How the Washington Wizards Achieved a 293% ROI on a Google AdWords Campaign

How does an NBA team recover ticket sales after a 29-53 record the season before? First, they surprise fans by changing the record the next season. And second, they use Google AdWords to encourage fans to fill the seats.

That was the recipe for success for the Washington Wizards. Although I don’t follow the team’s successes on the court and online, hearing their story off the court intrigued me.

You might not be an NBA franchise holder but there are lessons to be learned from their story. What the team did to recover from their losing seasons will show you how and why Google AdWords remains a tremendous driver of sales.

The Setup

In the 2012 – 2013 season, the team struggled winning only 29 of their games. The season before, the record was even worse with only 20 wins to add to their roster. And the season before that, they’d only won 23 games. It was a trend the franchise knew needed to change, but how?

For the 2013 – 2014 season, the players were determined to make some surprising wins. The owners, on the other hand, were determined to make some sales.

Both were lofty goals given their poor past records, but the team surprised fans and the owners surprised themselves. Their ending record in the 2013 – 2014 season was an impressive 44-38 and online ticket sales jumped up 72%.

It wasn’t all on-court wins that drove fans to the stands. The owners savvy strategy on Google AdWords played a big role in filling the seats.

The Google AdWords Approach

The owners knew they needed to increase ticket sales. If they got fans to start coming to the games, chances are merchandise sales would increase too. It was all about engaging their mid-Atlantic audience.

Google AdWords wasn’t a strategy used by the team historically. In the past, marketing consisted of print, the team’s website, social media, local news and radio advertising.

The new outlet opened up potential to attract new fans. The existing fan base would already start pouring into the arena to cheer on their Wizards as they won. The owners, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, wanted to reach an untapped market to further boost excitement for the team and spur ticket sales even further.

The strategy worked. Their overall return on ad spending was 293% for the 2013 – 2014 season with 72% of their ticket sales coming from new fans via Google AdWords.

See why I was so intrigued when I read this case study?

Few businesses realize this same success with their PPC campaigns. Let’s dig into the specific successful strategies used by the Wizards.

1. They Used Ad Extensions

The team decided to allocate 25% of their marketing budget to Google AdWords. Still, they knew they couldn’t compete on popular keywords with the large ticket brokers.

Instead, the team used ad extensions.

Google AdWords Ad Extensions

Google’s ad extensions are a unique ad format that shows additional information about what you’re selling. In the above example, the ad extension shows the upcoming games. Searchers can click on these to go directly to the sales for that specific game, making them more likely to buy.

Because they’re more robust, they usually show above the search results instead of in the sidebar.

The Wizards used ad extensions to display specific games to searchers. When someone searched for the general schedule, they were met with a variety of upcoming game times and ticket buying opportunities. This offered a subtle call-to-action for the searcher. Instead of sifting through a schedule, they could instantly see which games were happening in the near future and get their tickets right away.

2. They Choose the Right Pricing Strategy

By using Google’s ad extensions, the Wizards were able to understand how ticket buyers interacted with ticket sales online. This gave them a new opportunity to revise their pricing strategy to maximize sales from AdWords campaigns.

Instead of bidding aggressively on low engagement keywords, they focused their spending on high engagement ads.

Low engagement keywords are the ones that don’t yield strong results. People don’t click on them, which makes them less valuable to a business, or NBA team in this case.

Instead of focusing on keywords that weren’t going to get their target audience to click, the team offered better pricing for the keywords that sparked higher engagement. They chose keywords which brought in ticket buyers instead of uninterested searchers. The conversions paid off.

Each ticket sold through the AdWords campaign was an average of 20% higher than other online ticket sales. The average total amount spent by the audience coming through AdWords campaigns as opposed to other online transactions was 16% higher.

3. They Focused on Giving the Audience a Better Experience

The team truly wanted their fans to have a better experience with their brand.

In the past, some fans had purchased tickets through an irreputable website. When they got to the arena, they couldn’t be let in because their counterfeit ticket wouldn’t scan. Although this wasn’t the fault of the Wizards, it reflected poorly on the franchise.

By using ad extensions and working with the high end ticket sellers, the Wizards were able to improve their fan’s experience with their overall franchise. This made it easier to earn repeat business and get new people in their arena.

4. Timing Matters

The average return on ad spending was 277% from November to February. As the team heated up on the court, ticket sales from Google AdWords campaigns jumped to 400%.

After seeing the tremendous success of Google AdWords from the 2013 – 2014 season, the decision to continue using this strategy in the following season was a no-brainer.

Armed with the insights from the past season, the owners decided to adjust their timing slightly to maximize their reach. Instead of waiting for the first tip off to occur, Monumental Sports & Entertainment launched their campaigns early. After all, there were bound to be new searchers wanting to attend games after the team had a winning season for the first time in five years.

So they started early. By doing this, they were able to harness the buying habits of Wizards fans and get in front of new fans earlier. Google AdWords campaigns continued and the team was better able to capitalize on the forward momentum from the court to the Internet.

What Can You Learn From the Washington Wizards?

No matter what your record was in the past, every New Year offers potential. Adjusting your marketing spending to tap into unexplored markets could help you attract new a larger fan base and grow your own sales.

We’ve had tremendous success working with businesses on building profitable PPC campaigns. Contact us for a free business consultation to see if this is a smart strategy for your company.

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