Work in Sports Entertainment? Remember what's important
Saturday, 23 February 2013 14:46

Tweet by Brad Keselowski found by Rodeo Rod MacBeth - great insight Tweet by Brad Keselowski found by Rodeo Rod MacBeth - great insight

The Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Brad Keselowski is known for being a guy that speaks out and bucking the paradigm.  He recently was featured in an article in USA Today and was quoted as saying,

"The problem I see in the sport is that there are multiple entities that have to work together for us to be successful.
We have sponsors — partners, or whatever the hell you want to call them — tracks, the sanctioning body and the teams. Those are our four groups, and how well they cooperate dictates what we have as a product for our fans. And our fans create everything."

Of course he was speaking of NASCAR (the non-athletic sport centred around rednecks ~ Ryan Rodrigues), a once brand-dominant franchise that is currently experiencing a drop in attendance and viewership, but this setiment is true to all of Sports Entertainment, as "Rodeo Rod" MacBeth pointed out last night on Facebook.

As of late, I've been an advocate behind #OntarioHorseRacing's plight versus the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission, and in their struggle, a Ontario-Sanctioned Government Panel pointed this same setiment to them in their report: re-brand and re-engage the consumer.  But in the struggle, all parties negotiating are not considering all of the pieces: Tracks are making deals good for their survival, while not considering up-and-down the chain - the Commissions and Associations, the drivers, owners, breeders... while the owners, drivers and breeders are calling foul on the deals the tracks are making that are slicing and dicing their industry by large precentages.

Of course with all Sports Entertainment Properties there is a circle of contribution and existance.  

  • NASCAR: Sponsors, Tracks, NASCAR, Teams, Fans (what Brad Keselowski doesn't recognize that while the ultimate product has to be geared to the Fans, they are as important of a contributor to the rest of the pieces of the puzzle by their involvement)
  • Horse Racing: Tracks, Associations, Owners (with track and backstretch team), Breeders, Bettors / Fans (Sponsors are a variable throughout)
  • Rodeo: Host Committees, Producers/Contractors, Associations, Competitors, Fans (Sponsors are a variable throughout)

Remove one of these components, and the circle will implode.  Obviously, no Fans means no Sponsors (due to lack of ROI), No Fans means no attendance revenue, which then becomes no operating capital, and boom.  No Track or Host Committee... no event to host fans.  No Associations... it brings Marshal Law into the fold and brings no mediator, governor, or guide towards growth, no Producer/Contractors... no events, no nothing, and no drivers/competitors/horses, etc. ... then no Sport.

Regardless of the weight of Sponsorship and Operating Revenues, it will fluctuate based on the Fans.  And to attract and KEEP the fans, the product has to be enjoyable, develop a passion, fuel a need, and move FORWARD.  As soon as the Fan experience lowers, that correlates into the entire ecosystem going down.

The growth of the sport is based on the Fan Volume and Affluence.  Sport has Fans.  Gets on Cable TV.  Grows Fans.  More attendance.  Gets Network TV.  More attendance.  More non-attending Fans.  Greater Reach.  Think of your favourite sports... are they televised often?  Are they on digital/cable or on network?  Network won't pick them up unless they can capitalize on a large volume of attending and non-attending fans.  The more TV, the more Sponsorship, the more reward for the sport's stars..  It starts and ends with the Fans.

Think of your sport or event.  How has today's economy or political landscape affected the Fan Experience?  Did prices go up?  Or did they go down to become more affordable... at the expense of the product?  Have Race Cards or Competitor Numbers gone down because of attrition or segregation?  Have the purses decreased or remained the status quo in a time where cost of living and cost of competing or attending gone up?

As I look to Rodeo and Racing, I would cite examples to these and more.  The Fan Experience needs to be the focus.  The circle will need to become a pyramid with those fans at the top, and an intertwined system underneath fuelling them.

We often see the driver/competitor angle.  They are the stars and the focus.  But what they often show is a sense of entitlement.  They often take for granted that people came to see them run/ride/compete.  But they don't fuel that experience.  The Professional Bull Riders and Monster Jam are great organizations I have been a part of and seen the inner workings of; and they take their top-tier competitors and teach them public speaking, and ways to engage the fans... and thank the fans.  This comes from NASCAR who really nailed it first.  They used their fans at the top of the pyramid to build into a franchise.  Watch one of these events, and they're constantly thanking the fans.  Onto Baseball, Football, Basketball... it's very rare.  Think of the owner/coach/quarterback thanking the fans in the celebrations after a Super Bowl or World Series win.... when they're thanked, they go banana's... because it's not an ad nauseum thing as it should be.  But where they're doing OK, is they breathe into the fanatic experience and are beyond accessible to the fans in attendance and on television, as opposed to the Sports that are trying to work to that level.

Where the actual competition counterparts need to focus on building this fan experience, is as Brad said... by working together.  He cites an issue with how NASCAR is built on the Sponsors, and the Teams all fight each other to get the sponsors... not a good place to be when you mutually want to see your sport prosper.  

In our Rodeo World, there is a branching off by Event Committees (Calgary, Houston) or Producers and Contractors from the Association front, which has had some positive changes to the fan experience by featuring "The Best Of", but also some degregation to the fan experience... when the Association is the drive for the growth, that is one of the integral pieces that is needed.  They are the basis of determining "The Best Of", and garner the talent to get to that level.  For every event that detracts, less funds go towards that entity for growth, development, marketing... all correlating into: fan experience, competitor rewards, etc.  I have been following this end quite heavily, and part of the issue lies in the two entities not working with each other on their visions, back to the need for collective growth.

There is even cross-circle animosity a foot across the board.  A tweet from one of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo Qualifiers: "Rant of the day->all u ppl out there->it's the NFR. It's not the wNFR or anything of the such. Sorry wrangler, it's not your finals." ~ @jimrosscooper.  How can decrying paid-naming rights to an event be a positive in any fashion?  Or the opening of non-exclusivity of sponsors at finale events, when the prize pool is enhanced by one, while a handful of competitors are given a few bucks by the other for premier billing of a premier contender... 

There are many moving parts to each Sports Entertainment Industry.  I would almost caution that equally as integral to the Fan Experience is the Volunteer Experience.  Every Industry has them, and depending on the individual event, the entire organization thereof may be volunteers.  By dealing with all of the drama, it also affects their experience, which they really are in essence giving up their own time in the hopes of doing good.  When divas rain on that parade, they begin to dry up that pool of volunteers.  Also a major moving part... volunteers, replaced by paid staff, out of capital expenses, ultimately affecting the product, and again... fan experience.... purses... and so much more throughout the circle.  I often share the story of a speciatly act tearing apart the gate volunteer for "taking too long" to check them into an event.  That gate volunteer was more than a person with the clipboard, they were the event organizer, who volunteers year-round for an event.  How does ruining their experience affect the circle?  One less event... the ultimate detractor to fan experience.

As individuals of components of larger circles of an encompassing Sports Entertainment Industry, we need to be cognizant of the pieces that contribute, and literally work as a team, albeit Industry to enhance that Fan Experience.  It's working as a whole, not dividing and imploding amongst ourselves.  In our local racing situation, that's a collaborative negotiation with all parties heard and part of the ultimate solution.  In our Rodeo World, that's working together towards one direction so that all may prosper, not individual events or companies on the shortterm.

We're all in this to sell tickets to do what we love to do.  What has your contribution done to help sell tickets?  Could it be better, stronger, or more involved?

Even mighty NASCAR has a driver that sees that positive change is brought through unity, and that each individual needs to look outside of their own car or truck and see the greater picture.  "What's in it for me" is the last question someone should be considering in their actions... it's "what's in it for our fans, then me".

Without one, there is no all.  And the wheels will only spin until more people see that these rants out of the paradigm are by visionaries... not lobbyists with personal agendas.

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