In an attempt to boost sales of season tickets, the Dolphins are offering fans a chance to join the club.
The new membership program, offering an array of year-round events and perks to those who purchase the 10-game ticket package, was detailed in a packet mailed last week to promote renewals for 2014.
"It is like a country club or like a church or high-end gym membership," said Jeremy Walls, Dolphins chief revenue officer. "Twelve months of the year you're going to get invited to things so that you're part of the team all year instead of just during football season."
Those who buy in have the option of selecting four categories (Finatic, Family, Social and Business Alliance) depending on their interests. The attractiveness of the perks increases with the seat value, progressing from the 400 level to 100 level to suite and club level.
While those in the 400 level package will get discounts for restaurants and other local businesses along with free participation in activities such as on-field movie night and a food truck and photo booth party at Sun Life Stadium, there will be a kickoff yacht party and a Dolphins Day at SeaWorld in Orlando for those in the suite/club level package.
Social members will have the opportunity to stage their fantasy football draft in a stadium suite with food and beer provided and Dolphins alumni available to lend advice on draft picks.
"The key here is we didn't just make a name change and throw in a bobblehead and call it membership. We've committed to making these good events so people will see the value in their membership 12 months a year," Walls said. "Most of these events are in the offseason. Most include player or alumni involvement and many of them include food and beverage."
The program is the first major initiative under Dolphins President and CEO Tom Garfinkel. When owner Steve Ross introduced Garfinkel as successor to Mike Dee prior to last season, the mandate was clear: "Putting people in the seats," Ross said.
The Dolphins had the largest increase in paid attendance in the NFL in 2013, a 12-percent bump to 64,319 following several years of decline. Walls said the increase was largely driven by group sales targeting schools, nonprofit organizations, youth sports and churches.
Nonetheless, they averaged 85.5 percent of seating capacity, the lowest in the AFC and better than only the Redskins' 84.2 percent league-wide.
Another change for next season, separate from the membership program, the Dolphins will join several teams in offering variable pricing for individual-game tickets. Prices, reflecting demand for each game, will be announced when the schedule is set.
The Dolphins are raising ticket prices for 18 percent of seats at Sun Life and lowering prices for 26 percent, Walls said. The remainder will remain the same as in 2013.
Maintaining attendance has been a concern in many cities with shrinking crowds and rising television ratings reflecting a preference of many fans to watch on their big-screen TVs and avoid the rising cost of attending games. League-wide attendance ended a four-year decline in 2012 and was up 1.2 percent this past season.
But it is no longer enough to simply offer discounts on season-tickets from the individual-game price, especially in a hard-sell market like South Florida compounded by a decade of poor performance on the field.
Despite the Dolphins' late-season collapse and embarrassment of the Martin/Incognito bullying incident, Walls said season-ticket sales for 2014 are showing promise.
"The day after the tough [season-ending] loss we took in 43 new membership deposits. You could argue that could be the toughest day for us to get new members on board," Walls said, adding. "What our team on the business side can control is our fans' experience. We're already ahead of last year's pace as it relates to new membership."
The Dolphins have tripled their customer service staff to provide more personal contact with season-seat holders, Walls said. The benefits included in the membership program were based on surveys with their fans.
Among the highlights, those in the Finatic category will have a chance to attend an away game with tickets and tailgate party provided by the Dolphins.
Like the SeaWorld trip, "They don't have to pay for it, they just have to get there," Walls said.
It is sound strategy considering TicketCity.com, a Texas-based ticket broker, last year ranked the Dolphins as the fourth-least engaged NFL team with their fan base.
"We put the things in that they wanted based on their lifestyle. We didn't just put in what we thought would be fun," Walls said of the membership benefits "Other teams have done programs similar to this. We wanted this program to be customized to NFL football and the Miami Dolphins and this market."