Empty Seats Are Bad TV
Any time you manage to secure big news coverage, make sure you are taking the time to "dress your crowd."
This is an old TV term that meant you put the people where the cameras would be. In the days before the internet ruled the earth teams, and their media partners, went to great lengths to do just that.
If you start each of these videos at around 1:15 you will see the difference between a dressed crowd for TV and one that is a victim of the internet era. Even their respective thumbnails give you a good idea. You can’t control what the fans will post but you can take steps to make good TV for a viewing audience.
People naturally want to be part of something bigger than themselves. If they see a photo of your stands and they are filled then the likelihood that they will be interested in finding out more about what they are missing increases.
Think of it as little sibling syndrome. If you’re an older sibling you’ll know what I mean. Your kid brother didn’t care anything about what you were doing until it looked like you were having too much fun without them, then they wouldn’t leave you alone right? It’s the same idea. We might get bigger but some things we never outgrow. This is one of them.
If a newspaper comes to your game and puts a photo on the front page the next day, what will the moment in time they’ve captured say about your club? Will the thousands of neighbors want to show up to your next game? Will they feel like they’re missing out if they don’t?
Which of the games above would you rather attend? Why? No matter how obscured the shot becomes, people make better action shots than empty seats.
You know the saying, a picture’s worth a thousand words? Make your one shot in the media bigs count! If you get a newspaper or TV station to cover your game, make it worth their time. They want to help you because it helps them. Their ultimate goal in attending your game is to sell advertising space for themselves. If they have an empty stadium shot, that perception could very well become your reality.
When you know that the media will be at your door, there is a way to turn your usual crowd into a “sell out” crowd without adding a single body to their numbers. This is called dressing the crowd and here’s how it you do it.
On your big media days make sure to have the staff work their way through the crowd about 30 minutes before a film crew is due on site. Ask friends, family and player-related folks to move in and fill the spaces in that are in front and toward center. If you know far enough in advance, you can even ask the players to invite more folks and tell them ahead of time to settle in near center field and toward the front.
Behind home plate is always the most filmed area in either sport so that’s the spot you want to concentrate on making sure has great attendance.
If your stadium has a particularly sunny side, fill the crowd up heading in the direction away from the sunny side of the field. This may mean giving out some sunscreen and water to the fans or setting umbrellas up as they will be sitting directly in the sun’s path. No film crew will set up cameras to battle with the sunlight so they will be filming across into the shaded side of the field which, in turn, is the sunny side of the stands.
We all know that fans have their favorite spots – in the shade, by the beer cart, next to the BBQ on the hill. Your best fans however are also vested in your club so don’t be afraid to ask your community for help.
Do this early, even if there are not a lot of people in the stands yet. Trust your most loyal fans to help you out. They will, nearly before you’ve asked. Spread the word through your loyal fanbase ahead of the game day or, if it happens on a moment's notice, ask them to start whispering in people's ears as they themselves move down into the camera's eye.
When you need to, don’t be afraid to offer an incentive. It never hurts to ask for a favor while providing a treat. Walk around with free stickers for the kids or a complimentary drink ticket. It’s a small price to pay for the right impression.
If you can plan ahead do it. Sometimes however, the camera crews show up unexpectedly. They are driving by, see a crowd and stop to see if it’s anything worth capturing.
Train your ticket staff to recognize the opportunity and have a plan in place to act fast. Have a code word in place so that when someone you need to impress walks through the gates, you have time to jump into action without them realizing anything is happening.
Assign one of the staff to keep them tied up for about 1-2 minutes. This should give your team time to initiate the action plan. The fastest way to do this could be to ask for the cell number of one of your most loyal fans. When the media person shows up, ring them or send an SMS asking for help to move everyone into center for the cameras.
You could also SMS the code word to your volunteers and personnel throughout the stadium so they too can spring into action.
Use technology to your advantage. They can start a game of telephone in the crowd, moving everyone over in a casual manner so as not to arouse suspicion. Giving them a minute or two head start allows for the timing to come more naturally. Maybe they have an inning break coming up they can wait for or perhaps they need time to gather their things.
Keeping the media person waiting a moment doesn’t do anything to impede their progress. They are used to having to wait to meet media directors and get approval for access. What it can do for you however is priceless.
By the way, if you regularly broadcast your own games via livestream, this is a real opportunity for you to do your own best work. Dress your crowd for the stream. Set up your camera to cover angles that naturally show your crowd’s most filled areas behind the play. If you have more than one camera and none of them are focused on your crowd, you are missing a true opportunity to bring bodies out from behind their computer screen.
Let’s say you have a few hundred people watching your games each week on livestream. What would happen to your revenue stream if just 20 or 30 of them got out of their house and over to the park instead? Even if you don’t sell tickets you’re missing the opportunity to sell food, beverages and merchandise to every one of them. The loss of livestream numbers is not likely going to affect your sponsorship revenue because the idea is the same.
The more you show people having fun at the game, the more people are likely to engage with your game and become part of your viewing audience both in the stands and at home. You will always have shut-ins, elderly people and those who are injured or sick to help you round out your loyal viewership so don’t worry about the sponsorship revenue.
In fact, dressing your crowd for viewing is the best way to increase your bottom line. You can show potential sponsors how many people show up to your games. A few hundred doesn’t sound like a lot in comparison to the large arenas where other sports are played so showing them how packed that can look in your stadium may be the incentive they need to write that check for a fence sign or sign on to a fan giveaway. Those pictures will be worth more than a thousand words. They could just turn into thousands of euro in revenue for your club.