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					       Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Pistons, Detroit Tigers and Fans Say:
                                          No Ticket Tax!
Background
Michigan’s budget faced a $1.5 billion deficit for Fiscal Year 2008, which began Oct. 1, 2007. In February 2007, Gov.
Jennifer Granholm announced her intention to balance the budget with a combination of spending cuts, government
reforms and tax increases. Many schemes to raise taxes were proposed, including a new 6-percent state sales tax on
tickets to sporting events, concerts, movies, plays and similar activities. By spring, powerful legislators on both sides of
the aisle (including the chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee) had announced support for
the ―ticket tax.‖ If approved, the tax would increase tickets prices by more than $100 million a year for sports fans and
patrons of movies, concerts and plays. Michigan is home to three of the nation’s most successful professional sports
franchises — the Detroit Pistons basketball, the Detroit Red Wings hockey, and the Detroit Tigers baseball clubs.
Michigan also has thriving theater districts in Detroit, Grand Rapids and other communities. Minor league baseball
and/or hockey are played in Lansing, Grand Rapids, Midland, Flint, Kalamazoo, Traverse City, Saginaw, Port Huron
and elsewhere. The Pistons are owned by Palace Sports & Entertainment, which also owns the Detroit Shock WNBA
team, DTE Music Theater, and the Palace of Auburn Hills. The Tigers and Red Wings are owned by Ilitch Holdings,
Inc., which also owns major concert and theater venues. Both companies retain public relations firms that specialize in
political issue management. Palace Sports has Martin Waymire Advocacy Communications (MWAC), while Ilitch
retains Marketing Resource Group (MRG). As political support for the ticket tax increased in the Legislature, MRG and
MWAC joined forces to kill the new tax on family fun. It marked the first time Michigan’s three most popular
professional sports franchises had come together on a common advocacy agenda.

Research & Planning
Goal: Our goal was simple — kill the ticket tax.
Objectives:
     Complete research (determine if other states — especially border states — had ticket taxes; calculate how
        much the 6-percent tax would cost patrons/fans of all affected events in Michigan; identify key radio news-talk
        and sports-talk stations that were opposed; identify legislators who live in districts that are home to the Palace
        of Auburn Hills, Joe Louis Arena, Comerica Park, Ford Field, the minor league baseball and hockey teams,
        etc.)
     Craft messages and talking points.
     Form a coalition of sports teams, theaters, concert halls, and fans opposed to the ticket tax. Have coalition
        members reach out to their fans, season ticket holders and other patrons.
     Meet regularly with coalition lobbyists to identify legislators who were with us and against us to determine
        where public relations tactics might need to be launched.
     Create logo and Web site to educate audiences about the ticket tax and to drive and track advocacy/direct
        contacts to legislators.
     This was the most critical objective: Plan and launch earned media tactics, special events and creative tactics
        to drive as many ―fans‖ as possible to the Web site and to contact their legislators. The fan base for the Wings,
        Tigers and Pistons alone is massive. Nearly every home game sells out, which means roughly 5 million tickets
        are purchased by fans who occupy seats in The Palace, The Joe and Comerica Park. Fans follow these teams
        passionately. We needed to educate and activate as many of them as possible into vocal opponents of the ticket
        tax. We broadened our fan base to include females by alerting them to the theater and music concert tax.
     Place paid ads if necessary.

Strategy: Michigan has a term-limited Legislature. House members can serve no longer than six years and Senate
members eight years. Large groups of new legislators are seated virtually every two years. Institutional knowledge is
scant. In this environment, incumbents are reluctant to cast even slightly controversial votes. Our strategy was to
generate as many contacts as possible from real fans to their legislators through loud and aggressive tactics that position
this as a $100 million tax increase on working class families trying to have fun.

Budget: Our initial budget was $137,700 (excluding MRG and MWAC fees). Tactics contemplated and/or executed
included flyers to distribute at games, plays, concerts and theaters; Web site; logo; t-shirts; one wave of targeted radio


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and newspaper ads (if needed); robo calls; a mobile billboard to position and drive outside the Capitol. The clients
understood that the budget could increase if a broad and aggressive paid ad campaign became necessary.

Execution
Research. We found that Michigan would become the first state in the region with a sales tax on these types of
entertainment and athletic events. We calculated that fans and patrons would end up paying $100 million more a year if
it passed. We identified morning and afternoon drive time hosts on the radio stations that broadcast the Pistons and
Tigers games as strong opponents of the ticket tax. We identified the various sports fan blogs in Michigan.
Messages and Talking Points. Our key message became ―If you are going to tax our pay, don’t tax our play.‖ We
choose this message because the Governor and Legislature were also strongly considering raising the state income tax
rate to balance the budget.
Form Coalition. We formed FATT – Fans Against the Ticket Tax. We also created the FATT Army, folks we would
enlist to call into radio talks shows, participate in special events/protests, and to contact legislators with emails, calls and
letters. We expanded the coalition by bringing in the minor league baseball teams, The Neederlander Group (operates
theaters), Ticket Master, VanAndel Arena, Common Ground Music Festival and others.
Regular Meetings. The PR firms and lobbyists met whenever necessary, often every week, to determine how the
strategy and tactics were affecting individual legislators and legislative leadership.
Logo/Web site. We created a FATT logo and Web site – NoTicketTax.com.
Earned Media/Special Events/Creative Tactics.
      We wrote and designed HTML and text-only email Action Alerts to send to all Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons
          season ticket holders. Similar emails were sent to anyone who ever purchased tickets online to concerts at The
          Palace and DTE Music Theater. The emails sent multiple times enabled fans to click through to the
          NoTicketTax Web site, where they could easily contact their legislators and sign up to join the FATT Army.
          These emails (and other tactics, see below) generated more than 57,293 contacts to our 148 state legislators.
          They also helped us recruit 5,235 members of the FATT Army.
      We wrote and designed banner/tile ads that the Tigers, Red Wings, Pistons minor league baseball, hockey and
          entertainment venues posted on their Web sites. Visitors clicked-through to the NoTicketTax Web site.
      We printed and distributed FATT No Ticket Tax flyers after Tigers home games, at minor league baseball
          stadiums, VanAndell Arena, the Fox Theater, Joe Louis Arena, Ford Field and at DTE Music Theater. (The
          Pistons and Red Wings seasons had ended.)
      The Tigers public address announcer would issue statements before home games, driving fans to the Web site.
          The Tigers also posted NoTicketTax.com messages on the outfield scoreboard. Radio announcers read scripts
          between innings of games.
      We monitored and participated in many sports blogs, generating discussion about the ticket tax.
      We partnered with the state’s largest sports talk radio network, The Huge Show, and the network’s main on-air
          talent/host, Bill Simonson. We made September ―No Ticket Tax Month‖ on the network, which ran PSAs,
          Web casts and other content multiple times every day for an entire month.
      As the Legislature moved toward a final decision on the ticket tax, we reserved the state Capitol lawn for a live
          ―No Ticket Tax Day‖ remote broadcast of The Huge Network. We announced the event for a couple of weeks
          on stations across the network. We gave away FATT t-shirts, tickets to Red Wings, Tigers and Pistons games,
          jerseys, balls, pucks and other items to attract fans to the remote. We also distributed flyers in state office
          buildings throughout downtown Lansing. Hundreds of fans attended. Lawmakers were interviewed on the air,
          with all but ONE announcing their intention to oppose the ticket tax.
      We launched targeted robocalls in key legislative districts.

Evaluation
We achieved our goal and completed all objectives under budget (we ended up spending about $23,700 excluding
agency fees). The earned media, special events and creative tactics were so successful, paid ads were never used.
Despite strong initial support from many state legislators (including the chairman of the House Appropriations
Committee), efforts to impose a new 6-percent tax on sports and entertainment tickets in Michigan were scrapped in
favor of other taxes. Afterward, the committee chair conceded to the news media the ―No Ticket Tax‖ public relations
campaign was instrumental in killing the proposed tax. As Crain’s Detroit Business editorialized: ―It was a strong
defense. Sports team owners…joined forces to create the one-two knock-out punch to kill any thought of a ticket tax.‖




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posted:3/9/2009
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