The Sparks introduce “Fantourage”

Last night the LA Sparks introduced their new promotional “Fantourage” program to a group of about 25 hardcore fans at a downtown restaurant. Of course, I was there.

Fantourage is a marketing program that puts fans to work helping to find new season ticket holders for the coming season. It was piloted by the Atlanta Dream, according to Sparks Account Executive Erica Pacheco. The goal of the new franchise was to sell 300 season ticket packages; they sold 364. The Dream office wasn’t answering their phone this morning for comment.

Besides the Sparks this year, the New York, Minnesota and Washington D.C. franchises are also launching Fantourage-type programs, Pacheco said. But Sparks staffers want their effort to top them all.

“We want to compete with them,” Pacheco told fans last night.

Fans arriving last night walked into the patio/event area were greeted by the entire Sparks sales staff – and a boa-clad Coach Michael Cooper – taking their pictures, as if fans were the stars and the Sparks staffers, the paparazzi. Fans received an information packet, and the mingling began.

I introduced myself to the new Sparks president, Kristin Bernert. I heard about her hiring last week and was intrigued, because the Sparks haven’t had a president before. I asked Bernert what the difference between her and General Manager Penny Toler would be, and Bernert said Toler would handle basketball operations while she focused more on the business side of the Sparks.

I really liked Bernert. Besides being friendly, she seemed like a straight shooter. I asked her if she was from New York, and sure enough, she was. From 2005 to the present, she had been vice president of team business development for the WNBA, and before that, she was VP of business operations for the Detroit Shock. Fans gently gave her a bad time about that job.

A few minutes after our conversation, the introductions began. Co-owner Kathy Goodman was her usual wisecracking self, commenting that this was “the first day that it had gotten below 140 degrees in Los Angeles.”

Bernert made a strong impression, asking fans why they were Sparks fans. Five people spoke. They mentioned the friendships they’d made with the people in their section, the “love affair” they had with the players, the coaches and the staff, and how much fun they had going to games. I spoke up and mentioned that fans appreciate the opportunities they have to interact with the players and “watch” them in action, i.e. at SEC Night, Trader Joe’s, and other places.

Cooper took his turn at the mike, still wearing the red boa. Among other things, he told fans that they had a love affair with them back. We also found out before the night was over that Cooper loves to bang the office gong when a sale is made.

I must say, I love Cooper as a person. He’s sweet, friendly, and incredibly silly. He’s always messing with fans in a good-natured and funny way. I asked the staff if he’s always like that, and they smiled and nodded.

Cooper and I have been on a first-name basis since the Sparks camp in August, when he asked my opinions. Last night he gave me a hug and told my daughter from another mother, who came with me, that I was his assistant coach but just didn’t know it yet. I told him he looked fly in the boa.

Sparks forward Jessica Moore was also on hand, and thanked fans for coming. She also stuck around a little bit afterwards to talk.

After all the account representatives were introduced, Pacheco walked us through our instruction packet. It outlined how we should represent the Sparks, what to tell prospective ticket buyers and how to host sign-up parties. We also learned about the perks we could get, and they’re really an incentive, to say the least.

I’m not sure how many season ticket packages I can sell (I’ve already sold one), but I’m going to try. There’s nothing to lose here, and everything to gain in this win-win for the Sparks and us hardcore fans. After all, word of mouth has been one of the best selling methods for decades. I want to beat the fans of other WNBA teams in this effort.

As a postscript, both Goodman and Cooper took the blame for the second-game semifinals loss against San Antonio. Each said they had already projected past that 1.3 seconds and a few minutes into the future, as if the Sparks had already won.

“I’m going to live in the moment now,” Goodman said, and Cooper echoed the statement a few minutes later.