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Loyalty programmes have traditionally been a tough sell in the customer relationship management (CRM) market, with customers growing sick of their wallets bursting with discount cards that become a burden after the first purchase.

Loyalty programmes have traditionally been a tough sell in the customer relationship management (CRM) market, with customers growing sick of their wallets bursting with discount cards that become a burden after the first purchase.

The answer, according to Bart Wiley, vice-president of business operations at Major League Soccer (MLS) side Seattle Sounders, is to constantly evolve your offering from money-can’t-buy experiences to good old-fashioned discounts on food and beverages in the stadium.

Wiley’s key goal is to get fans into the ground early, and get them spending their money as soon as they get in, with gates opening 90 minutes before kick-off.

“Since we began our loyalty programme last year, we have noticed a $17,000 uptake in food and beverage takings an hour after the gates are opened,” Wiley told delegates at the Beyond CRM forum last month. “Last year, we took $30,000 in that first hour, now it is closer to $47,000.” Wiley previously worked as director of communications for internet service provider 711. Net and as director of publicity for former NASCAR driver Bobby Hillin.

As part of the loyalty programme, the Sounders have convinced 25,000 of their regular match-goers to adopt a Sounders’ Match Pass, which can be used to swipe into the ground and also to purchase food, drink and merchandise. All season-ticketholders are eligible for a Match Pass free-of-charge.

“Everyone’s sick of loyalty cards in their wallet, but as we keep on improving our offers, we have noticed a 13% increase in the number of our fans using their Match Pass in the last 12 months,” Wiley said.

“Our data tells us that fans want to pay less for a beer, so we know that if we offer a beer for $5 instead of $9 if they use their loyalty card an hour before kick-off, then they are going to do that.”

The Sounders were established in November 2007 as an MLS expansion team and their majority owner is Hollywood producer Joe Roth, with minority owners including Microsoft’s Paul Allen and game show host Drew Carey.

This is a personal perspective of Owen Evans, events editor of SportBusiness International.

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