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Sold out at the Garden

Cambridge company's software is just the ticket for sports teams that want to fill their arenas

On the court, the Boston Celtics wrapped up their season on a sour note, losing nine of their last 14 games and five of the last six. But in the box office, the numbers told a different story: Despite their struggles, the Celtics sold out all 14 of their final games, and finished the season with attendance up about 6 percent.

One big reason for the success goes back to a tiny Cambridge software firm called StratBridge, which first made a name for itself in the unglamorous world of crunching numbers for accounting firms and investors. Two years ago, the Celtics called and asked if StratBridge could create a color-coded image of their arena that would give live updates of which tickets were sold and at what prices. StratBridge did that and more.

The idea sounded simple, but to the Celtics, it represented a sea change. The team had been printing paper reports laden with numbers, which often took hours to prepare. Even some of their own executives could not decipher them. When the new software was up and running, executives could see which tickets were not sold, act on the information by designing promotions to sell them, and watch the results live to make sure their promotions were working.

The National Basketball Association took note of the Celtics' success: By the start of next season, 20 of the 30 NBA teams will use StratBridge's software, the firm said recently.

''Nothing is more important to our teams than attracting fans," said Scott O'Neil, the NBA's senior vice president of marketing and team business operations. ''This is a tool we think will attract more fans."

Executives at the NBA first noticed the StratBridge software on a routine trip to the Celtics' Boston office. ''I saw this plasma screen on the wall with this really cool visual of the arena," O'Neil. Once the Celtics explained what it was, he wanted to learn more -- and fast.

Though he was scheduled to leave from Logan Airport at 6:30 the next morning, he called Matthew Marolda, StratBridge's chief executive, and talked him into a meeting there at 5 a.m. Marolda showed up at the appointed hour with a cup of coffee for O'Neil, and the two struck a deal.

Both individual NBA teams and the league will use the software. The league will analyze data and work with the teams to boost sales.

''We're very optimistic," O'Neil said. ''It's a fun time to be a basketball fan. Fans are coming out in record numbers. Our question is how do we get more of them to come."

The Celtics' 14-game sellout streak at the end of the season shows the software in action. Sales executives looked at the software and noticed that the upper corners of the arena were not selling well. To get paying customers into the seats, the Celtics started to market ''family packages" -- four tickets for $119, plus hot dogs and soda. The seats typically would cost $175.

''We could see three weeks out what was unsold, so we'd create special group discounts to a game," said Shawn Sullivan, the Celtics' vice president of ticket sales, marketing, and service.

StratBridge's software is so detailed that executives can zoom into every section of the arena. They can see how much money every seat sold for, whether it sold as a group or individual ticket, and whether the same seat remained unsold for several games in a row.

Teams also can track how much of a discount each seat is selling for -- just like a retailer that tracks how many of its wares have sold at sale prices, versus full price.

Strange as it may sound, to StratBridge executives, analyzing a team's ticket sales is not much different from making financial data more accessible to money management companies. The key, said Marolda, the chief executive, is taking large amounts of data and presenting it in an intuitive, visible manner.

Before the Celtics called, Marolda had no idea he would be in the sports business. Now, he said, StratBridge has about 50 teams as clients -- including many in the NBA, WNBA, and the Boston Bruins.

''This is real-time, proactive analysis," Marolda said. ''Teams can make changes and decisions on the fly. That's where we're different."

Sasha Talcott can be reached at stalcott@globe.com.

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