Five things theater can learn from the World Cup.

Well, it took twenty years, but “football” has finally tipped in the US. I remember when my female cousin from Norway had to fight for a chance to try out for our high school soccer team.  They didn’t even have a women’s team!  (BTW, not only did she make the team, but she made the starting line-up, and scored more times than Tiger Woods at a “Golfers Who Love To Text Strippers” convention.)

Times have changed, and the number of people in New York City wearing soccer jerseys these days certainly proves it.  We’ve all got World Cup fever.

Now, how can we make that fever contagious and help spread a similar fanaticism about theater?  Here are five things theater can learn from the World Cup.

1.  NEW AUDIENCES CAN BE FOUND

People said soccer/football would never be big in this country.  It took time, but a whole bunch of people who have never watched competitive soccer are watching now.  And I guarantee they’ll watch more in the future.  While we will always need to satisfy our core audience first, we can’t ignore outreach efforts for new audiences.  They are out there.  We have to be persistent.  We have to be creative.  And we have to be accessible.

2.  PARTICIPATION IS THE KEY TO LONG-TERM GROWTH

Do you think it’s a coincidence that 25 years ago there was no girls’ team in my hometown, and no one gave a crap that Argentina beat Germany in a 3-2 squeaker?  Soccer became a bigger part of American life just a couple of decades ago . . . and now those kids are grown up, and are loving watching what they participated in.  The arts are no different.  If it were mandatory that every kid out there performed in at least one play during their high school career (and I’m not saying that it should be), Broadway would have a bigger fan base.  Today’s participants are tomorrow’s audience.

3.  GIVE ‘EM SOMEBODY TO ROOT FOR

A friend of mine is 1/4 Spanish, but you’d never know it.  If you saw him coming down the street, you’d think he was cut out of a Gap ad, the guy is so ‘American’ looking.  But somewhere along his genetic journey, he got a little Spanish blood in his system.  Well, ever since Spain started making a run at the Cup, he’s been touting that Spanish blood like he’s a direct descendant of Don Quixote!  He bought jerseys, set up viewing parties, and more.  And he doesn’t even speak the language or like the food!  When publicizing your shows, make sure you take advantage of where your cast, crew, and creatives are from, and what they do. Give the audience a way to feel connected to each person involved with your production, and they’ll passionately support your product.

4.  LESS OFTEN IS MORE EXCITING

There’s nothing like a little scarcity to make people more excited when your event rolls around.  The World Cup is only every four years.  It’s so special that people are giving up many other entertainment opportunities to make sure they don’t miss each GOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLL!  In fact, this may be the first year the World Cup has had a negative effect on Broadway ticket sales.  (We slump during other major sporting events like the Super Bowl – you don’t think this took a bite out of some biz this year?)  So maybe your show doesn’t have to do 8 shows a week.  Maybe scheduling is like a good juicy steak:  the more rare it is, the more your audience will be drooling for it.

5.  EVERYONE LOVES A COMPETITION

We’ve been watching competitions since the beginning of time.  I bet even Adam and Eve bet on the snake races.  There’s something about watching one team go up against another.  It’s why competitive sports, board games (and war), bring out such enthusiasm and pride with both players and audiences.  Shows don’t go head-to-head in the same way that sports teams do (no one has taken me up on this idea yet) but there has to be a way to make it seem like we do.  Ask yourself what would make your audience paint their face for you.

I’m no Pollyanna.  I don’t believe theater will ever compete with major competitive sports (except maybe Championship Chess Boxing or Wife Carrying).  But there is something we can learn from how they have increased their dominance on the attention span of the world.

And maybe, just maybe, 25 years from now, my kid will say, “remember when high schools didn’t have a Broadway team?”

They didn’t have these awards when I was in high school!

For those of you on the new social networking site, Four Square (I know, I know…another social networking site), you’ll notice that I checked in to the Marquis Theater last Monday for the second annual National High School Musical Theater Awards.

What are they?  Take the Tonys, shrink ’em, add a little Miss America and a dash of American Idol and you’ve got . . . The Jimmies!

What else do you have?

One thrilling night of incredible entertainment that made every single person in that audience believe in the power of the theater.

Over 50,000 students at almost 1,000 high schools across the country compete for the Jimmies.  Just like the aforementioned beauty pageant, there are regional awards that qualify performers to move on to the finals here in New York City.

And that’s where the real fun stuff happens.

Those 44 finalists spend a week in the city studying with vocal coaches, learning an opening and closing number, and hearing from Broadway professionals about what it’s like working in our biz.

The week ends with a performance . . . on the stage of The Marquis Theater, in front of some of the biggest names on Broadway.  And yes, these are teenagers. It’s like Broadway Fantasy Camp!

The show itself featured a medley of solos by each of the contestants. (Highlights for me were:  Matt Hill’s ‘Great Big Stuff’ from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Andrea Weinzierl’s Mame and Elise Vannerson belting out ‘Nobody’s Side’ from Chess). The judges (including Memphis star Montego Glover, Casting Directors Bernie Telsey and Rachel Hoffman, Exec. Producer of Chicago Alecia Parker, Director Scott Ellis, Nick Scandalios (aka #8), and Kent Gash from my alma mater’s new musical theater program) narrowed the field down to 3 female and 4 male finalists (there was a tie for the guys).

We got to see each finalist perform a complete number, and then the judges chose the winners!

This year’s Jimmies (which were named for the patriarch of the Nederlander family and the patriarch of this program, James M. Nederlander) were awarded to . . . Alexandria Payne from Atlanta and Kyle Selig of California.

In addition to a fine looking trophy and a shot at a 4-year NYU scholarship, the winners were each surprised with a $10,000 check towards their tuition.

Congratulations to the winners, and congratulations to the Nederlander Organization and Van Kaplan’s Pittsburgh CLO (where this idea began) for providing these kids, and all of us, with an opportunity of a lifetime.

They got to see New York City.  We got to see the future.

And it looks awesome.

For more info on The Jimmies, including how you can get involved, click here. For photos from BroadwayStars.com, click here.

And mark my blog, in less than five years, this thing is going to be huge . . . and so is the impact it will have on developing new audiences for the future.

And that’s even more awesome.

(Oh, and yes, it’s true, they certainly didn’t have these awards when I was in high school.  But that’s just fine with me, because this talented crop would have kicked my Billy Crocker-ed butt!)

What does the Z Deli have to do with Broadway?

A couple of weeks ago, I made my daily trip to the Z Deli
on 8th Ave and 49th St., which is just a block away from my office.  I got my
usual mid-afternoon snack of Red Bull, a cup of ice and some vanilla wafer
cookies (Mom, please don’t comment . . . Just let me eat like a 12-year-old boy
already, ok?).  I went to pay and the cashier rang me up wrong.  I
asked, “Are you sure that’s $4.50 because the sign below the Red Bull says
$3.95.”  She made a face like she had just seen a cat get run over by a
bulldozer, sighed, and then screamed annoyingly to a subordinate to check the
price.  She was wrong.  She didn’t say anything, corrected the
mistake and charged me the right amount.

A few days later, there I was again, with my Red Bull and wafers (Mom – zip
it), and a different cashier rang me up . . . wrong.  I asked, “Are you
sure that’s right?”  The cashier paused, and then up walked you-know-who.
She looked at me and said, “Ugh.  He always does this.”  I
looked at her like I had just seen a cat on water skis.  I was so
confused, because she was wrong both times.  I said, “But I was
overcharged.”  She said, “Whatever” and walked away.

And then you know what I did?  I paid the wrong price for the goodies
because I really didn’t care that much, and then I walked away . . . and never
walked back.

Why?

Because in New York City, there’s another deli on every block.

I counted it up, just for kicks.  That woman’s ‘tude cost that deli about
$10 – $15,000 a year in Red Bull, wafers, slices of pizza, batteries, paper
towels and all the other stuff that I’d buy within the course of one year.
I bet if that owner knew what this woman in need of anger-management
classes was doing to his customers he’d have some ‘tude of his own.

So what does this have to do with Broadway?

Just like there’s a deli on every block, there’s another show on every block .
. . And more importantly, there are so many other entertainment options on
every device known to man available to your potential customers.  If you
think you can afford to pee-off just one person, you may just lose them to Netflix, the net or their cousin Nancy . . . forever.

And maybe the Z Deli can afford it.  But the theater can’t.

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Trendspotting: websites create groups where there were none before.

To paraphrase Falsettos, something good is happening.

We all know the internet brings like-minded people together.  That’s the theory behind newsgroups, chat rooms, forums and niche social networks like my own BroadwaySpace.com.  (Before I ever met him in person, I e-met Jeff Marx, composer of Avenue Q, on the old rec.arts.theatre bulletin board.)

And now, websites are popping up all over with the goal of taking those like-minded people and monetizing them, and making the individuals happy about it in the process.

How are they doing it?

By collecting these many like-minded individuals in one place, the websites create group-like leverage and therefore increased buying power with products and brands that these individuals enjoy.

Here are a few examples of these types of sites:

1.  Meetup.com

Do you play board games in Minneapolis?  Are you an athesist in Detroit?  Do you love theater in New York City?

Answer yes to any of these questions and there is a MeetUp for you.  And if there isn’t one for you, then you can create your own and like a magnet attract folks to you.

By nature these Meetups encourage an activity (without pressuring because it’s all online invites), and then a social interaction around that activity.

In other words . . . people do stuff, and then they talk about it.  Uhhh, isn’t that the goal of marketing a product?

(BTW, you should join the Theater meetup.  You’ll see that it’s sponsored by BroadwaySpace, because, well, because I’m no dummy – these are where the theater lovers are!)

2.  Gilt.com

This is where it gets fancy.

Gilt is about luxury brands.  We’re talking Marc Jacobs, John Varvatos, and lots of other Italian names that I know I’ll spell wrong so I won’t even try.

News flash . . . luxury brands have overstock too.  So the brands give the overstock to Gilt, and Gilt adds a little scarcity by announcing the sale for a very limited time each day, and bingo, sales up the wazoo to its millions of members.

Oh, and did I tell you that you can’t just sign up for Gilt?  You have to be invited.  Yep, it’s the ol’ Gmail trick.  And they niche it down to different sites for men and women.

Here’s an invite from me, if you want to check it out.

And by the way, check out their sister site while you’re there, called jetsetter.com.  Jetsetter sells luxury travel.

Theater tickets will be next.

3.  Groupon.com

Groupon’s tagline says it all . . . “Collective buying power.”

They convince all sorts of vendors, from manicurists to speed reading instructors, to give them crazy deals, with the promise that they only have to come through on the deal if they deliver the minimum number of buyers.

For example:

I sell cupcakes.  I will sell them to Groupon for 75 cents each but only if Groupon sells 1000 of them.

Instant group!

If you’ve never experienced a Groupon, the process is actually fun.  When the Groupon minimum is reached, it’s like you’ve won something . . . even though it means you’re spending money.

That’s what we call a B to C win-win.

Check it out here.

4.  Groupget.com

And lastly, introducing Groupget, which is basically Groupon for theater tickets.

Groupget is still early in its rollout, but it’s using the same theory as the above sites.  We know the theory works, so you can bet your Groupget I’ll be watching to see if the movers-and-groupers behind it can get it to work in practice.
We’re going to see more of these as the individual’s power to influence is increased by the internet, and by products like the new and exclusive Google Wave, which allows real-time communication and collaboration between multiple participants.

Think about it . . . if you’ve got a lot of friends on Facebook, you’re a mini-collective of your own, which means everyone that we speak to is a potential group sale.

The web is naturally becoming millions of mini-webs inside itself, which makes it easier for you to catch customers.

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