With the issue of webcasts being discussed again Ian Braisby gives his take on Panthers not offering one in an eloquently argued article.
It’s just a couple of games into the new season but an old discussion is rearing its head once again on social media – namely Panthers’ ongoing refusal to offer a webcast of home games, despite being one of only two EIHL clubs (both with the same owner) not to do so. Their rationale appears to be a belief that a webcast would reduce attendance at matches and thus cause a drop in revenue. I’d like to think that this decision is based on some actual financial projections, but I can’t help but feel that the assumptions underlying it, and to some extent the understanding of who buys a webcast and why, are flawed. So I thought I’d take a closer look at it from a business angle.
Before I go any further, let me lay my cards on the table and declare my vested interest. From a purely selfish perspective I would love the Panthers to do a live stream of home matches. Despite being a season ticket holder, there are always a number of games I can’t make due to my work commitments and the fact I live in Birmingham, which makes getting to midweek matches in particular difficult. If the Panthers offered a webcast I would definitely buy it a few times a season on those occasions when it is my only chance to see a game. So they would get extra cash from me, in addition to the ST money they’ve already banked! But even if I were paying for games individually, I would certainly drive up for the ones I could make, no question about it.
The first question then is whether my attitude and behaviour are typical? If so, there would be no reason not to do a live stream. Obviously the club feels the average fan does not behave as I do, and would see a webcast as a genuine alternative, not as a last-resort replacement for attending a match. While I can understand that there is a budgetary element especially if people are paying for a family to watch, with the incidental expenses involved, I think the case is being overstated. I simply don’t subscribe to the idea that a large number of people would stay home and watch a webcast rather than go to a match, whether they are individuals, couples, groups of friends or families. There are all kinds of reasons you go to a hockey game – of course the match itself, but also an enjoyable night out, a chance to catch up with friends and family who also attend, a welcome release from everyday stresses, and probably many others besides. While watching on a laptop at home might be cheaper, as the old saying goes you get what you pay for and it’s simply not a satisfying substitute for being at the arena and part of the event. You can’t capture the atmosphere or the experience of being at a live match, nor can you see the play develop or keep an eye on everything happening on and off the ice when you are watching a stream. In pretty much every way it’s an inferior option compared to attending in person. The club seem so scared of losing sales that they are actually undervaluing their own product by assuming people will choose to replace it with a cheaper but lower quality alternative. In my view they should have a little more faith in the loyalty of their customers and in the many positive reasons we all have for buying our tickets. If doubts remain, you can always choose which games to stream, perhaps excluding some where attendances might be lower and a little more susceptible to change such as midweek fixtures against teams seen as less attractive, games at holiday times etc.
To my knowledge, which I admit is relatively limited, there’s not an overwhelming body of evidence from other teams or other sports that fans who are genuinely considering attending a live game in the first place will stay away if they can watch at home instead. Maybe a few would every now and then, but would this be more than the additional revenue you can bring in by offering the webcast? I seriously doubt it. I would say that basing the decision not to offer webcasts on the potential of Panthers fans staying away is a misunderstanding of the market. People who can and want to buy a ticket will generally do so; they are not the target market for a live stream. When you operate a webcast you are aiming at two other main groups.
First, you’ve got fans of visiting teams. You can apply the same argument as for home supporters here, but I have to say I don’t think a webcast would reduce their numbers significantly. Away fans tend to be the hardcore supporters, who go on a road trip for the whole experience and camaraderie, which you can’t replace by watching it at home with a couple of mates round and a few cans from the local off licence. Let’s turn the situation around and think about the streams we can watch when Panthers play away. I can honestly say that of all the webcasts I have bought for Panthers away games, there is not one occasion where I would have gone to the match if there had been no webcast on offer. Every single time the club concerned made money from me that they would not otherwise have made. And I’m sure I’m not the only one – just look at the size of our fanbase and the number of regular travelling supporters. Yes, there might be a few people who would choose a webcast over travelling to the NIC, but you have a captive market of the entire visiting team’s fanbase to sell to, easily offsetting the odd lost ticket sales.
Secondly, you’ve got Panthers fans who are unable to attend any or some matches for whatever reasons, be it health, family, work commitments, geographical location or whatever. Those people, and I include myself in this category as I mentioned at the beginning, would willingly fork out to watch their team on a webcast if it’s the only way they can do so. The same applies to families and friends of players and various other individuals with some link to or interest in the club who cannot get to Nottingham to watch a game.
The crucial point here is that these two categories are all people who will not come to the NIC regardless of whether you offer a webcast or not. In other words, whatever you do you cannot make any money from them through ticket sales. But with a webcast you can turn them into a revenue stream. As someone with a background in business and the owner of a small company myself, I struggle to understand the business rationale behind willingly turning your back on two significant revenue streams that you can tap into with minimal additional cost.
Ultimately I think it’s about how you market it. Nobody is suggesting you start publicising the Panthers by encouraging people to watch them online. The focus in and around Nottingham will remain on attracting people to the arena and increasing our home attendances (which equals revenue for the club). To be quite honest, if someone is interested in trying the Panthers, I am sure their first port of call would be to find out when they can catch a home game anyway, not to look for a way to watch a match online – the fact such a facility existed probably wouldn’t even enter their head. In parallel you offer a live stream through the club’s website. No big fanfare or hype, just letting people know that it’s there if you need to use it, with the emphasis very much on it being something you can buy if you can’t make it to a match. You support this with targeted marketing to fans of visiting teams via social media. If you’re still concerned about losing ticket revenue, you can do this marketing in the couple of days before the match once those away fans who will be making the trip have made their arrangements and booked tickets.
We all understand that hockey is a business and the Panthers are looking to maximise their revenue. However, I can’t help but feel the club is a little bit stuck in the past, with a model where bums on seats is the only way to generate money from hockey fans. It’s an approach that, by and large, has worked well for them before so it’s not going to be an easy thing to step outside of that comfort zone. But times have moved on, other clubs have moved on, and I really do believe our club needs to do the same. Like any business decision there’s an element of risk involved, but there is also significant potential for additional revenue. The key is to understand that increasing ticket sales and making money from live streaming games are not necessarily mutually exclusive. With the right strategy and targeted, sophisticated marketing there is no reason it can’t be done. The result? More revenue for the club, a better service to its fans and customers, and a stronger presence in the modern digital media. And those are all good things in any business.