MatchPass 2014 Keyword: Value

Clint says swipe your card. - Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

In 2013, the Sounders introduced a loyalty rewards program tied in with the MatchPass (MP) cards. For 2014, they are making some changes and improvements. I sat down with MP manager Megan West and Taylor Graham, the Director of Business Operations, to discuss the program.

The Club feels that overall, despite a somewhat bumpy start, the Match Pass program went fairly well last year. Fans may recall that there was a problem with the point accrual in the first game, but the Club added points to everyone's account and got things working within the first couple of weeks.

The Sounders take part in an informal program with a group of local businesses such as Starbucks, Nordstrom, and others that have customer loyalty programs. Their various managers get together quarterly and discuss best practices and ideas for the program. One major retailer told the Sounders that it took them at least a year to get their program's technical details running consistently smoothly.

"Overall, I think, the Club was able to introduce the elements of the program- which we think adds value- to our membership," said Graham. "The whole program revolves around providing value to our season-ticket members."

During the interview, both Graham and West reiterated this theme a number of times- that the main thrust for the program is to try to have a way for season ticket holders to receive added value for their loyalty.

They also want to increase the number of experiences as much as possible, because they know that for many fans the chance to be in the starting 11 photo or other high-value rewards is something that they would love to be able to do.

Graham explained that going into this year, they are trying to work three main areas for fan value: "Some people love experiences, some people don't. Some people don't care about a 'pre-match pint' price, some people do. Providing opportunities for people that love experiences, providing opportunities for people that want to save dollars, and providing opportunities for people that want ease of use and efficiency, we're trying to expand into those three realms as much as possible."

I asked Graham and West "Sometimes it seems that it's sold as a program where you show up and you're going to get points, but it winds up being a program where (the Club) wants you to spend money. Obviously you're a business and you want to make money, but how do you deal with that dichotomy between those two goals?"

Graham explained that they ran a lot of different models last year on how to earn points. The Club also had a number of conversations with the Alliance Council, discussing the question of "which fan is more loyal- the one who shows up, or the one who spends a lot of money?" (Author note: as the President of the Council, I can vouch for this fact- the Club did have these conversations with us on a number of occasions.)

The Club has gone ahead and intentionally tried to make participation as valuable as possible. 45% of the points earned last year were from attendance, with 13% of the extra bonus points for checking in to the stadium early.

All told, around 75% of the points that were earned in 2013 stemmed from non-spending-related activities.

For 2014, they are keeping nearly all of the point buildup methods the same, though there will be some new ones added; for example, those MP members attending away games will get codes to earn more points for that attendance. West said "at the end of the day, I like that- we want people to earn points for actually supporting the Club."

Graham mentioned that this feeling was reinforced by answers the Club got to a year-end survey they did on a random selection of season ticket holders. "We asked 'which of these fans is more loyal?' and listened to what people told us."

West also said that the Club has a new and improved platform for viewing and dealing with point totals online. They will be giving people a way to see what experiences or rewards have already been claimed, along with the point totals it took to earn those, so people will have more information to make better decisions about their points and how to spend them. (This was a suggestion I gave her at the December business meeting, while wearing my Council hat.)

She said that the old platform required a lot of hands-on activity; say they had 10 slots for a given experience, when it got down to 1 or 2 of those 10 left, she had to manually watch and then close the experience's sign-up when the last slot was taken. This year, the inventory is managed automatically, so when a reward item's slots are gone it won't allow more people to sign up for it.

This will actually help the fans, because in the past when West cleared a full reward off of the site, it disappeared completely- meaning people might have seen a tweet or mention of a reward, but when they later got to the MP site they couldn't find it.

Many of the rewards that only appeared in the last half of the season last year will now be seen regularly during the season. Point costs will start to lower and build throughout the year as the number of points out in members' hands build; this is as much a function of supply and demand as anything else.

"The price point has to evolve along with the number of points in the market," Graham explained. "One thing that happened last year was some of the rewards were posted with high point costs, and people didn't have enough points built up yet- so they didn't get picked up and we lost an opportunity to share some of those limited rewards, like the picture with the starting 11."

Graham also mentioned that one way to ensure that an experience is not wasted for lack of buyers is that during the earlier part of the season, they might use the auction portal more often. That way, the market will establish a "fair" price for the experience earlier in the year while people are building points, and then later in the season it'll switch to the standard point cost.

This season, one thing that the Club is doing to in an attempt to level the playing field a bit between account holders with several tickets (who rack up points much more quickly) and those with just one or two seats, is that not only will there still be a number of opportunities to buy rewards with accrued points, but almost continually there will be some kind of reward available that is a minimal or free point cost, but will be chosen by random drawing from all entries received. This way, everyone has a chance at winning a reward.

The Club will also be keeping the experience rewards listing closer to the actual time they'll happen. "In April, you're going to see all the experiences happening in April. You won't see the one listing for October, because it gets bought and then is gone for the entire year," Graham explained.

When it comes to how the Club knows how popular a reward will be, West explained that they use web analytics to tell which rewards are being viewed, in addition to sheer speed of selling out. "We can see what people are clicking and viewing," she said. "How quickly something goes doesn't always mean anything important, because that can be dependent on time of day or how well advertised via social media something was."

The Club has some new rewards that they are working on, beyond the stuff they did last year. It sounds as though they will likely have some rewards that tie in with some of their other corporate partners, such as discounts on goods and services that they offer. This way, members have a chance to not only get experience rewards, but a return of value.

Additionally, West said that the Club would love fans' suggestions on other experience rewards. "Obviously many things are things that we simply cannot do, but we're always looking for suggestions." She said that fans can go to the team web site and use the standard customer service portal to enter a suggestion, and it will be routed to her.

They do know that they can't match the demand for the really popular experiences. "There will always be a shortage of experiences," Graham said. "As our membership grows, and the amount of access we have to the team or on matchdays is limited, we will always have a shortage of these experiences."

"That is why the stored value component of the MatchPass program in 2014 is a massive, massive add for our members." Graham explained.

This is a pretty big change from 2013. In 2013, MP card holders could go online and load their MP cards with "stored value"- cash to be used at the concession stands. In 2014, fans are not able to do this, but instead the MP cards will accrue stored value based on customer spending.

For example, right now, all purchases made prior to 30 minutes before kickoff earn 20% cash back on those purchases- and that cash back will go to the MP card. So, say for example, a parent buys $100 worth of food and drinks at the concession stand; if they swipe their card, they'll get $20 back as stored value onto their MP card.

They can then use that stored value at any point for the rest of the year. The cash back is earned on all purchases, whether the customers use cash or their credit/debit cards at the stands.

This program replaces most of the prematch discounts that the Club ran last year. They heard from fans that there was occasionally confusion over what food items were discounted and which weren't, and by only discounting certain things it meant that people who preferred different food items weren't getting to take advantage of a discount.

"The 'Prematch Pint' will still exist, there's still a value for your $5 or $6 beer, but this is our way of providing that extended value and help you save dollars," explained West.

The Club sees this method- swiping the season ticket card- as the best way to ensure that season ticket holders are rewarded for their loyalty. "Doing this- stored value at the point of sale- helps us. We can't hand out a paper coupon, because those go everywhere, but this is how we can essentially offer this only to our season ticket holders since they have a MatchPass card," West said.

(People that had loaded their cards with stored value in the past were contacted by the Club and had that value dealt with.)

At the end of the year, the stored value will disappear. Fans will be able to move the stored value (via the MatchPass web site) to a single card/seat to keep things organized by their choice.

The Club saw a problem with people loading stored value onto their cards, and then forgetting to use it or even that they had it. By making it a strictly discount plan, and the discount going away at the end of the season, it makes bookkeeping easier for the Club but still provides value to the fans.

"This is a big value add for people who want to be part of the program, but maybe weren't enticed by the experiences," Graham said. "Essentially, it's a retroactive discount for future matches," he said- meaning that whatever you spent on a previous purchase earns that 20% stored value to use in the future.

The Club wants to find a way to provide this type of value to season-ticket holders, who are the backbone of the people attending games.

Graham said, "We're trying to take care of our own. The stored value- nobody else coming in gets these incentives. We want to increase the value of being a season ticket holder, an official member as opposed to buying a ticket on the secondary market, or buying a half-pack or a six-match pack. These are only available to full season-ticket members."

Graham went on to say that while points will be earned via all the methods already discussed, the Club would frequently be running random drawings that are based solely on participation. "Fans want to swipe their card every time they buy something, because we'll do a drawing for the 'Swiper of the Match' that gets a reward. It's strictly an entry-based draw, and every time your card is swiped, you get an entry."

The Club will also be doing a monthly drawing that is again based on simply swiping their card. "Some really high-value rewards will be handed out simply for swiping, not for accruing points by attending games or spending money,", Graham said.

West said it's an attempt to reach out to everyone. "Are we going to make everyone happy? Probably not, but we're going to try."

Graham said that research indicates that the average consumer is in 7 to 8 rewards programs, and it sounds as though the Club is determined to become one of those programs for many of their fans.

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