21 12 / 2012
(maybe we should be inviting people to wear helmets and braids to the opera instead of trying to dispel the Brünnehilde myth)
Yesterday the Guthrie announced they were ending the year in the black. Good for them. But also in this article in the StarTribune they announced their year end attendance figures of 425,932. I have to admit that number really startled me. The Guthrie’s total attendance is not something I think about a lot, but it’s a lot bigger than I would have guessed. Big enough to rival things that I do think of as having huge attendance figures. Like football, maybe?
First of all, let me just be clear - I know exactly nothing about football. Zero. Nothing. Seriously. Nothing. However, I didn’t let this lack of knowledge stop me! I used the internet to look up the annual attendance figures for the Minnesota Vikings. 421,668. Wow, that’s really close to the Guthrie’s number. I should tell people about this incredible fact I have discovered that I’m sure no one has ever thought of before! I posted this on Twitter: “Guthrie announces annual attendance figure of 425,932. Total home attendance for the Vikings? 421,668”
Obviously, I don’t think the Guthrie and the Vikings can be compared that simply. But it’s still interesting to me. Several people on Twitter pointed out that the Vikings only have 8 games but the Guthrie has hundreds of shows. Yes. The Vikings also have much more seating capacity. And I might argue that in terms of economic benefit, restaurants would rather have a few hundred people every weekend of the year than tens of thousands of people eight times a year.
The more interesting thing that other people pointed out was how much more visible sports fans are - because they’re dressed up in helmets and face paint and jerseys and cooking their food in a parking lot (this is what happens at football games, yes?) I got some tongue-in-cheek suggestions like:
“Clearly, the lesson here is that theater-goers need more face paint. Let people know they’re there.”
“Maybe the Guthrie should add tailgating and apparel sales.”
I think these tweeters were being funny, but I think they are on to something. One problem the arts have isn’t actually that there are fewer super fans. I imagine the people who held those 400K+ tickets to the Guthrie are just as connected and passionate about the Guthrie’s importance as the 400K+ Vikings ticket holders. It’s with everyone else that it’s different. Take me for example—I’ve never been inside the Metrodome. I’ve never been to a professional football game in my life. I’ve never watched an entire football game on TV. The last time I knew a football player’s name was when I had a crush on a boy in high school. And yet, when the stadium debates rage, I find myself thinking, “Well, it IS an important asset to the city, I mean what kind of metro doesn’t have professional sports, if we’re going to compete for talent and reputation as a “real city” we need these things, right?” I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the number of people who have never been to the theater who think of the Guthrie as important to the city are fewer.
There’s a theory called “Basking in Reflected Glory” that was most influentially researched and written about by Robert Cialdini. The best part about this theory is that it has an awesome acronym: BIRGing. Basically, BIRGing is when you feel good about yourself because of someone else’s success. Cialdini’s study found that students associated themselves with the success of their school’s football team by wearing team colors (particularly after wins) and referring to the team with the “we” pronoun, etc. That’s exactly what we need - more BIRGing! Arts BIRGing!
So, how do we increase BIRGing for the arts? Well, the research says, “A feeling of involvement is also necessary for BIRGing to occur.”
Oh, so I guess we’re back to what we already knew we need to do: engagement, involvement, relevance. PLUS t-shirts and facepaint.
P.S. I KNOW there are all kinds of holes in this comparison - I didn’t research how many repeat ticket buyers are represented in those numbers, or the numbers of bussed-in, captive audience children in the Guthrie’s number, or the number of Vikings fans so drunk they don’t remember that they had the experience, or really much of anything beyond looking up one number on the internet. I also wrote a blog about twitter, so what do you expect?
P.P.S. I also recognize that “being like sports teams” is not going to solve all our problems, yes our major orchestras are both locked out…so is our professional hockey team. Apparently all the BIRGing in the world doesn’t solve intractable labor disputes.