Why I’m Not a Huge Fan of the Term Fan

What do you call someone who buys a ticket to a live event? (No, this isn’t the setup for a joke.)

A patron? A ticket buyer? A fan?

Yes. All of those, and a few more, appear frequently in the lexicon of live entertainment and arts ticket sellers and marketers.

None of them is perfect or right on the money, but let’s talk about the word fan.

Photo Credit: "Clapping crowd member © 2015 LarryJ Photography," © 2015  villunderlondon, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license.

Photo Credit: “Clapping crowd member © 2015 LarryJ Photography,” © 2015
villunderlondon, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license.

Of course, as a term for someone who is an enthusiast about a band, team or show, it’s perfectly fine. It’s correct and descriptive. Yes, I am a Los Angeles Clippers fan and an Arctic Monkeys fan and a Hamilton fan.

But if I buy a ticket to a show I’ve never seen in a venue I’ve never been to, am I a fan? I don’t think so, not yet at least.

So when I hear people in the industry use the term fan generically to refer to people who are buying tickets on their platforms, I have a mildly prickly reaction, and now I think I have an inkling of why.

Calling someone a fan simply because they bought a ticket is presumptuous and egocentric about the relationship. It also ignores the most important issue in the live entertainment business: Even active buyers don’t go out enough. If they’re all fans, how come they’re so unenthusiastic in general?

People who make up the marketplace for live entertainment and arts deserve to have their business won over and over again and not to be presumed to be fans of what’s for sale.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think anybody’s heart is in the wrong place here. Like I said, there’s no perfect term for what we mean, and the best term may differ by situation. On the other hand, words matter, and I don’t like the mindset that there are these enthusiasts out there whose fanaticism (the root of the word fan after all) must simply be harnessed as the key to success for our industry.

Far from it. We need a presumption that we must work harder, as an industry at all levels — content, marketing, in venue, etc. — to earn and create more enthusiasm for the live product.

If I had to pick a term for this, I’d pick customer. Why? Because it’s more straightforward for one thing, and for another, it reminds us that we have to earn and re-earn the custom of the person buying the ticket. We’re not simply feeding some addiction they have. We’re serving them, which if we do well, they may just come back and want more.

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