We talk a lot about how to make a live entertainment and arts event or venue successful, but there’s one topic that’s hard to talk about. And it’s the most important one of all.
It’s the question of what I call Gravitational Pull. In nature, an object with a lot of mass (let’s say, our sun) literally pulls objects toward it. The Earth holds the (much smaller) moon in an orbit because of gravity and that gravity is caused by the larger mass of the Earth.
What we’re talking about though isn’t the “mass” of a show, event or venue, but the size of its natural, current level of appeal.
The Book of Mormon has tremendous gravitational pull right now. So does a One Direction concert. Right at this moment, the gravitational pull of those things is strong.
If you’re an astute observer of the live entertainment industry (as many of you who read Selling Out are), you should eventually be able to have a pretty good instinct about the gravitational pull of an event or potential event without seeing any data on sales. It’s not to say you won’t be wrong sometimes, but most of the time you should be able to suss out whether something is going to have a strong natural pull to it.
For example, my instincts told me very strongly that a recent tour cancellation was not only possible but likely because the elements just didn’t add up.
Part of the reason that I write about all genres here is because there’s a lot to learn from sports if you’re in concerts, from theater if you’re in comedy, and so forth. It also allows you to see more patterns and develop those instincts.
For example, and I know NASCAR is a topic we rarely discuss, but I find it very interesting to see that both live attendance and TV ratings are significantly down for the last several years in America’s most popular racing format.
Not that it’s not still popular or that it doesn’t still have a strong gravitational pull, especially in the South, but there’s no disputing that a 40% drop in attendance is indicative of something happening that isn’t positive for the sport.
Eight or 10 years ago, NASCAR’s gravitational pull was huge and growing. Now it’s going the other direction.
I’m not here to talk about why that is or how to fix it. I’m here to suggest to you that you pay attention to what does and doesn’t have gravitational pull so that you can develop better instincts on the subject.
Why? For your own content, of course. Some of us in live entertainment marketing have input or control of content, and some just have to market what others determine, but in either case it’s very important to have a realistic grasp at all times of the gravitational pull of the show.
The pitfalls are serious: Treating a show that needs nonstop marketing work and support like one that has a strong automatic pull will lead to disaster, both financially and in terms of attendance. Treating a property that used to have strong gravitation pull as if it still does is opening the door to eventual failure. Treating a show with strong gravitational pull as though it’s just average … actually, that doesn’t happen very often, but if it did the pitfall is that you’re probably missing opportunities to build audience and add revenue.
This isn’t a science. It’s not really like gravity and anyone can be wrong, but my observation is that you can be right most of the time if you develop those instincts and trust them when the time comes.