Cardinals' business success tied to wins

Senior VP Farrell takes part in panel discussion at Busch Stadium

Cardinals' business success tied to wins

The St. Louis Cardinals remain proof positive that winning is good for the bottom line.

Take the 60 full-season suites nestled in the team's home at Busch Stadium, which are priced at roughly $200,000 a year for an 81-game package. According to Dan Farrell, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Cardinals, those suites have been sold out at almost a 98 percent level for the first decade of the stadium's existence, despite the fluctuating economy.

"I always temper every marketing and business success claim with, 'But we've had a winning team,'" Farrell said. "We really live by the number of wins that the team has, the number of postseason appearances that we have. And we really live -- our very core revenue source, the No. 1 revenue source for us, is season tickets."

That's not to say the championship-hardened Cardinals remain completely immune from the health of the economy at large. In 2007 and '08, Farrell said, the organization probably experienced "a slowdown" as a result. However, he also observed that as the national economy was struggling, so was the team -- it failed to make the postseason during that stretch. Overall, however, the Cardinals have made the playoffs 12 times (and counting) since 2000, and fans and businesses have responded accordingly.

"Fortunately, we've seen our season-ticket base stay pretty strong despite what the economic environment is," Farrell said.

Farrell spoke Friday at Busch Stadium as part of a four-member panel discussion entitled, "Taking a Lead -- Marketing Your Small Business in the St. Louis Community." The event, hosted by The Hartford, also featured Tim Barklage, CEO and co-founder of Better Life; moderator Gene Marks, a best-selling author, small business owner, and columnist; and Stephanie Bush, the executive vice president of small commercial insurance at The Hartford.

According to The Hartford's 2015 Small Business Success Study, small business owners in the St. Louis community are not just in growth mode -- they're ahead of the national curve: 56 percent of the area's small business owners surveyed said they're looking to grow significantly, which far outpaces the national number of 33 percent. The St. Louis small business community also trumped national statistics in areas such as hiring and owners feeling successful with how their business is currently operating.

While a unique player in the local business scene, the Cardinals' approach to sales and marketing offered insight to other enterprises in the community looking to emulate their success.

One such method was dynamic pricing, which the Cardinals employ in setting their regular-season ticket prices. It's a trend that's gaining traction in the business community, and the Cardinals have used it to better meet the demand for their product.

"We have learned over the years that demand varies from one game to the next, and in particular for us, the demand really peaks on the weekends," Farrell said. "We just try and match our price structure to the demand, and it's the same way that the airlines do it."

Case in point: a seat on a plane the day before Thanksgiving is going to cost more than that same seat for a flight on Thanksgiving itself. The Cardinals can change prices on a day-by-day basis; last year, they changed ticket prices 35,000 times.

"Last year, we had 70 percent of our games we had tickets available for $10 or less at one point in time, in one area or another," Farrell said. "Our model is [to] fill up the ballpark [and] build fan affinity for the team."

The Cardinals also believe another winning investment is their promotional giveaway items, which span from player bobblehead dolls and a Yadier Molina gnome to jerseys and sweatshirts. It's a win-win: the fans feel they're receiving a collectible item that adds value to their ticket, and the heightened interest leads to more ticket sales for the team on that particular giveaway night. This year, the team has increased the number of promotion items from 25,000 per game to 30,000 per game to accommodate the fans.

"We didn't want fans to feel like they had to get to the ballpark two hours early and wait in line for two hours," Farrell explained.

The team has even converted dollars out of their main advertisement pool into their promotional expenditures, because they've discovered investing in quality and quantity of the items elicits a solid return.

"Our giveaway dates, what we invest in a promotional item, we feel like we get a 3-to-1 return on that investment in incremental ticket sales," Farrell explains.

In the end, they believe the revenue gained through ticket sales can cycle back to improving the main product: what happens on the diamond.

"We believe that the margins that we get on ticket revenue, we are able to put back and invest into the team -- our version of kind of growing the business," Farrell said.

Elisabeth Meinecke is a contributor for MLB.com based in St. Louis. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.