Semi-Annual Very Serious Editorial: A Tennis Fan’s Gripes about being Groped by Groupon

At least one of the Williams Sisters has been Groped by Groupon, too

We all love a bargain. The web deal provider, Groupon, has been a useful resource for cheap weekend tennis times, clinics and even discount passes to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI. But it’s also become a good place to get highly-discounted tickets to pro tennis tournaments, too. And believe it or not, that can be frustrating for fans.

Some die-hards buy tickets to a tournament which they plan to attend months ahead of the event. The advantages for this are obvious: you expect that you will get better seats by purchasing in advance. In fact, sometimes, the USTA offers an “exclusive” presale for USTA members only. So you pay full price three or more months in advance, hoping that there’s no family or work emergency that will make you have to cancel your plans. Let’s say you paid $225.00 each for your tickets. That is the price for the Tier 1 seats at the Fed Cup tie in Worcester, Massachusetts this weekend.  Then, a week before the event, you get the following email in your inbox.

2012 Fed Cup Tennis–60% off

Talk about sticker shock. It’s like, yikes! You just over-paid by $135.00 per ticket! And it’s not just Fed Cup. Over the past year, you could have ‘grouponed’ Delray Beach for 48% off, Cincinnati and the CitiOpen at 1/2 price, or the HSBC Tennis Cup at 42% of face value. The ‘groupon phenomenon’ isn’t limited to the US, either. You could have paid 40 cents on the looney to catch Roger’s Cup action in Toronto, and 48p to the pound to see the Aegon Classic in Birmingham.

You paid HOW MUCH to watch these old-timers?

What’s a fan to do? Well, unless it’s a tournament that always sells out in advance, the fan should wait for the bargain.

Groupon marketing for tennis events offered months after the general public has paid full-price doesn’t sit right with this fan. Then, what’s the promoter to do? Simply eating the unsold tickets isn’t an option. Everyone would rather have more fans in the stands watching world-class tennis.

Let’s look to the National Football League for an answer. The management of the Cincinnati Bengals were worried about a television blackout and needed to sell out Paul Brown Stadium before a final home game last December. Of course, selling all the available seats wasn’t just about making sure the game was televised locally. The Bengals would advance to the playoffs with a win, and they wanted to fill the stands with Cincinnati fans to support the team and show off a raucous crowd on national television as well.

Even the Bungles get it right once in a while!

The Bengals sold over twenty thousand tickets in a single day. How?  They made a “groupon”-style offer strictly to fans who already had tickets to the game, namely, season ticket holders. For those committed fans, the Bengals offered a buy one, get one free deal to bring friends and family to the game. It made the season ticket holders feel special and it worked.

In the instant case of the Fed Cup tie in Worcester, perhaps the USTA could have sent an email to those who bought during the USTA member October presale informing them of an exclusive chance to buy extra tickets at half off. That move would endear and reward the loyal while filling the DCU Center.

So, yeah, we all love a bargain. Unless we ultimately end up feeling like a chump when we see what somebody else paid for the same thing. Tennis tickets shouldn’t be like airline tickets, where every single person on the plane paid a different price for the same seats.

If only they could somehow Groupon the US Open itself. Preferably in April and not September, please.

–Steve Fogleman

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