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Padres’ Loyalty Program Aims Toward Year-Round Engagement: A Loyalty 360 Interview with Mike Hele

The name of the relatively new San Diego Padres’ loyalty membership program is simply “Padres Membership” – an ode to a traditional golf club “membership” since that year-round engagement is the model.

The program launched in September of 2012 as part of the Padres’ 2013 Renewal Collateral. The first year of Membership was designed to be an education and the collateral served as a deeper explanation.

Mike Hele, Manager, Membership Programs for the Padres, participated in an intriguing interview with Loyalty 360 CEO Mark Johnson.

Genesis of New Padres’ Loyalty Program

Hele: Our company went all-in on this initiative by changing all verbiage to reflect this rollout (Season Ticket-Holders became Members and Season Ticket Sales became Membership Development, etc.) 

The O’Malley/Seidler Ownership group purchased the Padres in August of 2012. Since our program launched in September of 2012 we needed an immediate sign off from the new ownership group. The Owners and Senior Leadership team have been fully behind the program and are often highly visible at the events (often giving the Welcome Message at our events). 

Designed Around Customer Experience

Hele: The program was designed specifically with the customer in mind. The design of the program is meant to be empowering (self-selection) with the goal of creating a significant value add.  So while data is critical to us, it is the customer experience that is paramount. What new data we learn from the program we then put back into action to make the program even more meaningful.

We want to bring more value to the season ticket purchase. We wanted to reposition the value of season tickets and create a year-round customized experience that extends beyond the baseball season.

European Soccer Model

Hele: We did a lot of market research as to what loyalty programs exist in the U.S. for sports teams. We found European soccer was our real model. No one in America is really doing loyalty like we wanted to. The idea around it was that it would be a community program and have access to events in San Diego year-round.

That European soccer model resonated with what we want to build here in San Diego. We customized the program with baseball and non-baseball events and created four different membership buckets.

Four Different Membership Buckets

Hele: The Membership tiers are based on how many games you purchased on your season ticket.

There are four Membership Types that members can select from: Fanatic, Family, Social, and Business.

The Membership tiers are dictated by your season ticket commitment: 81 Games = Platinum, 41 Games = Gold, 21 Games = Blue. The higher the tier, the more access you have to events and benefits. The program was designed to incentivize not only the upfront purchase, but moving up the ladder from blue to gold and gold to platinum. What we saw in 2013 was a fairly dramatic shift in customer buying patterns.

For years, the Padres (and the industry as a whole) were slipping with Full season purchasers with more and more customers preferring the flexibility of a smaller plan or a la carte purchases from the secondary market. In 2013, we saw over a 50% YOY increase in Full Season (Platinum) sales for new buyers.

Creating Unique and Memorable Experiences

Hele: An example of turning our data collection into strategy would be our Dining and Lifestyle program. Last year we looked to align with local restaurants and bars to provide a standing discount for our Members. Now that we have the information on where our Members live, we can re-focus our 2014 efforts on providing targeted restaurants and bar offers. We now know that our Family Members primarily live in East County, so our pipeline is heavy with family themed restaurants and museums in that region. Our Social Members live on the coasts and we know their primary non-Padres hobby is craft beer tasting; so we build our pipeline heavily with pubs in Pacific Beach, La Jolla, and Encinitas.

Our events are by design and spaced throughout the year. We’re doing a better job of asking the question: What do you do beyond the Padres? We’re getting more of a profile of our customers and demographics. We’re doing focus groups and surveys, and we want to provide meaningful benefits.

Economics Always an Issue

Hele: Economics is always an issue for us. We can’t grow west or south. Anaheim is 90 miles north, east is desert, and west is the Pacific.

Our market understands we can’t just go out and buy an (Albert) Pujols. We can’t commit 75% of our payroll to one player.

If we can engage with people year-round—at football games, Sea World, the race track, regardless of the win-loss record – that will tie them to the brand even more. We’re developing a better relationship with the city in general.

We want our Members to experience San Diego. We want to evolve to more than just a baseball program.

What Makes This Program Unique?

Hele: The “year round” concept was initially one of the biggest differences. Even with the domestic teams that had robust loyalty programs, their engagement was typically in-park and in-season only. Our program was designed to have meaningful events and experiences in times of the year that are traditionally dark periods in our sport (i.e. holiday party on the field, theme park event in early winter, football tailgate/watch parties in Fall).

I would say that another key difference was the fact that our new benefits/events were incremental. We did not take any perks away and the program cost nothing extra for the members. Since we rewarded the up-front purchase, there was nothing further that a customer needed to purchase or do to earn their status (i.e. points program).

Selling San Diego

Hele: Our angle has been to position Membership as a uniquely San Diego program where your association with the Padres grants you access to the best of San Diego. Part of our marketing narrative is that Membership is more than the Padres and more than baseball, but it is a celebration of San Diego. By design many of our off-site events were built to resonate with locals (Sea World, Del Mar Racetrack, Ballast Point Brewery, Sycuan Golf Course, etc.). We also added a discount program where Members can receive an exclusive discount year round simply by showing their member card. Similarly, we made a point to partner with iconic and beloved local institutions (Hodad’s burgers, Churchill’s Pub, etc.). That said, Padres baseball is still at the core of the program and I have the impression that will be even more of an area of focus for messaging for 2014.

About the Author: Mark Johnson

Mark is CEO & CMO of Loyalty 360. He has significant experience in selling, designing and administering prepaid, loyalty/CRM programs, as well as data-driven marketing communication programs.

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