Monday, December 28, 2015

Star Wars and the World Series

I should probably say, rest assured, no spoilers to be found here. (Off topic…how long does a movie need to be out before you no longer need to caution people about potential spoilers?)

There’s a new Star Wars movie out at the moment. Have you heard? Did you notice that it’s doing pretty well at the box office?

Yeah. Understatement of the year.

Just about every day, The Force Awakens breaks a new record as far as ticket sales go. Biggest single day. Biggest Opening Weekend. Biggest second weekend. Fastest to $100 million. Fastest to $1 billion. It goes on and on. The best part is that even though the movie opened in December, these aren’t December records. They’re just records, with no qualifiers. So, even though everyone “knows” movies will make more money in the summer when everyone is home from school and looking for air conditioning, Star Wars has managed to make more money than any summer blockbuster. There has been some talk, apparently, in the movie industry that studios may need to rethink the way they pick release dates. Star Wars is showing that a quality movie promoted properly can perform well no matter when it’s released. Studios can’t hide behind “Well, it was a Christmas release” to account for lagging ticket sales. If it’s a good movie that people want to see, they’ll buy a ticket no matter when it’s showing.

You know what I think of when I hear that? The World Series and the Super Bowl.

Yeah, I’m odd.

For years Major League Baseball has been scheduling World Series games at night. The theory being that more people are home and watching TV at 8:00 as opposed to 3:00. Lately they’ve been playing with dates as well, trying to avoid a Saturday night, or land on a Saturday night, or avoid Thursday night, or whatever. They’ve been adjusting their schedule to fit in with the viewing public’s current habits. Contrast that with the NFL. When do they have their regular season games? Sunday afternoon. A terrible time for TV viewers. Their marquee weekly prime time game? Sunday night. Where sit-coms go to die. Their championship game? Sunday night. Almost late Sunday afternoon. Who’s watching TV just after dinner on Sunday? Nobody. Unless it’s the Super Bowl. That’s just the highest rated program of the year. Like, every year.

So Star Wars and the NFL have shown that if you have something people want to see they’ll go out of their way to see it. 

Why hasn’t baseball figured that out?

Sure The Force Awakens and the NFL are different. There’s been about 30 years of anticipation waiting for the next Star Wars movie in the sequence. The Force Awakens was able to draw on one of the largest existing fan bases a movie has ever had. That was even before the unparalleled Disney marketing team got into the action. So, the movie had a head start. Just like the NFL. The facts that its games were always once a week and played on a rectangular field happen to make it a perfect fit to create a rabid television audience. The fact that their championship happened to be one game and on a date scheduled well in advance allowed people to hold viewing parties to help boost their numbers even more. So, it’s probably unrealistic to think other movies or other sports could match the numbers that Star Wars and the Super Bowl bring in.

But, couldn’t they be close? Closer at least?

What if instead of slapping together any old movie and releasing it in the summer season, studios made good movies, and released them whenever it worked best for them? What if instead of playing World Series games when random non-fans happened to have the TV on, MLB worked on growing more hard core fans that will watch them no matter what? Wasn’t the so-called golden age of baseball in the 50’s? Wasn’t that when the games were played during the day? Remember all the kids (apparently) skipping school to see the games? Or sneaking radios into classrooms? Or not having to sneak them since the class was just playing it for them? Why wouldn’t that happen again?

With the internet, wouldn’t a day game actually enhance the product? People streaming the game at work, talking to their coworker? Instead of sitting alone at night watching in your living room, it would be like a sports bar for every game. Is that a better way to get casual fans involved anyway? To let them know that other people are paying attention?

So, instead of trying to get channel surfers to stop by for a second, get people to surf directly to that channel. Take away all the fluff from broadcasts that only appeal to random watchers. Take away the in-game interviews. Take away the annoying graphics. Stop acting like you need a sideshow in order to get people to watch. Act like you deserve to be watched. Act like the product is a good one. Focus on the game. Focus on growing more fans instead of pandering to casual observers. Then, those fans will follow you anywhere. Even if it’s to a December release. Build a fan foundation. After all, that’s baseball’s most important lesson.

If you build it, they will come.

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