food Bank, children's programs and breast cancer research, Mr. Albert said. "Nancy has been a community leader," he said.
The Miami Dolphins franchise, receiving top honors last year for Best in the Business of Sports, gets another nod this year as a well marketed, well attended franchise.