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10 Lessons On Boosting Attendance…

1. The Big Story: Is scheduling behind the AFL’s decline in attendance?

Big Ideas:

  • You must revisit your value proposition now. 
  • Do you understand who your competition is? Really?
  • How much money is doing things the old way costing you?

I’m going to do this one a little different than normal because it can sometimes be difficult to translate something from the Australian market to the American market. So what I am going to do instead is write up 10 ideas about turning around a business that’s hit a bump, might have stagnated, or is in decline using some of the challenges that the AFL has run into as fans return from the pandemic. 

To me, the AFL is amazing. So this is likely just a minor bump. 

  1. If your crowds have declined now, have you taken the step back to look at your strategy? A lot of places haven’t because they are understaffed or they just haven’t seen the importance of thinking through their strategy. What does strategy really mean in the context of tickets? Knowing what your value is in the market and understanding your customer. AFLW does this very well. 
  2. If you’ve allowed TV to schedule the games to fit their schedule, does this put you in competition with something else? Look at the ratings, are you just filler content that gets well paid? Or, are your games competing with something else entirely that could cause you long term damage for short-term gain? 
  3. Have you looked at your market lately? I know that many organizations haven’t really done any market research because they are likely overstretched. Also, many organizations didn’t have a culture of market research before the pandemic. Now, even less. This might be causing you to miss opportunities worth millions of dollars in tickets sales a year. For the AFL, looking at their market has been a constant, especially in Melbourne, over the years because the AFL has many teams in Melbourne and it is the sports capital of the world. 
  4. What does your advertising look like? Most of the ads I see everywhere for live entertainment are tactic. This means they are short-term, sales activation type ads that lose their effectiveness if not paired with some long-term, top of the funnel brand building ads. Track your numbers over 3 years and you’ll see that not supporting your ticket sales with some brand building will make your targeted sales ads work less effectively each year and each year the trend downward will accelerate. 
  5. Getting fans back into the seats is about value: I started in nightclubs and our number one job was getting people in the door. If we got you in the door, we could make money off of you and you’d be glad to give it to us. Because we threw a party. In thinking about your game presentation, look at it through the lens of your customers. What’s fun for them? Not for you, but for them? Go back and check out my conversation with Ruth Hartt about ‘Jobs to Be Done’. 
  6. Recognize that the length of your sales cycle is longer than ever: I’ve been studying the length of the sales cycle for teams around the world and it is amazing how many touches it takes to close a sale…teams might count 8-11 and go with that number, which has been pretty consistent around the world, but the real number is often much more than that because there are numbers of touchpoints that we don’t even know are going on that add value or subtract value in the sales journey. This means we need to be more thoughtful about how we are showing up for our fans and potential fans. 
  7. You do realize that most fans don’t go to tons of games: Most fans might go to one or two games, tops. This is the same data that shows up in most product categories, if you dig deeply enough you recognize that this mythical creature that goes to a dozen shows or games a year is a small portion of your audience. This means that you need to grow your pot of potential fans by doing brand building and working to expand your addressable audience. 
  8. Don’t try and do a one-size-fits-all approach: There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to ticket sales. You have to get into your market, know your customers, and design your products and services to fit their needs. The AFL does a really nice job of that like with that program I shared last week from the North Melbourne team. You need to be in your market, not doing the same thing that every market does. 
  9. Have you priced your market out of your games? Most businesses start the pricing discussion by talking about the revenue number they need to hit. That’s backward. You need to start by understanding what your customers value and what they are willing or able to pay for that value. The chain of value has been broken in a lot of sports for a long time. In the States, this has been insulated by the continuing willingness of brokers to overpay for a lot of inventory in hopes of finding a “hit”, but who knows how long that is going to last. 
  10. Look at the numbers from a different angle: how much money is not making a change costing you? I’ve used this trick a few times lately and we’ve discovered that minor changes can lead to big bucks. Segment the market differently, there’s a 9-figure market opportunity. Just keep rolling down the road the same way, your sales and renewals start slipping and you are down high-7 figures fast. Position yourself differently to your corporate partners and all of a sudden you’ve found a low-8 figure annual deal. My question is are you looking at your numbers the right way? 


  • Be specific to your market. Don’t try to do what other folks in other markets are doing. 
  • Check your numbers: prices, renewals, new sales, premium, partnerships. Look at them from different angles, you might find opportunities waiting. 
  • Understand that fans behavior has changed. It takes 66 days, on average, for someone to change a habit. We had a much bigger interruption since 2020. What does that mean for the way folks act? Buy? Consume your games and events?