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July 26, 2006

Oh God, Another Sports Analogy

by Douglas McLennan

I hate sports analogies. But, in terms of marketing their product, probably no industry is better at selling itself today than professional sports.

In the past 15 years, just like in the arts, there's been a flood of new facilities built for pro sports. In some cases, perfectly good arenas and stadiums have been decommissioned or torn down to make way for them. These buildings cost hundreds of millions each, and cities across the land have anti-ed up the cash. The justification for these new buildings? Revenue opportunities. Mostly the new buildings offer more ways to extract more money out of fans, even if in some cases the buildings hold fewer people than their predecessors.

Here's the parallel to Andrew's earlier post -pro sports knows a lot about who its fans are and why they come. They know it's important to give away lots of their content (so every game is on TV) so that they're a daily presence in people's lives and so they can hook you with their story. They know it's important to have a "bleacher bums" section where tickets are cheap, the view ain't great, but the camaraderie is over-sized. They know just how much they can raise ticket prices so the average fans can still afford to come fill the seats. They know how much free stuff they have to give the rabid fans (season ticket holders) so they'll shell out major money. And they know how to provide the "luxury" experience for corporate overlords willing to pay for expensive private suites with all the amenities.

Compare that with most of the concert halls built in the past 15 years (and there are many). They all, more or less follow variations on the traditional concert box plan, and aside from the view and some variation in acoustic, they're all the same experience. The modern concert hall is a formal experience, just like it was decades ago. The seats are rigid and packed close together. The rows regiment the experience, and the setting drips with expectation about how you're to behave.

Now, this may be fine for some occasions and for some people. But the world has changed. My favorite movie theatre in Los Angeles has wide aisles, reclining seats that let you rest your head, and a food menu that rivals a decent restaurant. It's fun being there.

Why aren't there luxury boxes in the new concert halls? (and I don't just mean those silly barred-off "box seats" that some halls push). Why is the range of experience offered to concert-goers so narrow? There are people willing to pay to stand at the Met. There are people willing to pay big bucks for great orchestra seats. But what about something more? Real luxury boxes, BarcaLoungers or some such, a "bleacher bums" section... Where is the imagination? One of the great pleasures of going to Disney Hall in LA is the theatrical way the audience is arranged. It's fun just to be in the hall. But there still needs to be more of a range of experience possible...

Posted by mclennan at July 26, 2006 09:32 AM


The laws of physics (specifically acoustics) constrain what you can do in a concert hall. You can listen to classical music in the Hollywood Bowl as well and get exactly what you're talking about. They have to amplify, though. I can't stand the place or the music as it sounds there.

The Bowl, like your sports teams, are selling a lifestyle - the sizzle, not the steak. I don't think that fine arts will be able to resist these trends and eventually they too will get crushed under the wheel of brand development. But, until then, let's enjoy it as best we can.

Ravi Narasimhan
Redondo Beach, CA

Posted by: Ravi Narasimhan at July 26, 2006 10:30 AM

But Disney Hall doesn't have box seats! And it's still fun! When I was there last, I was sitting behind Frank Gehry, who surely would've been first in line for the box-seat treatment.

Posted by: Marc Geelhoed at July 26, 2006 11:11 AM

No, Disney doesn't have boxes, and you're right, it's very fun. I used Disney as an example of a hall that has taken even a little step away from the usual and is being celebrated for it.

Posted by: Doug McLennan at July 26, 2006 11:40 AM

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