Pride is not a sin. It’s a seller.

How many of you have been following the story of the Brooklyn Nets?

Since you’re all theater fans, I’m going to make a sweeping generalization and say, umm, probably not.

So, the New Jersey Nets basketball team is not in New Jersey anymore.  Starting this year, the New Jersey Nets are now the Brooklyn Nets, bringing back professional sports to the borough for the first time since 1957.

And, as you can probably imagine, Brooklynites and Bball fans are pretty psyched about it.

So much so, that 10,000 season tickets have already been sold, and . . . get this . . . more Brooklyn Nets merch was sold on the first day it was available than the New Jersey Nets sold in an entire season.

What’s going on?

Pride.

The Brooklyn Nets have been adopted by its locals, and they’re going to cheer the team on from their seats and from their wallets.  Pride buys.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get local NYers to have the same kind of feeling about Broadway (or your local residents feeling that special something about your local theater)?

I know that locals love Broadway, but I think it’s time we took a lesson from the Nets and other institutions that have learned how to harness the power of pride for their own good.  Here’s a few things that I think we could do to stir up some sentiment from our own:

  •  Broadway needs its own official merch line, like the NBA or NFL or even NYC itself.  The merch could be sold online, of course, but also at the merch store in every theater.  And the League could keep the bucks, or split some of it between the running shows (which is sort of what some of the pro leagues do).
  • We do offer discounts that are technically designed for the local audiences, but they aren’t branded that way.  Let’s take a cue from Vegas and have a “We Love Locals” campaign, especially during our slowest times of the year.  (In my hometown of Sturbridge, MA, a local ID got us in to Old Sturbridge Village for free – which made me feel cool and like a VIP – and people like to go to where they are treated like a VIP, and they like to go with friends so those friends can see them treated like a VIP.)
  • Establish a Broadway gives back charity, where money raised through our Broadway channels goes directly to NYC public schools, or have Broadway stars clean up our public parks, etc.  If we give, we’ll get.
  • Nothing stirs up pride more than someone or something to compete against.  Hollywood?  The West End?  This bullet point is admittedly half-baked because it’s not as easy to generate that kind of energy if we’re not in a league like the Nets.   But there’s got to be a way to get the same sort of spirit cookin’ using a competitive motivator.  You have thoughts?

Getting people to feel like they own something, like they are a part of a “team,” is a fantastic way to drive sales at a very low cost.  Because when people are proud of something, they want to talk about it.

And more importantly, they want to take people to it.

What ideas do you have to increase Broadway (or your local theater’s) pride?

 

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Do we need more theater competitions for kids?

When I was a pre-teen, I was a student at Fred Villari’s Studios of Self Defense (or kar-a-tey, as we used to say), and made it all the way up to my purple belt, before I . . . well . . . got more interested in the theater.  Earning “belts” was great, but you know what was even better?  Every six months or so there was a tournament.  Yep, straight out of Karate Kid Parts I – III, at the end of every semester we trucked our gi-wearing butts to a convention center and battle other Fred Villari students from across the state for . . . yep . . . a genuine fake gold trophy.  Awww yeah.

The tournaments were pretty cool actually.  As you have probably already guessed, I didn’t take home any of those genuine fake gold trophies, but I did win a couple of rounds.  But participating in the tournaments made me practice more and introduced me to new people, and in general it got me more excited to be studying kar-a-tey.

When I was thinking back on my days in the dojo, I started to think that one of the ways we might rev up the engines of young people in the theater is to have more local, state and national theater competitions.  We do have The Jimmy Awards now, and there has always been the Irene Ryan Awards, but when I think back to growing up and how it seemed like every other week the girls in my class had dance competitions, it feels like maybe we could use more theater competitions.

Should every community theater around the country have monologue comps, and scene comps, or American Idol type sing-offs for young people?  (Actually, since most competitions have registration fees, this might be a way for some struggling non-profit theaters to earn a few bucks to help fund their productions).   Should the big professional regional theaters out there sponsor contests for high school students to earn scholarships to college?

Even when the gold trophies are genuine fakes they still could mean a lot to a young actor’s resume and to their confidence, and therefore their future.

I held off on writing this blog for a while, actually, because there is an unfortunate flip side to competitions like the ones my young dancer friends were exposed to, or the many mini-beauty pageants that sometimes make us want to throw up.  Not everyone wins.  And even “free market” me thought to myself, “Do we really need to expose our kids to more competition?  Can’t they just enjoy things without having to win?”

It’s a big debate, of course, and one that only parents can finally decide . . . hopefully along with their kids.

But I did hear a great argument for these kind of comps this past weekend at a screening for a brand new (and brilliant) documentary about The Youth America Grand Prix (the largest competition for ballet students in the world) called First Position.  At a post-show talkback, first time (!) director Bess Kargman said that without the Grand Prix or similar competitions, some of the dancers profiled in the film would never have gotten the opportunities that were afforded to them.  Competitions changed their lives.  (You should see the movie, by the way – it really is fantastic.)

What do you think?  Since it is proven that engagement in the arts as a child helps develop an audience for the future, do the pros outweigh the cons?  Should we have more comps?

 

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Advice from my trainer . . . that strangely also applies to theater.

So, as a person who can’t stand the gym unless it involves a basketball, I forced myself to get a personal trainer recently . . . who then forces me to do things I can’t stand.

But so far, so good . . . and yesterday I even got a pearl of wisdom from my exercise task-master who has pectorals the size of throw pillows.

In between my grunts, Pectoral Pillow man said this to me . . . “Ken, you’re going to see immediate results.  That’s what happens.  If you haven’t been training, and then you start, BAM!  (Note from Ken – that’s how he talks – in BAMs)  But after that?  That’s when the hard work begins.  Because keeping the growth going is the challenge.”

Of course, I started thinking about other things in my life that I wanted to better, and I found a very similar pattern.

I like to play chess.  And after reading one book and having a few lessons, my rating went up dramatically.  After that?  Took a lot longer to raise it just a few points.

I started investing in the stock market when I was 23.  And after one seminar and a mag subscription, my picks were better.  After that, it got more challenging.

And then, of course, I got to shows.

Sales for shows are the same.  It’s very easy to get a burst of sales activity (improvement) at your announcement, or at the beginning of your sales cycle.  You’re new, you’ve got the most media on your side, and you’re learning fast.

We’ve all seen shows, even some from this season, which have come out of the gate with monster numbers, and then . . . well, some aren’t even here anymore.

Want to know how good a marketer is?  Don’t judge them at the start.  Judge them by the middle.

Because that’s where the real grunting is required.

 

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Forget CDs and MP3s, Broadway needs more Records.

And I’m not talking about the vinyl kind.

Although I’m not a huge football fan, whenever the Patriots are in the post-season, my New England roots kick in, and I find myself cheering my head off for Tom Brady, with a wing in one hand and a Coke-filled cozy in another.

And while watching the games over the last few weeks, I noticed that those color commentary guys come up with a lot of records.  And they can be records about anything . . .

  • Most TD passes ever thrown in a post-season game.
  • Coldest regular season game.
  • Longest punt return by a rookie.

You get the pic.

Some of these Most/Longest/Baldest statistics are a bit much, actually, and are only crunched to give the sportscasters stuff to fill the time.

But a lot of it is fun, because the NFL knows that people respond to records.  And they make each game unique, and therefore memorable . . . so it stands out from all the others that the viewer may have seen.

And isn’t that one of the rules of marketing?

As a Producer, look and see what is unique about your show and let the world know.  Maybe you have the youngest cast on Broadway, or the most ethnically diverse, or maybe one of your songs has the highest note ever sung, or the longest note ever held.

None of these by itself are going to get you to the Superbowl of Success, but they just may help keep you top of mind, when you don’t have much else to talk about.

Go Pats.

 

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What can Broadway learn from the NBA lockout?

If you’re a basketball fan, you’ve been foaming at the mouth and ornery to everyone you know for the past couple o’ months, as you’ve suffered through B-Ball withdrawal thanks to the lockout.

Fear not, however, slam dunks and double-dribbles will return on Christmas day as a present to you all, now that a new 10 year agreement has been reached.

First class labor disputes in sports always catch my eye, because of the major similarity between the two sides of their negotiating table and the two sides of Broadway’s table:

  • Most of the owners of professional sports teams made money in other industries before getting involved with athletics.  (Sound like a lot of Producers you know?)
  • The players are the best in the world at what they do and can’t be replaced by others without weakening the product (Sound like a lot of actors/designers/directors/technicians you know?)

The specific causes of this year’s lock out stems from the claim of the owners that they were losing $300 million a year.  What’s interesting to me is that if you dig deeper and you find out that those losses come from 22 out of the 30 teams.  In other words, 74% of the teams were losing money, while 26% were making money.

Hmmmm . . . It is estimated that 20-30% of Broadway shows make money, and 70-80% lose money.

Coincidence?  Pareto’s Principle?

The owners sought to reduce salaries and salary caps, and after a ton of back and forth and the loss off two months of games, hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars, a settlement was reached . . . but not until the players dissolved their own union so they could be rep’d by individual lawyers and sue the League for an “illegal boycott.”

What a mess.

And that’s where I hope the similarities between our industries end.  Because no matter who won this dispute or any dispute . . . I can guarantee you who lost . . . The Fans.  And sure, the rabid mouth-foamers aren’t going to switch from B-Ball to baseball because a couple of months go by before they get to watch a game.  But those aren’t the fans I’d be worried about.  It’s the casual fan that they could lose.

And it’s the casual fan we could lose if we ever find ourselves in a situation like the above.

And that’s why all sides of our industry need to remember that there are no sides when it comes to our industry’s survival.

 

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