The 2014 return of LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ and the team’s position at the top of the draft created significant opportunities for it, and in turn, Dionna Widder, Vice President of the Cavs Ticket Sales and Service department, who joined the organization just as The King returned.
“The key was being prepared for greatness,” says Widder. “And we were ready.”
The 2013-2014 season saw the launch of the Wine and Gold United membership platform. In 2014-2015, she and the organization took it to the next level, dropping season tickets and opting instead to sell year-round memberships that offered members a mix of event access and game experiences throughout the calendar year.
“Membership rolls from one year to next, with no break in the experience,” she says.
The department also created a best-in-class inventory strategy.
“We pre-classify inventory year to year for each of our 41 price levels. That creates an optimal mix based on yield, risk and member tenure. We’re carving our inventory up so as many people as possible can be part of the experiences offered at Quicken Loans Area,” Widder says.
Surprise and delight
But arguably the biggest impact for fans has been the organization’s emphasis on personalization.
“Anytime we don’t generalize, the experience is more engaging. So we’ve personalized our fan interactions by using that data we collect on each individual.”
For instance, she says a fan’s purchase of a medium-sized Kyrie Irving jersey provides the Membership Development Specialists the opportunity to surprise that fan on his or her birthday with the right-sized t-shirt of his or her favorite player.
“We’ve gotten more sophisticated in creating personalized touch points,” Widder says. “Fans are our stakeholders and we want to engage and connect with them on a personal level.”
Sought-after prospects, like James, don’t just play on the court for the Cavs. Widder had a lot of options coming out of Central Michigan. After attending an NBA career fair in Chicago as she was wrapping up her senior year of college, six teams offered her a job.
“At that moment I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment,” she says. “All my hard work and sacrifices were finally validated.”
Raised by her single mother after her father left, Widder had a moment of clarity after sitting next to the scorer’s table at a Pistons game when she was 12 years old.
“That moment changed my life,” she says. “That’s when I knew I wanted to work in sports. And if I wanted to do that then I had to get to work.”
She says she worked for 10 years to become someone who could be a difference maker for an organization. She was a first-generation college student who earned a scholarship, put her head down and went to work.
“The job offers made it all worth it,” she says. “That sense of accomplishment has never left — I feel the same today as I did then. Dedication does pay off.”
Since graduating, Widder has worked in ticket sales for the Detroit Lions, the Indiana Pacers and spent time working for the NBA before joining the Cavs front office. One thing that stands out about the Cavs compared to other organizations is the culture. “There’s something unique and special about the Cavs’ culture that trickles down from Owner Dan Gilbert and CEO Len Komoroski,” she says. “There’s a focus on who we are instead of what we do. It’s allowed the team to create an identity that’s unique.”