Friday, April 17, 2009

Who Needs Tickets?

TigerBlog's day started with an email from a former colleague. It read:

"A friend of mine went to the first game in the new Yankee Stadium. Beer - $11. Yankees lose 10-2. Priceless."

As an aside, remember how much beer used to be at Veterans' Stadium 26 summers ago?

Anyway, with apologies to Yankees' fans (and really, how can anyone root for the Yankees?), the email made TB laugh. And then it brought to mind what has been a long-standing issue for Princeton Athletics.

Who, or what, is our competition for fans?

Have you noticed how empty many sports venues are these days? The NCAA basketball tournament had available seats everywhere. The NBA? Major League Baseball? The prime seats, the ones most visible on TV, are always dotted by emptiness.

There are obvious reasons for this: a shaky economy, outrageous ticket prices, out-of-touch professional athletes, oversaturation of the product on television and many more.

All of this brings us back to Princeton. We spend hours and hours in marketing meetings trying to figure out what the best way to attract fans is. We wonder often about why people don't come. Is it because they know about it and are not interested? Don't know about it? Have misconceptions about prices of tickets, accessibility, cordiality, location?

Of course, we have no way of knowing. That's why Princeton Athletics has gone down so many different paths from a marketing standpoint. We've had slogans, messages, formats, plans, points of emphasis, everything else.

We also have no discernible way of determining whether or not our efforts have been successful. We draw fairly well in comparison to many University events, unbelievably well in some cases. We sort of operate on the idea that we should be attracting more people, but maybe that's not the case.

Anyway, the question of the day is who, or what, is our competition. Take football. We're certainly not going against the Jets, Giants or Eagles, or even Rutgers, for that matter. You can buy season tickets for Princeton football for what it costs to PARK at Giants Stadium for one game. You can bring a family of 10 to a Princeton game for less than the cost of a Rutgers ticket. You can buy season tickets from now until the Earth basically stops spinning on its axis for what it costs for some personal seat licenses (which Princeton emphatically does not have, though TigerBlog once received an email asking how much as PSL for football was).

Are we even selling football? Or are we selling a family experience? Are people coming more if the team is winning than if it's losing? This is the No. 1 belief that people have, but every single statistic over the last 25 years shows that there is absolutely no correlation between winning and attendance for Princeton football (though not for other sports).

Are we going against the movies? The aquarium? Birthday parties? Youth sports? Each one of those raises different issues. Is the time of game the most important determinant of whether or not fans will come? If you play a football game Saturday at 1 and all of Mercer County/Bucks County/Somerset County is playing Pop Warner football or youth soccer or fall baseball or fall lacrosse, then nobody can make it. But maybe they can three hours later? But then will the older alumni like it?

And, of course, you can do all the planning you want. When it rains (or worse, when the forecast is for rain but no rain comes) on game day, where does that leave you?

There have been games that TigerBlog has gone to where he has expected huge attendance but no one showed up. There have been games where TB thought he'd be the only one in the building, and there have been huge throngs. The 2004 NCAA women's soccer tournament games, with little marketing attached, drew overflow crowds to the old Lourie-Love Field. Princeton hockey is now a tough ticket. Lacrosse continues to draw outstanding crowds, even in awful weather.

The bottom line is that Princeton University is providing very high quality college athletics for either free (in the case of 33 sports) or for very, very, very reasonable prices, especially by comparison to other athletic choices.

To those who take advantage of what we're offering, we thank you.

For those who don't, what are you waiting for? Do you really want to spend $11 on a beer?


Anonymous said...

Princeton should consider more night games to draw more fans. Most of the facilities have lights however there are rarely any night games.

Libby said...

Princeton field hockey had a tournament yesterday--and I traveled from 5 hours away to catch it. Princeton sports are fun to watch, and well worth it. Of course, some teams don't profit off fans, but I have never attended a Princeton sporting even where there have not been many fans.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Princeton football just isn't that important to many people! Fans will turn out for the sports they love-- witness the overflow crowd for the Princeton-Trinity squash match.

As for Women's Soccer '04, in case you hadn't noticed, there are lots of "girls" teams in NJ, and many of those youngsters were thrilled at the chance to see some of the future US Team play, up close and personal.

Empty Seats at the NCAA basketball tourney-- many of those were Press Seats, or the high priced, high level seats. Basketball should NOT be played in arena larger than 15,000 or so, no matter what the money grubbers at the NCAA think.

Probably would help if those doing the marketing actually paid for their tickets-- then they'd understand the public a bit better.