Who Cares About Losing & Freezing, I’m Having Fun

Last week Drew McManus posted about the difficulties sports teams are having filling their seats. The reasons for this problem are very similar to those faced by the arts –an approach that assumes a community owes us their attention and a focus on product, positioning and image over the customer’s experience.

Drew’s post actually helped me coalesce some thoughts I had when I was attending a football game at Notre Dame last month. At the time the team’s record was 4-7. The weather had gone from mid-60s the day before to 20s with snow the day of the game.

Despite this, the campus and the stadium were PACKED with people.

My first thought as I wandered around was that Notre Dame football had cachet that is independent of win-loss records and weather. I don’t know if this level of investment become entrenched early by movies like  Knute Rockne and Rudy or thanks to generations of Catholic priests making sly mention about the team needing their congregants’ prayers.

While these factors might be significant in generating loyalty and involvement, the school invested a lot of attention in the game attendance experience. Entering and leaving the parking lots was well organized and took a reasonable amount of time.  The line in the bookstore had AT LEAST 25 switchbacks before you got to the register but the line moved so quickly that you were rarely standing still and staff members were cheerleading and high-fiving people in line.  Entry into the stadium also went quickly.

If you got too cold you could take refuge in the athletic center next door and watch the game on large screen monitors.

The only sour note was the food service inside the stadium was abysmally organized and their money handling discipline raised grave concerns.

Well actually, the fact Notre Dame screwed up their three touchdown lead to lose the game was pretty disappointing as well.

I am going to remember the food service experience as the worst part because everything else, including the loss, was interesting and enjoyable. (As far as I am concerned, braving the frigid cold is as integral a part of the experience as tailgating.)

While my outlook is not necessarily shared by everyone, perhaps it is illustrative of the point Drew and those he cites are trying to make. You don’t have to necessarily have the highest quality, most glamorous product if you are providing an enjoyable experience in general.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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