Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Super Bowl vs. Your Museum

Super Bowl Sunday will be a great day to visit your local museum --- because it will be even quieter than usual.  This, despite the oft-repeated statistic that "140 million people will attend major league sporting events in a year, compared to 850 million museum visitations in the United States."

First off, in keeping with the Super Bowl theme of this posting, let me just ask whether you've ever seen someone outside a museum scalping tickets to get inside?  Leaving aside the fact that the comparative statistic above is misleading for a number of reasons, if not downright bogus --- but let's move on.

So why are so many people, even folks who don't normally follow football, more rabidly enthusiastic about watching the "Big Game" or attending a local Super Bowl event, than visiting your museum?

I'd say one possible answer lies in finding the difference between a "fan" and a "casual visitor."   Fans wear logo gear all year long, and have no compunction in excitedly telling total strangers how great their team is.  The National Football league is, as a recent New York Times Magazine article has detailed, even going after a traditionally neglected demographic, women 18 to 49, with great success.

Most museums, however, seem unable to expand beyond their traditional visitor demographic of older, white adults.

So how can museums create more "fans" and expand their demographic reach as well?  

One positive example is the Brooklyn Museum's 1stfans program which is billed as "a socially networked museum membership" that gives special benefits to anyone who becomes a 1stfan. Despite being in the shadow of their over-hyped museum brethren in Manhattan, the Brooklyn Museum has decided to deliberately and aggressively become more responsive to the various communities it serves --- and in the process has been creating Brooklyn Museum fans.

Similarly, places like The City Museum in St. Louis have set out to become a gathering spot for their local communities and have become open to all sorts of fun ideas that are edgy enough to attract a wide, and enthusiastic,  audience of repeat visitors who definitely become City Museum fans.

Of course all this talk of creating "museum fans" is pointless if your museum isn't really fan-worthy.  Is your admissions procedure torture?  Do your create core exhibits and attractions that are worth revisiting, or do you depend on the hucksterism of one-off events that only vaguely relate to your museum's mission and purpose?  What are the obstacles that prevent your visitors from becoming fans?

So, let's take a few lessons from the NFL and see if we can create more museum fans.   And if we can't beat them at the Super Bowl hoopla, maybe we can take a page from Tyler Greens's playbook by stirring up an Art Museum Super Bowl bet, and giving football fans another reason to be interested in what we do.


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  1. I totally agree with this post... but I HAVE seen scalping outside the Seattle Art Museum late night event (Remix) this past summer. It was such a scene I thought I was in the wrong place.

  2. @Nina Score one for SAM! (Although in Seattle you'd almost have to root for the museums over the football team!)

  3. I was pleasantly surprised at our crowd today (no scalpers). I was expecting a ghost town, but it was on par with normal. But, at about 4, all the dads started gently (and not so gently) hurrying their families along. :)