Here are two words that you never thought you’d hear together.

Sports

and

Theater.

Sports shows haven’t been that successful on the ol’ Bway (except for Good News and those Damn Yankees), especially when compared to other entertainment mediums.  The movies do sports oh so well, so we’ve stayed away.  (There was a rumor about a Rocky musical, but admit it, just the thought makes you smirk in a Lestat kind of way.)

But there’s a show on Broadway right now that’s getting some athletic attention:  Lombardi, which is sponsored by the mammoth machine known as the NFL.

One of my marketing mantras that was taught to me by a smart press rep I’ve worked with is . . . get off the theater pages.

Well, Lombardi managed to do just that recently, with an article in AdAge about the unique partnership between football (which probably has more people watching on a Sunday than going to church) and Broadway.

Since we talked about the challenges of Broadway and sponsorship, I thought you’d be interested in checking it out.

Read it here.

And just imagine what could happen to the Great White Way if this partnership works:

NASCAR presents Earnhardt: His final lap.

Major League Baseball presents:  For the love of Pete . . . Rose.

PGA presents Tiger:  He’s in the woods again.

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?”

A star above the title . . . but not how you think.

Last week, in one of the biggest surprise announcements of the year, Elton John and partner David Furnish announced that they were joining the Broadway producing team of Next Fall.

Before this announcement, many of us on the inside were wondering just how Next Fall, which lacks the marquee wattage of a Scarlett or a Denzel, would stand out in the year’s busy Spring season.

Nabbing one of the biggest names in the entertainment industry is one way, that’s for sure.

Celebrity producers have been around before, but ever since Oprah put her name above the title on The Color Purple (which put a lot of butts in the seats), putting the right producer on the right project has become a more sought-after way of gaining attention for our shows.

This fall, Fela! did it with Jay-Z and Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith (who have received a little critical drubbing for not stumping for the show like some of their counterparts).  Yet it still got a lot more attention for that show than it could have gotten on its own.

Whoopi Goldberg, who was a producer on Thoroughly Modern Millie, is also a Producer on the London and Broadway Bound Sister Act, which couldn’t make more sense.

Are these celebs investing actual dollars in the show?  Or are they investing the value of their names and their appearance at parties?  Only the show insiders know for sure, but I’d bet it’s a little of both, depending on the project.

And whatever the case, as long as it’s helping attract positive attention for your show and helping you break through the cluttered environment we work in, it’s a win for all parties involved.

So when you’re selling off places above your title, think about other names that might make sense for you and get you in a news cycle.

And it doesn’t have to be the name of a person.

It was no secret that I was interested in moving the magnificent Our Town from Off-Broadway to Broadway last Fall.  One of my ideas was to get a bunch of small New England towns to go above the title.  Imagine . . . Sturbridge, Massachusetts, Brunswick, Maine and Stowe, Vermont present Our Town.  We would have had whole towns behind us!

Got a musical about Ice Cream?  You and Ben and Jerry present . . .

Got a play about Golf?  You and Tiger Woods present . . .

Wait.  Scratch that.  Never mind.

There are more and more places on your production that you can turn into a marketing initiative than you can imagine.  Sometimes they’re just not out in the open.

The great Producers never stop looking for them.

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This blog inspired by Tiger Woods.

Regular readers will remember that I announced the closing of Altar Boyz on this blog on Friday, December 4th.

What you may not know, is that the blog was the only place I announced it that morning.

Normally, an announcement like this would be written up and sent out by the Press Agent to all of the various news outlets, from The New York Times to Playbill to UncleBillsBroadwayBlog.com

But, much to my press agent’s dismay, I put a muzzle on him that morning.

Why?  I wanted to test the power of new media.  I wanted to see how long it took for the traditional media outlets to pick up on the story if it didn’t come with in the form of a traditional announcement or an email.  I wanted to see how long it took the blogosphere and the Twitterverse to churn the story and get it in front of the big boy editors.  (Here’s where the Tiger Woods connection comes in – I was inspired to try this because Tiger was making all of his public statements to the press on his blog, and nowhere else, and the world was devouring it).

So how long did it take?  One hour.

It took only one hour from my post to the first publication of the story (on Playbill.com, by the way).  The New York Times called 90 minutes after it went up.

But get this – the first thread on AllThatChat started only 45 minutes after my post.

The most interesting part of this experiment?

Before many of the media outlets posted the story, they called my Press Agent to ask if it was true.  Gotta give them major cred for verifying the story, even though the source was the Producer.

You’ll see more announcements like this in the future, and not just from me.  Tiger has taught us well (uh, in some areas – in others, he’s just a giant sand-trap-sized d-bag).

(Unfortunately, it was true, Altar Boyz is closing on January 10th.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ve only got 15 chances left.  Get your tickets here.)

What Tiger Woods needs to learn about press.

El Tigre may know how to swing a club, but he’s pretty handicapped when it comes to knowing how to spin a story.

By now, the world is abuzz with what really caused the Tiger Woods 2:25 AM car crash outside his Floridian mansion.  Was he drunk?  Was he on drugs?  Was he on his way to meet another woman?  Did his wife beat the sand trap out of him for a prior affair?

Why all these questions?

Because he didn’t come out in front of the story.

Whether we like it or not, refusing to talk, pleading the fifth, or hiding behind an agent makes it look like you having something to hide, whether you do or not.

The moment that Tiger refused to talk to the police, the rumor mill went into overdrive, and the story started to spin out of control.  The second time?  The third?  Tiger has missed so many news cycles that whatever really happened is now going to get even more attention.

Obviously something serious is going on in the life of the world’s greatest golfer, and for that I’m very sorry.  But if Bill Clinton, Britney Spears, Alec Baldwin and the rest of the celebs in this world have taught us anything it’s that you can f-up and can be forgiven.

The best way to handle a press crisis of this nature for a celebrity or for a show is to come out in front of the story, and come out first.

As a producer, you want to own the story.  You want to control the story.  Hide from it, and the story will become bigger than it deserves to be.

Unless of course, you actually want the press.

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