Jun 16, 2010

Behind the scenes: Fan experience in Boston

Boston.com has a great look behind the curtain at TD Banknorth Garden. Some highlights:

Before the final buzzer, 300 crowd shots will be broadcast, along with 45 game-action replays on the high-definition Jumbotron. The Garden DJ will play 125 songs at rock concert volume. The Celtics cheerleaders will fire 40 T-shirts into the stands by air gun. On the court, four promotions will fill timeouts, along with three dance routines by a squad of young women wearing considerably less clothing than normal for a cold winter night. Halftime will feature a similarly-clad female unicyclist tossing bowls from the tip of her bright red shoe onto her head.

...And they do all this knowing that the latest in game presentation can be hard to take for fans whose loyalties are passed generation to generation, and who may be nostalgic for the days when Garden entertainment meant John Kiley at the organ and fans cheering without Jumbotron prompts.

...Kelly Higgins of North Attleborough doesn't understand the debate over fired-up game presentation. When the 20-year-old won tickets to a Celtics game last season, she tried to give them away. She found no takers and went to her first NBA contest.

"When I got back I couldn't tell you who played, but I could remember everything they did on the Jumbotron," said Higgins, who is now eager to use her boyfriend's season-ticket package. "The atmosphere was so much fun. Everyone was so excited. If it wasn't that way, it would be boring. It's not just about basketball. It's everything."

Even in Boston, where many fans place special value on history and tradition, stage-managing game presentation is a priority for all pro teams. From the Red Sox with their carefully choreographed pregame rituals to the Patriots with their booming music and musket blasts, teams increasingly view the orchestrated spectacle as very good -indeed, essential - for business.

"We're quite confident that if we did not make an effort to entertain fans, the building would not be full and we would not have won Banner 17," said Wyc Grousbeck, the Celtics principal owner. "We're about entertainment and winning banners. We think they go together and last year was the proof.

"If we dialed down the game entertainment, we wouldn't have the third-highest gate in the league. The fans kept coming even in years when we weren't particularly good. Game entertainment was part of that."

...While NBA guidelines keep all forms of entertainment from exceeding 95 decibels - about as loud as standing next to a jack hammer - the "noise meter" appears at crucial junctures and provokes high-pitched, lung-straining, ear-splitting screams. Some wonder if the tipping point between show and game has been reached, when young children appear on Jumbotrons looking delighted to be televised, but wearing earplugs to block out noise?

..."You're dealing with a different type of consumer today," said NHL director of events and entertainment Martin McCreary, who has presented everything from the Super Bowl to beach volleyball to the Bassmaster Classic. "People expect an entertainment experience. We're in the entertainment business. Whatever we can do to make contact with fans and give them more than they expected, that's our job. And what people expect from you, ramps up every year."

..."In terms of cost-benefit analysis, game presentation is a slam dunk," said Smith College sports economist Andrew Zimbalist. Noting the average NBA player makes $5 million per season, he called pay for dancers and programmers a "trivial expense." But it is those dancers, who make on average $100 per game, and programmers who help game presentation express team personality.

..."We've revived first pitch ceremonies with gusto," said Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino of productions that honor veterans, cancer survivors, and Olympic athletes. "They enable us to market the brand and celebrate certain values, reinforce messages we'd like to communicate to our fans.

"The Red Sox didn't always sell out and they may not always sell out in the future. We've got to stay vigilant, make sure we provide fans with a team worthy of their support and the experience they want. We think there is a key brand loyalty that exists right now and we want to perpetuate it for a long time to come."

The history-filled countdown videos played immediately before Celtics and Bruins games capture each team's essence. The Celtics' video clocks in at 15 minutes, nearly twice as long as any other in the NBA because there are 50-plus years of history, and 17 championships, to cover. The Bruins' video starts with a movie theater-style opening and runs five minutes.

...The real juggling acts take place behind the closed doors of conference rooms and control rooms. The day before a Celtics game, marketing executives and game presentation directors finalize a 75-page script. They plot out promotions. They review music selections for timeouts. They want well-organized chaos.

...NBA games typically last 2 1/2 hours, leaving 102 minutes of downtime to fill. Game presentation directors take each sport's natural rhythm and drama into consideration when making decisions about what music to play and what video to show.

Read the entire article...

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