Keeping up attendance: Building a community

Dr Bob Heere

Posted: April 2, 2015

In an age where we have unlimited access to entertainment through television, computers, and handheld devices, many entertainment venues are struggling to keep up attendance and to differentiate themselves from the living room and mobile entertainment experience. Yet, no matter how many people are invited to your viewing party, it does not approximate the thousands sitting in the venue itself, who provide a sensory experience that is unmatched at home, let alone on your mobile device. If we think about this for a moment, we could make an argument that it is not the actual core product (the music performance or the football game) that separates the living room from the venue; on the contrary, often the core product is better viewed, or listened to from the couch, but it is the interaction with the live attendees that make the event special. What motivates us to attend in many instances, are the other fans and the atmosphere they create through their interaction.

Many entertainment and sport organizations have been very successful in creating such an atmosphere and are known as powerful communities that allow people to come together to experience an exciting event. While at the event, they become involved in rituals and traditions that symbolize that particular community. Countless examples from around the world can be given of this manifestation of community, such as the fans of FC Liverpool who sing, “You’ll never walk alone,” to Kentucky Derby goers wearing lavish hats and drinking Mint Juleps. The Chicago Cubs, who despite being unsuccessful on the field have built a loyal following that allows them to remain among the highest revenue generating teams in Major League Baseball; yet, we still know very little that would help a team such as the Tampa Bay Rays to become more like the Cubs. How can they create a following that through their sense of identity with the community feels the moral responsibility and loyalty to continue their engagement with the organization, even when the core product is not that great?

The process seems daunting, but by following a distinct set of strategies, marketers can build a sense of community around their sport or entertainment service. Through work on several studies we have developed the following strategies for community formation:

Encourage horizontal relationships between consumers that distract them from the core product

Provide a platform for empowerment

Create a social space that exudes a sense of ‘home’

Create group experiences that are extra-ordinary

Identify what associated community the team represents

Identify and develop rivals, not enemies

Co-create marketing strategies that have meaning to the fan

The seven points above are not meant to provide an exhaustive list of ways to build a community around a sport or entertainment organization. Yet, they could serve as a starting point for a manager to begin developing a community around their organization and develop engaged consumers who build an emotional relationship with the organization and are able to identify with it. If you are interested in reading more about these 7 strategies, please click on this link for a full discussion on them



About Dr Bob Heere

Bob is an associate professor and the PhD Program Director at the University of South Carolina. His research is on social identity and community development in and through sport and he has published articles on both the World Cup 2002 and 2010. Previously, Bob Heere worked for the University of Texas, Cruyff Institute for Sport Studies and Auckland University of Technology.