On a warm day in mid-May, a handful of Bears players lingered around the Walter Payton Center following a minicamp practice, awaiting their turn to pose in front of an enormous green screen. As a cameraman offered suggestions, the players found themselves searching for ways to entertain the lens. Adrian Amos danced, Pernell McPhee flexed his biceps, Kyle Long gave a fierce stare into the camera. Some pics were accepted right away, others had to be re-done until the look was just right.
Come late-July, thousands of Bears fans in Chicago and all across the country will see some of the results from that photo shoot. Ten of the pictures taken that day will be used on Bears gameday tickets in 2016, starting with the August 11 preseason tilt versus Denver and spanning to the regular season home finale on Christmas Eve against Washington.
For the team’s season ticket holders, the arrival of the ticket package and the images representing each game signify the start of a new year, the annual football journey that Bears fans await all summer. Yet for those Bears employees whose job it is to design, create and sell the season tickets, the mailings instead represent a finish line to all the work they’ve done. The process of creating season tickets, from determining a concept to overseeing photo shoots to printing and to mailing all of the packets, takes elaborate planning and plenty of time. With major changes and minor tweaks from year to year, several departments within the Bears organization must take meticulous steps to make the detailed season ticketing creation process as organized as possible.
Checking every box
Months before the players pose for pictures, the season ticket packets are mailed, or the team takes the field for the first time, the process for creating the season tickets begins. Last November, members of the Bears’ creative team met in Halas Hall to discuss how the 2015 tickets turned out and what changes were to be made for the upcoming year. Ideas were thrown around and suggestions were made. By January, a plan was solidified and presented to Chairman George McCaskey, who signs off on the designs and gives his input regarding the branding for the year ahead.
“We always like to incorporate our colors somehow, and we change how we do that,” John Conroy, the Bears’ Director of Creative Services, said recently. “I think these days the more we can make the tickets look more dynamic. Obviously it’s print but we want that feeling of depth and motion; the more we can add to it to make it seem less two dimensional, that’s what we go for here. You look at social media and what’s on our video boards during the game, everything has movement. We try to mirror that for an overall look.”
Working in conjunction with the Creative Services team is the organization’s Ticket Operations and Ticket Sales and Service departments. In mid-February, the Bears go about contacting their existing season ticket holders about renewing their seats. The results of that process will determine how many new seats will be available for members of the team’s Season Ticket Priority List. Approximately 90 percent of Soldier Field’s capacity is sold every year to ticket holders, and year after year, the majority of the fans remain the same. Director of Ticket Operations Brian Forth said that the club has seen an annual renewal rate in the upper 90th percentile, as fans remain excited about seeing the Bears in action come football season. Additionally, the organization has season ticket holders residing in all 50 states, a true showing that you can take the Bears fans out of Chicago, but you can’t take Chicago out of the Bears fans.
“From the ticketing perspective, our printer will base their timeline for production based on when we’re going to have our sales taken care of,” Forth said.” So we go out every year with our season ticket renewals in early-February. And we give them an eight-week window to make their payments.”
The team reserves a small amount of tickets not sold to season ticket holders for the general public, a longstanding tradition for the franchise. “We carve out an allotment of tickets; we have always said we wanted to do a public onsale so that the public at large has an opportunity to buy tickets through Ticketmaster,” Forth said. “But that’s a fairly small percentage, because the majority of the building is comprised of season tickets.”
After sending out invoices in February, payments are collected by April. The NFL’s release of the full regular season schedule in April is a major landmark, as it allows the team to know the dates and times when the Bears will be at home during the fall, as well as the opponent for each game. Forth said that upon the schedule’s unveiling, the first thing he does is check for what the fans will view as the big games such as when the game at Soldier Field versus Green Bay is, to forecast potential demand for tickets. In May comes veteran minicamp, when the entire roster of players is together for the first time. Ideally, Conroy and the design team would love the photo shoot to happen sooner, but with the timing of free agency and the fact that players come and go from the team facility more often in the offseason, the camp period is picked as the best time when every necessary individual will be in the same place at the same time.
Once the pictures have been taken, Conroy can drop in the player photos to the corresponding ticket, add in the effects the creative services teams has settled on and cross-check everything to ensure consistency.
By June, when season ticket accounts are finalized, the kickoff times and dates are unveiled, and the photos have been snapped, the Bears begin sending ticket information to their printer. That gives everyone involved ample time to confirm everything is correct and ready for the season to come. The printer inputs all the ticket information, including sections and seat numbers, onto the custom design the team has created. Once fans receive their collection of tickets in the mail, every inch of all 10 tickets in the package has been closely inspected and checked numerous times to ensure everything is accurate.
The finished product
The 2016 version of the season tickets saw some minor changes compared to years prior. Both in the business and design aspects of the product, the Bears found ways to improve the overall product.
The ticketing department instituted a variable pricing element to the cost of the tickets, reducing the cost of the two preseason contests. By pricing those games more appropriately, the team is aiming to better align the value of the ticket with fan expectations. The Bears studied various pricing models before choosing one that would determine a fair value for the preseason and regular season games for season ticket holders.
Meanwhile the look of the tickets also was changed. The Bears did a major redesign from 2014 to 2015; this year was just a smaller tweak to improve upon last year’s product. Conroy said that overwhelmingly the feedback on last year’s version was positive, but there was still room for improvement. The team mails the tickets out in mid-July, except some which are hand-delivered to select fans by Staley the Bear and a former player, as a show of thanks from the organization to a longtime season-ticket holder.
When fans see this year’s tickets, they will notice the look is a bit bolder and a little more dynamic. Individual players and images are highlighted instead of a collage of different photos.
“It really is about trying to find the look that’s best for everybody,” Conroy said. “Not just our department, but what our broadcast team is doing, what looks good in marketing, what stands out on social media. We want the look to work well across all channels.”
Eli Kaberon is a web writer for ChicagoBears.com. He has previously written for Pro Football Weekly, Stats LLC and the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2014, Kaberon won the Chicago Headline Club’s Peter Lisagor Award for Best Sports Story in a Daily Newspaper. You can follow Eli on Twitter @EKaberon.