Dear Event Doctor:
The NFL recently announced that the Pro Bowl will be switching its format by allowing team captains to “draft” the players they want, among other changes. After years of the same format, what are the dangers or benefits of changing the structure of an event that people are familiar with?
—Mixing It Up
In the case of the Pro Bowl, we are trying something new to reinvigorate the familiar all-star game format. By doing so, we hope to drive more attendance, attract more television viewers and fuel more fan conversation about the event. The plan started working months ahead of the event, as fans, sponsors and players began discussing the new format as early as the summer of 2013. Without the new format, most of the publicity around the Pro Bowl would be generated in November and December, and then not again until game day.
You may love the idea, you may hate it, or you may have a “huh, let’s see how that goes” attitude—but chances are that you have an opinion. And if you have an opinion, we’ve been at least partially successful in engaging you. Similarly, in 2010, the Pro Bowl was moved from the weekend after the Super Bowl to the weekend before, when no games were being played and fans were waiting patiently for the biggest game of the year. It worked: Pro Bowl viewership in 2013 was almost double what it was in 2009.
Is it time to re-energize your event? If attendance, media attention, sponsorship or viewership are flagging (and hopefully not all four at the same time), the answer is probably yes. There are many ways to bring new life to a property that is growing tired. Changing the format entirely is the most risky. You may lose your loyal fans and, worse, not replace them with new ones. The Pro Bowl makeover is not a massive format change. The game is still four quarters of 15 minutes each, played by two teams of 11 men on a 100-yard field. Touchdowns are still six points, field goals are three and a point after touchdown is one. The roster will still consist of all-star players chosen by the fans; it’s just that they will be assigned to a particular side through a draft led by two player captains, two retired NFL stars and two fans who win fantasy football competitions. I think this is an interesting twist that does not shake the core of the event. It’s still authentic, even if it’s not as intense as a regular-season contest. It should simply be fun.
If faced with the possibility of changing an event more dramatically, you may be better off shutting it down entirely and introducing an improved program with an entirely new brand, new name, new look and new attitude. It may be easier to draw new audiences, along with the loyal fans of the prior event to something that is completely changed rather than trying to retain the brand with all new content. Making improvements to an existing event is often the way to go (you should be doing that every year anyway). Don’t wait until it starts to suffer to make the experience better for your fans. What are you waiting for?
This first appeared in Sports Travel Magazine and appears here courtesy of SCHNEIDER PUBLISHING COMPANY, INC.