Five years ago, the Grand Rapids Griffins — an AHL franchise — partnered with Flagstar Bank, based in Jackson, to offer season-ticket holders a one-of-a-kind loan program that allows them to finance season tickets interest-free for 90 days.
And the program is still running.
For the Griffins, the program has a built-in advantage.
It gives the franchise a clearer idea of how many season tickets the club will sell for an upcoming year. That’s because the loan application deadline arrives about three months before the puck drops on a new season.
This year that deadline was July 11, when the clock on the 90-days-same-as-cash program started ticking.
“We need to have renewals in by a certain timeframe just to know who is back for next year and who is not, so we know what seats are available to sell,” said Tim Gortsema, vice president of finance and administration for the Griffins.
But Gortsema says he knows not every would-be season ticket holder can afford to plunk down enough cash on the spot to buy, say, four seats to each of the club’s 40 home games.
So, the Griffins met with Flagstar in 1999 to create this unique loan opportunity for its customers.
The program lets season-ticket holders order tickets. But instead of sending a check or credit card number with their orders, they can include a short loan application.
The Griffins process the orders and Flagstar does the same with the loans. The program this year gives them until Oct. 13 to pay for their tickets, three months beyond the cash deadline.
If they pay for their tickets by the October date, the Griffins pick-up the 90-days interest charge at no cost to their season-ticket buyers.
If they don’t pay the balance by then, Flagstar sends the ticket purchasers a coupon book and they begin making monthly payments for a year at an annual percentage rate of 10.99 percent.
“Assuming they’re approved, they’ve got 90 days same as cash,” said Gortsema.
The program also has a 15-day grace period with a late payment charge of $5 added on the 16th day.
The cost for Griffins season-ticket packages ranges from $386 to $1,073, based on where a seat is located. But to qualify for the loan program, a package must have a value of at least $500.
The program originated as part of a marketing effort between Flagstar and the Griffins. The bank has purchased dasher boards along the Van Andel Arena ice in the past.
“But the main issue for us is, it provides a way for us to go back to season-ticket holders and offer them an alternative when they might not have enough cash to buy the tickets in the summer,” said Gortsema.
“It gives people a lot of flexibility. They don’t even have to pay off their balance by the October deadline. But if they do pay it off by then, then we — we being the Griffins — pay the interest,” he added.
Gortsema said he wasn’t aware of another sports franchise offering a similar loan program to potential customers anywhere else in the country.
The Griffins eighth home opener is Oct. 18.
Last season, the franchise drew 288,628 customers to its 40 home games for an average of 7,215 per game, which placed the club seventh in AHL attendance.
Flagstar has five banking and loan centers located in Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Comstock Park.