Thursday, August 26, 2010

To Be Continued ...

When TigerBlog was a kid, there was nothing worse on TV then the dreaded "to be continued ..." It meant that the show you were watching was going to be spread out over two parts, and you'd have to wait an entire week to find out what happened.

On the TV show "Batman," all of the episodes were either Part I or Part II, so you knew going in for a Part I that it was going to end with Batman and Robin about to be ground up in a huge garbage disposal or sawed in half or something like, and even though you knew they weren't, it still was a pain to have to wait to see how they'd get out of it.

As an aside, think of how many problems the Joker or the Riddler could have saved himself by simply staying there to make sure that the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder actually did get dropped into the vat of acid when the sand ran out, rather than leaving the room and assuming it would happen as planned. The same holds true for James Bond movies, by the way.

And then there were all the shows that didn't usually have a Part I and Part II but every now and then snuck a "to be continued" in on you. Those were even worse than "Batman," because you rarely saw it coming until just before the end, when it became obvious that the story couldn't be wrapped up in time. There was an episode of "Seinfeld" where Jerry talked about this in his monologue.

Anyway, be forewarned. This edition of TigerBlog is the first-ever two-parter.

Today, TigerBlog is asking a few questions. Tomorrow, TB will be looking for some answers.

Here are the questions:

1) Is there a huge untapped audience out there who would attend Princeton sporting events but doesn't because this group doesn't know about them or has misconceptions about them?

2) Is attendance at Princeton sporting events good or bad?

3) What resources, if any and if so in what fashion, should Princeton put into trying to get more people to come to athletic events?

4) Should marketing be focused on the five sports that are ticketed or is it possible to market for 38 sports?

5) What affect is Princeton's marketing effort having?

6) What factors go into the decision to attend a Princeton event? Question 6A can be: Is having a winning team bigger than having a place for a great fan experience?

These are the questions that TB has always wondered about when it comes to Princeton games. Unfortunately, there is no way to definitively answer them.

Start with No. 2. Is attendance good? Depends how you look at it. At sports like football and men's basketball, there are usually more empty seats than filled ones. Is that bad? Or does the fact that there are still a few thousand people at men's basketball and usually near 10,000 (with some games above that total) at football an amazing amount, given the competition for the entertainment dollar and the proliferation of games on television?

The men's hockey team and men's lacrosse teams often approach (and sometimes reach) capacity. Women's basketball is gaining a larger following, and coming off a 26-3 Ivy League championship season with all five starters back, that following figures to at least stay the same or grow.

Here at Princeton, the operating assumption has always been that the answer to question No. 1 is "Yes, of course there are thousands of people out there who would come to Princeton events if they only knew about them."

All of Princeton's marketing efforts through the years have depended on having that answer be correct.

To that end, we've tried basically everything, from targeting different audiences to slashing ticket prices to trying to appeal to youth groups to different ticket packages to anything else. And yet audience doesn't seem to be impacted.

Does this mean the answer to one is No. 1 is no and the answer to No. 5 is none? Or, without the marketing efforts, would attendance fall apart?

Then there's the question about the five ticketed sports or all 38 sports? In this area, TB thinks that the opportunity exists to use emerging technologies to reach directly to specific people who are interested in, say, fencing or water polo. To do so, though, would require taking time away from marketing for the sports that are ticketed and have larger audiences. Is it better to focus energy on them and use attendance at those sports to promote the other teams?

TigerBlog's basic theories are this:

* Attendance is pretty good across the board
* Princeton has tried so many different things to get people to games that it's hard to say if any of it worked and if so what did and what didn't?
* There is evidence to suggest that winning teams do increase attendance, but there are just as many other factors (such as weather, game time, in-game experience, parking, for instance) that have an equal impact
* We should be reaching out to all 38 sports on some level
* We are competing with the movies, birthday parties and youth sports more than anything else in terms of getting people to attend events here

Okay, so those are all the questions. What about the answers? Can they even be found out, and if so, how accurately?

This past summer, Princeton Athletics had a polite young man named Dan who interned here. As part of his internship, he did two surveys, one on-line and one face-to-face, and he compiled what he learned into a 42-page document for his class at Temple.

TB has seen the data and read through the report, which is certainly interesting. Tomorrow, he'll take a look at some of what is out there.

In the meantime, he has to go untie Batman and Robin, before they are catapulted into the machine that will shrink them and freeze them.

In other words, to be continued ...

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