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Not Ready For Some Football

If you are wringing your hands over the difficulty you are having attracting students to your performances and events, you are not alone– university football programs are having difficulty, too.

An article on Inside Higher Education’s website reports some pretty significant drops in attendance by students at football games.

Student attendance at major college football games is declining across the country. By how much varies greatly at each institution, but a recent Wall Street Journal analysis of turnstile data at 50 public colleges with top football programs found that average student attendance is down more than 7 percent since 2009.

In 2013, the University of Georgia’s designated student section was nearly 40 percent empty. The University of California at Berkeley has sold about 1,000 fewer student season tickets this season than last year — a season that already saw a decline from the previous one. Since 2009, student attendance at the University of Florida has dropped 22 percent. Three-fourths of the University of Kansas’ student tickets went unused last season.

The article blames cold weather, lack of cellphone/wifi signals and alcohol in stadiums, along with the option to watch the game on a wide variety of media as reasons why attendance is dropping.

And by the way, none of these problems are new. A little over a year ago, Jon Silpayamanant wrote about the exact same attendance issues facing professional sports. Inside Higher Ed mentions that universities are using many of the same solutions the professional teams were adopting including more robust wi-fi, better access to food and beer, and more promotions and giveaways.

One of the concerns expressed about the lack of student attendance is the poor image it provides on television.

“Fundamentally, students are part of the show and that’s something that folks don’t always recognize,” Southall said. “If you watch a college sports telecast, where do the cameras go for in-crowd shots? The cameras are in the student section. If that section is not there, it’s like having a movie without enough extras to walk in the background of the shots. I always joke to my students, ‘You understand you’re paying to be extras. You’re just there for the show, so everyone else can keep consuming it.’ “

The long term concern is that disinterested students will become disinterested alumni who won’t support the athletic program and the university down the road.

As always when we talk about sports and the arts, there are a number of parallels here. One of the big one being the concern that the lack of interest/exposure as “kids” will translate into lack of investment as adults.

This article made me wonder about the real viability of Tweet Seats programs. If students aren’t motivated to attend a football game by the opportunity to be on television or, at the very least, being able to make “I am here participating” posts on social media sites, then are Tweet Seats programs really valuable as a way to attract and retain young audiences?

Given that many Tweet Seats program segregate social media users to their own section, the participants may feel even less engaged than students in a stadium surrounded by tens of thousands of others. (Though I suppose they could feel like they are part of an exclusive group if the environment is right.)

In the great battle of sports versus arts, among the advantages sports had were the ability to be a loud part of a large group at an event where the outcome was unknown. I found it somewhat worrisome that even with these advantages, sports were losing its audiences. What chance do the arts have then?

If you have been reading the results of audience research studies over the last decade or so, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that the answer university athletic departments have arrived at is focusing on the audience’s experience, not on the “performance”.

“…according to a recent survey conducted by Ohio University‚Äôs Center for Sports Administration and stadium designer AECOM. The top three priorities for that spending — enhancing food and beverage options, premium seating, and connectivity — all focus on the experience of fans, rather than the players.”

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May A Large Donation Destroy Your Rating!

This story can’t be allowed to pass uncommented upon. Or at least, I feel the need to comment more extensively than did Thomas Cott when he tweeted this link.

In a case of damned if you have too much overhead and damned if you don’t have enough, ALS Association is in a panic about their rating as an effective charity due to the windfall they received thanks to the ice bucket challenges.

Since they didn’t expect such a surge in donations, they don’t have a plan formulated to use it. As a result, they are in danger of having their rating fall from a B+ to an F.

“You can get in trouble for having too much money in the bank,” said Daniel Borochoff, founder and president of Chicago-based CharityWatch, part of the American Institute of Philanthropy. “We want to see that there is a plan for spending down this money.”


Borochoff said having so much cash and no plan for what to do with that money could lead to an automatic F. Newhouse said those plans are in the works, which I ‘ve written about here in a separate post.

Concern over a potential downgrade lead ALS Association CEO Barbara Newhouse to take a peremptory step of writing to three rating agencies asking them not to penalize the association.

So let me get this straight. A commercial business makes five times their normal annual income and they are celebrated for it. Even if someone takes a close look at how this amazing feat was accomplished and sees something fishy, it is often difficult to get regulators, who wield legal authority, to take effective action. (Not to mention the business can sit on the cash as long as they want.)

However, a charity experiencing unprecedented largess starts to react with panic that the judgment of unofficial entities may result in bad will for them. This despite the fact that the process by which this funding is acquired is transparent, public and clearly unexpected.

The one glimmer of hope is that two of the three rating agencies she sent letters to, Guide Star and Charity Navigator, were signatories to the letter sent out last year urging donors not to use overhead ratio as a prime criteria for giving.

Hopefully there won’t be any problems for ALS Association as they consider their next move.

Otherwise, we may see spiteful people leveling the curse of prosperity in this post title.

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How Green Is My Theater

Last week we were having a conversation to create a repair and replacement plan based on life cycle expectations for our performing arts facility. Of course, there are already a number of issues that needed to be addressed with some immediacy. The head of facility operations mentioned that these days there is little funding to be had for capital improvements. The only way to get much needed repairs and upgrades accomplished is via energy savings performance contracts. (ESPC)

The wikipedia description I linked to about performance contracts being a program for federal government entities is a little narrow. Nearly every state has a similar program, (Oregon has a good description), for themselves and their municipalities and many companies with large physical plants can benefit from them as well.

The benefit of a performance contract is that there is no up front cost to your institution. The company doing the work takes out loans and guarantees that the project will save you money in energy costs. Over the course of 25 years, you pay off the contract with the money you save.

As to whether ESPCs might be an option for arts organizations, I have looked at the programs of about 4-5 states. Other than Oregon’s which suggests a minimum of $100,000 in annual energy bills, there isn’t any clear guidance about what level of energy expense is appropriate to undertake such a project. Presumably your current bills should be relatively high as should the potential for energy saving to make it worth the while of your organization and the company undertaking the work.

You don’t necessarily have to be a governmental entity to have the work done. A couple of the vendors who provide ESPCs list retail and libraries as potential customers. Granted, they may be thinking supermarkets and libraries in need of excellent climate control for their collections rather than clothing stores and my neighborhood library.

But I think about the power use of theaters in particular with all their stage lighting and the energy savings that can be realized. LED lighting still has some color temperature and control issues which make them unsuitable for some uses, but the improvements come very quickly. Many theaters can benefit from upgrading their general lighting and HVAC systems.

When I was working in Hawaii the lighting in our lobby, offices, scene shop and exterior were all replaced. The illumination levels went up and the power use dropped immensely. My only gripe was that even with diffusion filters, the LEDs in some of the exterior stairwells were so sharply defined that it felt like you were furtively moving between pools of light.

My state arts council just sent out a survey yesterday and one question was about how they could better serve my organization. It wasn’t until after I finished the survey that it occurred to me to wonder if state arts councils couldn’t act as coordinators and guarantors on energy savings performance contracts.

Since many foundations aren’t providing capital improvement funding any more, this might prove to be a viable alternative. If a single organization wouldn’t realize enough savings to make a contract worthwhile, perhaps serving the needs of two or more organizations in the same community would be. The organizations could then turn around and use their energy savings to pay off the arts council (if not the energy contractor).

I am not sure what would happen if the organization went out of business or moved before the contract was paid off, but I am sure those considerations are already included in contracts for hospitals and other businesses.

Obviously, I am not fully acquainted with all the details of ESPCs to know how viable this would be. However, given how energy efficiency is becoming an area of increasing concern, I would not be surprised at all if the incentives for upgrading systems improved so over the next 10 years that it became easy for many arts organizations to do.

[Title of the post comes from the novel and movie, How Green Was My Valley]

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Hey Did You Hear About…

I was really surprised to find my name tucked at the bottom of Barry Hessenius’ 2014’s Top 50 Most Powerful and Influential People in the Nonprofit Arts (USA) In fact, since I read his blog via Feedly and had caught up with my subscriptions on Saturday, I might not have read the post for another week if it weren’t for someone tweeting that Robert Bush from Charlotte’s Arts and Science Council made the list.

It’s not that I don’t think what I produce is worthwhile, it is just that I don’t perceive the old blog here as having that high a profile.

Now, of course, there is pressure to meet the standard set by the company I am listed in.

But Barry’s list dovetails nicely with the subject I intended to address today: cooperation and competition in the arts. Last month, Seth Godin observed that authors don’t compete with each other.

Yet, not only do authors get along, they spend time and energy blurbing each other’s books. Authors don’t try to eliminate others from the shelf, in fact, they seek out the most crowded shelves they can find to place their books. They eagerly pay to read what everyone else is writing…

Can you imagine Tim Cook at Apple giving a generous, positive blurb to an Android phone?

And yet authors do it all the time.

It’s one of the things I’ve always liked best about being a professional writer. The universal recognition that there’s plenty of room for more authors, and that more reading is better than less reading, even if what’s getting read isn’t ours.

It’s not a zero-sum game. It’s an infinite game, one where we each seek to help ideas spread and lives change.

Even though the limits of funding, revenue generation opportunities and audience free time make existence as an arts organization or artist seem like a zero sum game, my experience starting about 15 years or so has been that arts people are generally pretty supportive of the work of colleagues in both word and action. They will tell their friends about interesting events and invite them along when they attend.

That hasn’t always been my experience. About 20 years ago, I feel like there was a lot more “us vs. them, we do the real art in this town” attitude. It has seemed over time the people I have worked with have espoused this view less and less.

Which isn’t to say that people aren’t envious of other organizations’ funding base; think other organization’s programming needs to be more diverse; think the annual awards ceremony for their community is all political; and aren’t befuddled by the more abstract and conceptual extremes of artistic expression.

Godin cites the intense rivalry of Pepsi and Coke as the antithesis of the relationship authors share. I mean, be honest. Haven’t you held your breath a moment when pouring Coke into a cup printed with a Pepsi logo, imagining the cup will melt? Have you ever mixed Pepsi and Coke together, standing at arm’s length expecting a reaction similar to dropping Mentos into a bottle of diet Coke, if not an explosion? That is how apparent the rivalry of the two companies is to the general public.

It would be hard to imagine Pepsi or Coke tweeting about members of other companies showing up on a list of the most influential and powerful people in the beverage industry.

But watch who calls attention to Barry Hessenius’ list over the next couple days. I bet you will find that the majority of those who do, don’t work for the same companies and organizations as those named. There may even be former employers and co-workers celebrating the attention someone has received. As Godin noted, there is a recognition that the success of one enhances the prestige and fortunes of the many.

Hey did you hear that Nina Simon, Laura Zabel and Donna Collins made the list?

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