Your Fans Have Choices: Article by Dave Wakeman

In a time when there are more choices available to fans than ever before, where sporting and live entertainment events are fighting against a whole host of ‘competitors’, Sports Venue Business CEO, Katie McIntyre, wanted to share the following article by industry expert Dave Wakeman, Principal at Wakeman Consulting Group, who highlights some of the ways in which clubs, teams and venues can not only attract fans back through their doors and into their seats, but keep them coming back for more.


Recently I have had a number of conversations with executives in and around the live entertainment industry, they all have all gone a similar way….something like this:


Dave, “What do you consider your primary business?”

Executive, “We are in the real estate business now.”

Executive, “We are in the entertainment business.”

Executive, “We are in the business of sports.”


I know what is happening right now for many of you, you are going…“these all sound like reasonable answers to the question, along with a few others that you might think about.” The logic for this answer is not entirely wrong, but it is wrong. Because now as much as at anytime in our history, the live entertainment industry is and better be in the marketing business. I’ll repeat that with an explanation: you, me, all of us are in the marketing business now! I say that because now more than ever, we have so much competition that we don’t know what to do.


In the good old days, it was possible that a Caps playoff game was only competing with a couple of restaurants, some videos, and potentially a few bad shows on TV. But if you haven’t been to DC lately, we have a full compliment of teams, good dining choices, hundreds of TV channels, and, more than likely, a mobile device that can offer us up any song, news site, or video that we could imagine. Which means that we aren’t just competing against a couple of things for attention any longer, but we are competing against almost everything in the world. I mean, almost everything. As I am fond of saying, this change in circumstances provides us with challenges and opportunities. The key, as with everything, is how we choose to approach them. Let’s look at a few ways that this challenging new market is playing out and what we can do to put ourselves in the best position to win.


The Rise of Choice:

As I stated above, we now have competition from almost everything in the world. It isn’t just one show or one game or any one thing. No, now the challenge is that we have on-demand entertainment in almost every way, shape, or variety.


What this move towards on-demand entertainment has done is highlighted a long-term trend in entertainment marketing that has finally come back to haunt all of us. That is the emphasis placed on short-term focus.


In sports, we see the mentality of short-termism playing out in the declining TV ratings of almost every sport from the NBA, to the NFL, to the Premier League (EPL). This is an example of short-termism because for far too long the TV money was flowing in so fast and so freely and the ratings were going up with such regularity that teams, leagues, and partners only paid lip service to fan development and building fan loyalty.


While a kids’ club here, a family day World Series game there, might sound good and like you are paying attention to your fans, these small acts were nothing compared to later and later start times, schedules conducive to TV and not conducive to fans at games, and a lack of emphasis on learning and immersing people in the games from the lowest levels forward.


This isn’t just a sports specific challenge either. We see it in the performing arts where attendance has been on a steady decline for a number of years.


While the money from TV hasn’t been driving the decline in performing arts attendance, there are other root causes that are impacting the ability for operas, theatres, and other performances to attract attendance like less funding for the arts at early ages, distractions from other activities and devices, and a lack of exposure to live performances.


No matter what section of the live entertainment industry you find yourself in, this is a real problem that is right now playing out as the “challenge of choice” and the fact that our venues are losing out in that battle.


The fact is that all of this decline in attendance and decline in ratings and every other negative indicator is being hidden in the short term by revenue numbers that may still be rising or steady, but which are also lagging indicators.


The real challenge isn’t solving this problem today, but solving these problems in the long term. Because choice is the new norm!


Building Long-Term Fans:

Much of my thinking on the challenges facing live entertainment, sports, and performing arts comes down to the challenge of building long-term fans. Which to me is a challenge of long-term marketing.


We really can’t fall back on the idea of our fans and future customers finding us through their families or exposure in the community or at school or some other way. We have to look at this challenge as a lifelong journey that we are going to take our customers and fans through for a lifetime.


Recently, the Washington Capitals and their partner, MedStar, have come together to give newborns onesies, caps, and bibs for the newborns during the Caps’ playoff run. It is such a simple, great way to get parents and kids an early exposure to your team and product that it begs the question: Why aren’t more organizations offering up some version of this as well?


But forget the babies in their onesies. How about finding a way to expose kids to the opera? Could you find a way for a sponsor to offer that opportunity to get kids into an opera early? The same goes for the theatre? How many of our kids would be sold on a lifelong love of theatre if they had a chance to experience a musical like Hamilton through some sort of early to arts program.


Whatever the different barriers to entry are, we really have to do a better job of tearing them down. This isn’t the matter of a good idea, this is literally life or death for some institutions. And, with the amount of money that many of our advertisers and brands spend on useless ads that give them no impact, a meaningful sponsorship activation in the community should be a much easier lift than many of us realize.


Get Out Of Facts, Get Into Stories:

One of the big missed opportunities in most of our marketing and sales efforts come because we put too much emphasis on the things we think are important or we make too much of an assumption that our potential clients already know everything that they can possibly know about our events.


Which often leads us talk about features, facts, and such when none of that has the power to get people to buy tickets.


You know the kind of bad marketing and advertising and sales that I am speaking of, the kind that reads a lot like this:



  • A guaranteed suite location for all _____ and ______ games and most third party events (44¬†______ games, 45 ________ games and over 65 concerts and family shows)
  • The right to purchase unique sporting events (NBA playoffs, NBA/NHL All-Star games, NHL playoffs, and NCAA Tournament games)
  • The right to purchase additional tickets in your luxury suite
  • VIP covered parking in The_____ Garage
  • Private VIP Platinum Premier entrance on the north east side of the ______ Center
  • Option to personalize and brand your suite and improve your return on entertainment¬†
  • TicketMaster Account Manager ticket forwarding and printing with no fees


  • HDTV screen with live feeds of the game in progress
  • DIRECTV satellite service
  • Personal suite attendant and concierge service
  • Newly remodeled suites with upscale modern furniture
  • First-class catering by ____ Restaurants
  • Kitchen features: refrigerator, ice machine, and sink
  • Executive meeting rooms available (both pre-event and non-event days)”


This stuff just exudes excitement, right? Where is anything about the excitement? What about the ability to connect with clients? How about the opportunity to experience something once in a lifetime?


All of this marketing speak is really just a missed opportunity to make a connection and tell a story, a story with you and your venue at the center of the action.


As I have been saying pretty often in my keynotes lately, there are 3 keys to the future of live entertainment: stories is the first part. We need to start becoming storytelling creatures in our approach to our markets for a number of reasons because:


  1. Stories help us make sense of complex situations. Which if you have been paying attention is kind of the default setting of the world we live in.
  2. Stories enable us to know what to pay attention to and what to ignore.
  3. Stories give us the emotion necessary to take action.


The thing about it is, no matter what corner of the live entertainment industry we call our own, stories are a natural part of what we do. To not use those to our advantage is malpractice.


Our buildings, our teams, our performers should be reasons to connect and doors to experiences:

In some ways, we have one of the most tremendous advantages of any marketers in the world. If you are fortunate enough to work for or with the NY Yankees, you have one of the most recognizable brands in the world.


If you are the Miami Marlins, the door to Japan is wide open to you because you have Ichiro on your roster.


If you are Manchester United, you have over 200 officially sanctioned fan clubs in countries all around the world.


The list goes on and on and on.


This point is important because it shows two really important things about the connection we should be trying to build between our brands and our fans, that is that it should be one that does two important things for us:


  1. It should open the door to connect us to communities of other supporters and fans, no matter where in the world we find ourselves.
  2. Every contact we have with our fans and our communities should be an experience and one that binds us together more completely.


As I said above, we are lucky as entertainment marketers because our brands, logos, and performers are some of the most recognizable in the world.


The Sydney Opera House doesn’t need much help marketing itself. The ‘NY’ on a Yankees hat says a lot. And, while this brand recognition is incredibly important, the brand alone isn’t enough. Because a brand without any connection to a larger community is just an empty symbol.


That’s why the example of Manchester United is so important because you can make an assumption that in many places in the world, your Manchester United top, hat, or sticker is going to be met by other fans that share your passion. Which is important. Because we yearn to be a part of a community and a part of something bigger than just ourselves. That’s something we often miss in selling our products and events.


The thing is, when we have these opportunities to connect, tell stories, and grow communities, are we doing enough to make sure that every interaction is great? Are we doing enough to ensure that each touch point pulls our fans closer and closer to our brand, our story, and our community? In too many cases, the answer is a definitive no…even when we talk about our “viewing areas” and our “fan friendly” approach.


Because pulling people closer to you and your brand isn’t about an initiative, it is about a state of mind that starts before the fan even buys a ticket, enters the stadium, or even, likely, thinks about going to your venue. The power of pulling people to your brand and strengthening that connection begins from the very first touch, likely before you’ve even thought of them as a potential customer. That’s why long-term fan development is so key.


If you are always focused on growing, renewing, and maintaining your fan and customer base, you are going to be in a position to tell stories, to build communities, and to make connections with your fans that will keep them thinking about you. This is not just important, but essential in the modern age of entertainment because the answer to the challenge of choice isn’t just more noise, more phone calls, and more amenities. No, the answer to the long term challenge of choice comes in the need to get back to the basics of business by focusing on growing and keeping customers and looking at your relationship with your fans, customers, and prospects as a long-term relationship…not merely a transaction.


Thus, we are in the marketing business…each and every one of us.


I have a request for my next post, I want to do a mailbag of your sports marketing questions. So if you have a sports marketing question, email it to me at: and I will answer them in an upcoming post or series of posts. BTW, if you like this kind of stuff and are interested in getting my weekly email all about value, shoot me a note at and I will happily add you!


Author’s credits:

Dave Wakeman, Principal, Wakeman Consulting Group.

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