Framed Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat jerseys on the wall at Spotlight TMS in Calabasas
Tickets to sporting events are a tool for companies to develop new business.
Nice seats on the 50 yard line – or in a luxury sky-box – offer a chance to romance a potential client or customer when they’re having fun.
Corporate tickets are big business: $16 billion a year, by some estimates. Spotlight Ticket Management Services opened up shop five years ago in Calabasas to help companies manage their tickets.
On the walls of Spotlight's offices are jerseys of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and other pro sports teams. The jerseys represent accomplishments for the company.
“We have all of the team partners, with the year that they signed with us,” said Spotlight CEO Tony Knopp.
But wall space for more jerseys is limited. The company now has partnerships with more than 50 teams and venues, and more than 1,000 companies now use Spotlight's ticket management software.
At age 33, Tony Knopp is already a veteran of the Los Angeles sports scene. Straight out of college at USC - where he played volleyball - he worked for News Corporation, selling Los Angeles Dodgers season ticket packages.
At the time of the last pro hockey lockout in 2004, Knopp was working for Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), selling corporate tickets and sponsorships to the L.A. Kings.
“This is a much different lockout than it was in 2004," Knopp remembered. "Unemployment then was 5 percent, and back then, it was dropping down to the mid-4s the next year. February rolled around, and they cancelled the season. I got a call from a start-up in San Francisco called StubHub."
He left AEG and the lockout-idled L.A. Kings for StubHub.
Knopp's job was to convince corporations to use StubHub to buy all their sports tickets. As he made his rounds to corporate executives he said they had the same response: Great idea, but the company already owns millions of dollars in sports tickets.
That was when the light bulb went on in Knopp’s head. Five-years ago, he turned it into Spotlight. Knopp said his software allows a company to see if its tickets are leading to more business – or being used at all.
“If that means you have 20 games for the Lakers, and you use all of them and you need to go out and buy 14 more, then maybe I should just buy 14 more games at the beginning of the year from the Lakers," Knopp explained. "And maybe I own a bunch of tickets for the Springfield Isotopes (a fictional team from the "The Simpsons" TV comedy) but we don’t use any of them. Maybe we should drop those and put them into the Lakers.”
The focus on corporate tickets means Spotlight is not competing with the better-known ticketing services based in the L.A. area such as Ticketmaster.
Another service, Costa Mesa-based Tickets.com has even used Spotlight to manage its own company tickets.
Tami Fox, senior sales analyst for Tickets.com, said she used to manage her company's tickets in stadiums across the country with a spreadsheet.
“It was extremely cumbersome and a big time-suck quite frankly," said Fox.
Fox said the Spotlight system has saved a lot of time for her – and her sales reps across the country - who are always booking company tickets for prospective clients.
“They need that flexibility to do it on the fly, from their cell phone," said Fox.
Tony Knopp started Spotlight with a handful of employees right before the recession. When businesses began to cut jobs, perks like luxury suites at sports events, were expendable.
Spotlight’s Matt Huff is in charge of helping new customers run the ticketing software. As one of the first people hired, he worked without a salary for a few months.
“When we started, we did not have that many customers," Huff said. "But we were able to create and sustain that momentum so that eventually, it was not us selling the product, it was our customers selling the product based on the experience that they had with us.”
Spotlight now employs more than 30 people. Scores of major companies like Google, NBC, Wells Fargo and Nike use its software. Spotlight also helps businesses with transparency, and compliance with tax and financial laws.
Spotlight Founder Tony Knopp said some companies continue to consider reducing their use of tickets and luxury suites as a tool for generating new business, and his firm helps them answer that question.
"Sometimes it’s not that simple," said Knopp. "Though it seems easy to point your finger at the fat cat, and the boondoggle, most of the companies we have doing this have really dramatic return numbers on their tickets. It’s really impressive.”
It also serves the success of Knopp’s company if it can continue to spotlight the benefits of using tickets to woo customers.