For some sellers, it’s buyer’s remorse. For others, a move out of town or a death in the family. Or a simple loss of interest or affection for the hometown team.
The sellers own so-called personal seat licenses, which entitle the holders to the right to buy season tickets for a certain seat in a stadium. The licenses can cost thousands of dollars just for the privilege of spending thousands more to purchase season tickets to professional sporting events.
The National Football League’s Carolina Panthers, in 1995, were the first pro club to sell personal seat licenses, which helped the expansion team finance the building of its stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
Owners and would-be owners of personal seat licenses meet through a link on their team’s website that takes them to the only company of its kind anywhere — STR Marketplace LLC, an internet firm founded by Kyle Burks, a 2005 graduate of Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s in finance.
After a brief stint at the accounting firm Deloitte’s Houston office, where he specialized in derivatives, Burks quit to form his own company, originally known as seasonticketrights.com, in March 2006.
“I was an entrepreneur, not a techie,” Burks said. “I just happened to be good with numbers.”
Seasonticketrights.com’s successor, STR Marketplace, is based in Houston, a half-hour drive from Kemah, where Burks lives with his wife, Steffi, and their three children, and sits on the city council.
“The company is growing very steadily,” Burks said as he punched a few numbers into a calculator. “We’ve had a combined 270 percent gross revenue growth in the past five years. Since we started, we’ve completed 28,000 transactions worth nearly a quarter-billion dollars.”
Burks’ founding of the company — he was 22 at the time — was the result of serendipity.
“My dad in 2005 wanted to buy four season tickets to the Houston Texans on the lower level between the 30-yard lines,” Burks recounted. “He was told you need to go find a personal seat license owner.
“My dad called me and asked if there was a website he could go to find a person looking to sell. I found out there wasn’t.
“The closest I came across was a person on Craig’s List, which seemed kind of sketchy. We bought a $200 classified ad and found someone who would sell four PSLs between the 30-yard lines for a total of $18,000.
“The guy said, ‘Meet me at the Galleria Mall parking lot with a cashier’s check for the $18,000.’ We went, hoping for the best. I can tell you we were sitting on pins and needles for weeks until the deal went through.”
The unsettling process gave Burks an inspiration.
“I thought, ‘there’s something missing here,’” he said. “You need someone to confirm the transactions, something like a title company for real estate deals. The way our transactions are set up, it’s a blind offer, the same way as when you’re bidding on a house.
Burks initially set up the site independent of the teams whose fans were looking to sell their PSLs, charging a 5 percent fee to the buyer and a 5 percent fee to the seller, but quickly realized that partnering with individual clubs would simplify the process. STR currently has contracts with 15 National Football League teams and two Major League Baseball clubs and also handles the secondary seat licensing market for the Kentucky Derby and two NASCAR tracks, including the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
The company also handles, as a third-party marketplace, personal seat license sales for the NFL’s New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns and the National Hockey League’s Toronto Maple Leafs.
Several teams had recognized the value of such a marketplace, but found setting up their own sites costly and cumbersome.
“His site was almost identical to what we had developed,” said Baker Koppelman, the senior vice president of ticket sales and operations for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, the league’s first team to sign on with STR Marketplace. “We developed a program on our own but the costs were prohibitive, and the process was burdensome and time-consuming.
“I first became aware of the company when Kyle started listing PSLs on his own. Where he got smart was reaching out to the teams. He really hit a new and great niche. It was perfect timing.”
STR Marketplace today charges buyers and sellers alike a 10 percent fee, which the company shares with teams through individual negotiations.
On average, 2 percent of personal seat licenses change hands each year: “If there are 50,000 seats, that’s 1,000 seats a year for one stadium alone. It’s a win-win for buyers and sellers.”
And for the teams themselves.
“It’s found money,” Koppelman said. “And it’s a huge amount of work that he has taken off our hands. We were quick to implement it when we realized his company was legitimate. Now, they’re the experts in the field.”
The first professional team to work with STR Marketplace was the San Francisco Giants baseball club.
“I sent a letter to all teams with PSLs in 2006,” Burks said. “We signed our deal with the Giants and launched the website in December ’06.”
The Giants, like the Ravens, had looked into establishing their own secondary marketplace for PSLs. They, too, were dissuaded.
“The vendor who was going to create our site said it was too complicated,” Russ Stanley, the Giants’ vice president for ticket sales, said. “Kyle’s company was like a StubHub” — a sports ticket-sales website — “for seat licenses.
“His site is safe and secure and it presents what comparable licenses have sold for so that buyers and sellers can make intelligent decisions.
“It’s been a good partnership.”