Silpayamanant correctly notes that sports teams have the same challenges as arts organizations. Just as it still takes just as many people to perform Hamlet as it did 100 years ago, improvements in technology haven’t brought efficiencies to baseball allowing them to play the game with only 6 people on the field. I was flabbergasted to learn just how small a percentage ticket sales comprise sports’ teams total revenues.
“The NFL, the most profitable of the Leagues, takes in 20% of its total revenue through Gate revenue while the MLB, the next in line in profitability, took in 35% in 2006 (down from 40% in 2001). The NBA gets roughly 33% of its total revenue from the gate.
So we have a performance income gap in the Sports Industry which is practically no different than the “structural deficits” found in Classical Music. But the former is considered “profitable” while the latter is increasingly being referred to as being in crisis. What has made up the shortfall in performance revenue for sports then? The most obvious revenue sources are through corporate sponsorship, merchandizing, and most importantly for the purposes of this post–Broadcast licenses (i.e. Television).”
As Silpayamanant points out, only a few sports franchises are profitable but thanks to revenue sharing “(the highest earners will give a disproportionate amount of their gross to distribute amongst the lowest earners), the field as a whole remains profitable.”
Now given the whole “non profit” element, I am not sure a ticket revenue sharing arrangement among arts organizations is viable. Television as a medium looks to be on the wane, but content licensing through online and other media might be viable if anyone figures out a workable model.
Merchandising might hold promise if arts organizations in a community or across a discipline got together and created some interesting products or services to distribute/license and then had some revenue sharing related to it.
But will arts organizations have the discipline and will to bond together toward a common cause and then have the patience to let their plans come to fruition?
A commenter on Silpayamanant’s blog reminds us that professional athletes were not always well paid and often had to work in retail during the off-season. In one of my very first blog posts I linked to Chris Lavin’s 2002 speech, “Why Arts Coverage Should Be More Like Sports,” where Lavin recalls that Wellington Mara who owned the NY Giants football team would give Lavin’s father piles of tickets in the hope of getting people to actually attend the games.
Success didn’t happen in the course of a couple seasons for the sport leagues, nor would it come quickly for any cooperative effort between arts organizations. One of the first hurdles would be a change in operational culture. Lavin’s call for arts organizations to be more open and transparent to the media is echoed today by people calling for arts organizations to make themselves more open and accessible to audiences.
Given the frequent questioning of the validity of the non profit business model for arts organizations these days, perhaps a league of arts organizations focused on monetizing anything that isn’t nailed down can comprise a viable way forward. I mean, heck, many orchestras are already running parallel to sports leagues with the threats of lock outs and hiring non-union players.