Over the course of any given season, you’ll have a crowd or two that just doesn’t seem to get into the game. Whether it’s uninspiring play by the team, the weather outside or just simply one of those days, there’s nothing much you can do about it except give your best effort and try to entertain the crowd as much as they’d like to be entertained.
However, there are some places who have fans that just never seem to get into the game. There are many factors for this and a lot of people think a simple change–changing the person doing the music–is the answer when all they really need to do is a little legwork. If you’re in a town or area in which the crowd shows up, watches the game, goes home and doesn’t care about the production, then this is for you.
Step 1: Identify the Demographic of Your Crowd
This is something that’s very simple and a lot of places already think they know what the demographic is, but it changes on a nightly basis. You can, however, get a general idea after a couple of games as to the kind of people that come to your games.
Play music that is relevant to your fans. If they’re primarily a country crowd who likes a little bit of rock, then do that. If they’re a crowd who can’t stand country, don’t play it. But take notes each night on what kind of music you played, the crowd reaction, the situation and the weather. Wow, that seems like a lot, but keeping this info on simple note cards or on your computer will help you in the long run. I’ve had many people who were higher up in the organization find my cards or my notes and ask my why I’m wasting my time doing all of that. The next season, when I wasn’t there and their attendance went down, I had my answer in the notes. I looked, I listened and I responded. That’s the basis of a good salesperson. Look at the situation, listen to the needs and respond with something they can’t refuse. Notice their age and try to play music from that era, that’ll give you a good starting point. Once you’ve established that starting point, expand genres and see how that works. If two or three songs in a row from a certain era don’t work, avoid that era. If they do, keep playing more and more. But don’t get down on one song not working, try a three or four.
Step 2: Talk to the Fans
This step is very simple and basic, however too many people fail to do the actual leg work to make this a success. You can be a success overnight. I was a quick success–had the fans engaged the first night and in the palm of my hand after the first homestand–in Portland, Oregon; Modesto, Calif.; and Potomac, Va.; though I struggled a little bit up in Auburn, NY and St. Petersburg, Florida at the outset in those cities. I listened to the fans who had no problem talking to me, but then I started asking fans and that’s when you get some good responses. Yes, most will say, “Oh it’s fine”, but keep asking until you find the one or two who are vocal enough to tell it like it is. Most places, that’s the fan club. In Portland they had a group of fans online that liked to chat about everything and anything under the sun and that was an awesome resource.
One thing to avoid is sending out a questionnaire about the music and game production that people will answer after the fact, because they’ll forget most of what they saw and heard if you’re asking about levels. Most teams pre-script everything so the only thing they can really change on the fly is the levels. Engage them at the game and they’ll be more favorable in their responses, telling you what you want to hear, but you’ll also get some nice quick responses that’ll help you. Someone is more likely to mention a minor annoyance at the game like the music is too loud, too quiet, we couldn’t hear the video, etc.
Once you’ve established your in-game production, ask fans specific questions about this video or that segment and even try to provide a review for them using YouTube or your team’s web site. This will allow them to comment more on the content they want to see and gives them a chance to respond accordingly. These are the kinds of details that will make your show better as the season progresses and people are less likely to make snap decisions based videos or promotions.
As you’re talking to the fans, ask open ended questions. “What did you like about this promotion?”, “What didn’t you like about the host?”, and “Why don’t you find coming to games as much fun as you used to?” are three examples of open-ended questions. This allows the person to respond with actual information rather than, “Yes, I liked it” (but how much?) or “I didn’t like it” (why not?). Asking “Why” after the fact can make it seem a little confrontational and you don’t get the answers you like. Simple yes and no answers or rate-by-number don’t provide you with ample information and was always one of the problems I had when working in sports.
One of the teams I worked for set-up a questionnaire and asked 1,000 fans over the course of three games (Monday-Wednesday) questions about the in-game production. I asked it to be Thursday through Sunday to give us a better picture of our overall demographic because those four days were four different crowds. The responses to the music questions were all 4′s and 5′s except for a few 1′s and 2′s. But I couldn’t address the 1′s and 2′s because there wasn’t anywhere for the fans to leave comments. Why did I get such low ratings from a couple of people? I know you can’t please everyone, but was it something minor they were upset about? What it something major?
A few years later I’m working for Potomac and they did the same questionnaire except better spread of dates, they did an entire homestand and allowed for comments. Again, lots of 4′s and 5′s with a few 1′s and 2′s. Except on the 1′s and 2′s I got my answers.
“Too many sound effects during the game”
“Too much music during the game”
“Not enough country music”
“Change the home run song”
“I don’t like you”
The last one was a real response and even though there was nothing I could do about it–didn’t know who it was that put it in there–I could do something about the other four. The first two comments came during the early/mid-week games. So for those games, I played fewer crowd prompts and sound effects. Rating went up on the midseason questionnaire from those. The third one I kind of had an idea that I wasn’t so I changed it. The fourth, we were playing “Rock and Roll Pt. 2″ so we changed it to “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry. Two birds with one stone on there because our team was hitting a lot of home runs that year.
Another fun surprise that we did for the fans that year is had them vote on the “first song” of selected games. This was to eventually turn into a full night of fan-selected music, but we never got around to getting that completed. We would give fans a selection of five songs to vote on starting Monday before a Saturday night game with fireworks. The songs varied and most of the time it was a baseball song that won, though there were times fans wanted to hear something different. We would then encourage the fans to send in their requests and this helped build a good music library for us to build off.
Step 3: Get Out And Listen
Ever go to a bar and hear a DJ playing music? Well, that DJ is perfect for that bar because he’s there nightly playing to the same crowd. Is that a good DJ to hire for your team? NO. Capital N, capital O. Why? Because in sports your crowds change by night and their emotions can change in a split second. That bar DJ is playing the same music for the same 10-100 people every week.
Go to a hotel, conference center or try to find someone around you that’s hiring a DJ for an event they’re doing and see how that DJ works. Myself, I’m a mobile DJ as well as P. A. announcer, sports-music DJ, in-game host, etc. The experience in sports helps me with the parties and the party experience helps me in sports. Each night is a different animal.
On one recent Saturday, I was DJing a friend’s wedding in the morning/afternoon and then DJing a private graduation party where I only knew one person–the person that hired me–that night. The reception had mainly oldies and swing music with some recent stuff. The grad party featured a lot of country to start, 70′s, Motown, Funk, Classic Rock and some newer Top-40 along with the traditional line dances that weren’t all that popular at the wedding. I was able to do this based on my past experience in knowing every crowd is different and how to adjust my comfort level to their liking. Both were successes.
But another key factor of this, is listen to the music that’s played. If you go to five or six events and the same song is being played at all of them, then you might want to write it down and play it at your place. If you notice that the people get up out of their seats and dance with a particular song or particular style of song, then play that. The key here is to watch and listen. You may have a song that you absolutely don’t like, but the fans love. Play it. It’s not worth the fans not having a good time because one person doesn’t like it.
Step 4: Set the Atmosphere
Many times people ask me, “How do I get people up and dancing when I want them to?” The answer is to set the appropriate atmosphere. People are coming to a sporting event looking to have fun. Play fun music. Occasionally, I’ll get the comment, “That’s not a [insert sport here] song.” My response is, “It’s a song the fans like and that’s who I’m trying to entertain.”
Setting the atmosphere can only happen if you’ve diligently performed the first three steps. You also need to watch the crowd during the pre-game and even during the game. Earlier, I mentioned some teams script EVERYTHING. I’ve worked for one of those teams. It wasn’t fun and most of the time the game didn’t go the direction of the script. Something out of the ordinary happened and you needed to think on your feet, but robots don’t have the ability. The big key to success is to be ready for anything and not to overscript.
I’ve had interns with other teams try to do that. One of which was so insistent that she get to run the show for a night to show how much better it’d be with her running the show. I then asked her, “Ok, what’s the final score of the game going to be, I want to place a bet in Vegas on this one.” She had no clue what I was talking about until I said, “Look, if you think you know what’s going to happen in the third inning to go with that song, then I want to know what the final score is going to be so I can make a little money on this game.”
Was I being a jerk, yes, but I knew my experience and I knew our team that year. She had a Wednesday night to work with and boy did it fail. First two innings went ok, but that third inning we made a couple of stupid plays in the field and didn’t fare well at the plate so the big dance number at the end of the inning–that we would have normally moved to later in the game to allow for that situation of the fans being stunned–didn’t go over so well and many fans asked why we did it then. By the fifth inning, I was back in charge of the music and everything else in game and she never bothered me with her antics again, though did ask many good questions the rest of the year and learned a few things.
The key is to realize that you may need to move some things because of the atmosphere. Normally, I would have taken the fifth inning announcements and moved them to the end of the third and put the dance number back in the fifth. I also would have followed up that third inning with something upbeat, but not over the top. The atmosphere the rest of the night was off and people started to leave early.
Step 5: Enjoy the Successes But Learn From Failures
If you do the first four steps, you will have a lot of successes. If you try and succeed, great, you learned well. If you try and fail, don’t worry. Learn from the mistakes, identify what went wrong and figure out IF you want to make changes. Maybe it was a bad call to go with that video at that time, but tomorrow it may work. If you fail again in that situation, then make the necessary change.
One of the great things about the first four steps is that your fans will feel closer to the game and to the organization. The Washington Capitals do a lot for not only their season ticket holders but for their fans as a whole. You don’t need to be a season ticket holder to feel like you’re part of something special and the Caps do a great job with that.
Fans who feel like they’re a part of the organization will have a greater sense of pride to the team and that pride leads to bringing their friends to the game, buying souvenirs, talking about the team at work the next day, etc. which only adds to attendance which means more money in the bank. And that’s the bottom line in sports these days is that bottom line. I’ve worked with some organizations who spend thousands of dollars per fan to get them to come to the game, then pennies to keep them coming back once at the park. That’s not right, there is a finite number of fans who are going to come, make them feel welcome, make them want to come back and avoid the minor annoyances. You can avoid one minor, but potentially major, annoyance by simply following these steps.