Flat out, there are too many options for entertainment in 2015. With commitments at work, to family, to friends, to hobbies, there’s just too much stuff going on to stay up on all of the things all of the time. You’ve got to figure out how to prioritize your free time in a way that makes sense for you. For me, the priority is with live entertainment – and it always has been, really. Movies end up on DVD. Today’s hot TV show will make it to Hulu or on Netflix. Gatsby will still be as great if you read about him five years from now. I promise.
But with live entertainment, there’s an expiration date. There’s something to see, or do, that you’ll never have the chance to see or do in the same way again. Last week, I missed out on seeing one of my favorite bands play a local show. I blew it, because I’m still thinking about it and I’m still seeing pictures and conversation from the folks who did go.
This expiration date drives the urgency to watch live sports, attend concerts, and, probably if you ask someone under 25, the urgency to open a Snapchat, too. It’s only going to happen once, and you’ve got to be there to be a part of it.
It’s no mystery why, then, that as consumers continue to place more and more value on experience over acquisition, marketers are literally doubling down on the live event. Got sports? Add music. Got music? Add sports. This year, it was entirely possible your favorite part about going to Indianapolis for the Final Four was seeing Rihanna. But until fairly recently at the Final Four, there wasn’t much to do outside of the games themselves.
That all changed in 2003, when the NCAA pushed corporate mega-partner Coca-Cola to create original programming designed to keep fans under the Final Four umbrella on the weekend's hoops-less Sunday. The March Madness Music Festival was born in earnest, featuring an initial lineup more hometown hero than stadium superstar, with bands with names like "Bag of Donuts.” It was enough of a hit for long-term investment, though. And so, parallel to the rise of now-mega-huge festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza, the March Madness Music Festival quietly grew into a beast.
This year's iteration boasted a lineup of international touring acts that'd be right at home on the rosters of any of America's marquee festivals — Rihanna, Zac Brown Band, Lady Antebellum, etc. — and a stable of corporate partners capable of booking them. Taking a page straight out of Coachella's iconic handbook, Capitol One even brought along a Ferris wheel. The NCAA and their partners have created something special, and earned the right to call it the nation's largest free music festival. Featuring a full slate of programming from Friday to Sunday, original sponsorship platforms for its three title sponsors (Coca-Cola, AT&T, and Capitol One), the March Madness Music Festival drew about 30,000 fans a day. It has pushed into live TV as well, thanks to tremendous support from Turner Broadcasting. Even if you can’t be there, you can be there.
It’s indicative of sports programming shift towards a "something for everyone" model, an approach that’s winning new fans in key demographics, mainly Millennials and young families. For niche sports, it's a long-term strategy to win loyalty with younger fans. The Preakness Stakes again this year traded in floppy sun hats for glowsticks – inviting Dutch DJ Armin van Buuren and American rapper Childish Gambino to take their InfieldFest stage. Lorde, NAS, Macklemore, Pitbull, and Maroon 5 have all had their turns in recent years.
Similarly, in the face of motor sports’ aging fan base, the Indy 500 has revitalized “The Snake Pit," originally a wild, unsanctioned party in the 1980s, now a corporately sponsored and marketed early morning fist-pump fest complete with flaming streams of fire that starts as early as 7:45 a.m. They can afford to start early, because so many fans elect to camp — or even "glamp" (glamour camp) — on the infield the night before the race. For two American sports so keen to revel in their own tradition, the shift is dramatic.
Whether fans are going for the music and staying for the sports or the other way around, they’re going because they want to be a part of it. If Coca-Cola’s footing the bill for all the fun, then that’s just fine with them.
There’s a reason SXSW has broken out a whole vertical devoted to the relationship between sports and music. They continue to push further into one another in the live event space, and it only serves to benefit of the fan bases of each. In 2015, it’s as simple as this: If it’s too loud, your strategy is too old.