An amusing and viral story that made the rounds on the second college football Saturday of November centered around Mike the Tiger and the Louisiana State University (LSU) mascot’s unwillingness to get out to the football field for any live game this season. Folks at LSU have exhausted ideas, the stories read, and while many, including myself, laughed at this very share-able story, it also serves a good allegory for the attendance woes currently seen in college football, and pro sports, in general. With our Mike metaphor in mind, here are 5 things sports marketers looking to put butts in seats can learn from LSU’s mascot.
1) When his handlers opened the cage door, leaving it wide open, Mike didn’t leave. It was too easy.
When the cage door is closed, there are no doubt times when Mike yearns to get out and see the action elsewhere. But if the door is wide open, the perception of scarcity or rarity is gone; the intrinsic value of what is going on out there (beyond the cage, at the field) is greatly diminished.
The same dilution of value and lack of a scarcity perception occurs when free tickets to game are given out like candy. If fans know the option to attend is always there at little to no cost, the perceived value of attending is next to nil. Don’t leave the cage wide open all day, every day, every game.
2) The cage is more comfortable and even a juicy steak wouldn’t lure him out.
Mike’s handlers tried every incentive and goodie they could to lure Mike out of the comforts of his cage, but, ultimately, it either wasn’t enough or was the same old offer every time. That steak may have been appealing initially, but, eventually, it lost its novelty and appeal, for Mike.
A free shirt or cap or yet another addition to fans’ ever-increasing collection of bobble heads may move the needle, at first, but giveaways can’t be a long-term plan to lure Mike out of his cage nor fans out to the games. The overall experience has to be the focus and (at least the notion of) novelty must be perceived by fans so they feel attending the game will offer an experience or item they’ve never seen before. Surprise and delight reigns the day.
3) Even the lure of a raucous, fun atmosphere wasn’t enough to lure Mike out to the field.
The ear-splitting cheers of the fans, the violent hits under the lights, and the sight of being surrounded by crazed LSU fans had perhaps become old hat for Mike The Tiger and, even though he could hear the curious commotion in the distance, he decided the cage was more comfortable. The fear of missing out (FOMO) wasn’t there or wasn’t strong enough.
Though the term is over-used, FOMO remains a core element for sports and entertainment marketing. Every game has to be an event, live attendance has to be something one simply cannot miss lest they feel out of the loop. A great game atmosphere goes a long way, but FOMO can only persist if routine does not rule the day. Whether the intrinsic value of history (or emotional/ranking/rival implications), incredible content only seen/experienced by fans at the venue, a unique food item, and any number of elements can be used to perpetuate, for fans, that every game simply cannot be missed. Seeing other share their experience is key to this, too.
4) Mike’s handlers, basically, gave up and said they couldn’t force him to go
So most fans are not as intimidating as a live tiger, but nearly all are as stubborn, if not more, than the ferocious feline. Surely, they have spent countless hours and resources trying to devise ways to convince Mike to leave, but, well, he is pretty comfortable and set in his ways.
Not all fans, or potential game attendees, are created equally and they should not be treated as such. Particularly with the proliferation of data nowadays, teams should focus on the low hanging fruit and what has driven previous success. What got Mike to leave his cage previously? Are there other Tigers that have previously left their cage and may be ripe to rekindle their love of going to games or increase the number they attend? Fans are revealing so much about their wants, intents, and socio-economic statuses and can be used to find those fans most likely to attend.
5) What other options do Mike’s handlers have? They at least were able to fall back on the costumed version of Mike The Tiger
When all else fails, the LSU program could still count on a different version of Mike The Tiger, a student dressed in costume, to attend at live games (and even participate in choreographed cheers!). When LSU realized Mike The Tiger may not be so willing to leave his cage, they partnered up to assure the value added from the mascot would still serve to enhance the fan experience.
Teams looking for more ways to draw fans to the venue can partner up! Find sponsors, identify the most active and influential fans, and enlist them to contribute to content and experiences and campaigns that will not only enhance the fan experience, but also showcase the investment and engagement others put into the games. Sponsors want fans there (and can help provide content and experiences) and super-fans want more fans there (and are willing to help any way they can). Partner up and leave Mike wondering what everyone else in the animal kingdom is doing and building and experiencing.
The thought of trying to get a live tiger to leave his luxurious cage against his will is certainly daunting and frightening, but no more so than the increasingly desperate situation facing many sports marketers looking to keep putting butts in seats. So what does Mike The Tiger teach us? Never take attendance for granted. Strive to get better every season, every game, every day.
Posted by Neil Horowitz