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Podcast - February 2012
Circus Time Out Essay
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It's a circus out there ..but does it need to be?
By Jon Cudo, Editor Gameops.com
In the last few years as teams add entertainment options, I have watched the rapid increase in what are often referred to as "circus" time outs. These time outs are a combination of all of a team's entertainment elements thrown into one time out in an effort to create a wild explosion of energy. Circus time outs, often mascots, dancers, interactive performers, break dancers, a video component, music, blimps, giveaways and thumping music.
Circus time outs can be eye candy for your fans, with a lot to see and something for everyone. Kids may focus on the blimps flying, guys on the dancers or cheerleaders, and others may just take it all in. If the time out is hot, these circus time outs can be an effective way to maintain and enhance the crowd's energy. When used well they provide energy and give court presence to all of a teams entertainment groups.
Are they effective?
As previously discussed when used well, circus time outs are interesting and help maintain the intensity of the crowd. However there is a down-side. Like anything when poorly used or over-used, these time outs can be ineffective, can minimize the effectiveness of a break, or in some cases even be dangerous.
If your team isn't on a big run or the game is a bit subdued, a circus time out doesn’t allow any of the performance groups to grab the attention and direct the crowd.
Interactive teams who are trying to generate noise with a t-shirt toss won't have the attention of most fans to entice them to make noise, mascots trying to maintain a crowd clap won't have the attention of enough fans to keep the beat and the camera operators will have fewer people to choose from who are reacting to being on the Jumbotron. It becomes more of less, if you will. No one entertainment element can do what they do, making each less effective on the court with everyone than they would be on the court alone.
As eluded to earlier, these time outs can even be dangerous. If 25% of the crowd is watching the blimp fly and your mascot is slinging t-shirts or your interactive team is throwing out Frisbees...you are asking for trouble.
Are there other ways?
This year at the NBA All-Star game, the NBA had a problem...too much talent, too few time outs. The NBA brings in several of their "Best Practices" performance groups from around the league including b-boys (break dancers), Fat Guy dancers, drum lines, dance teams, cheerleaders and mascots. They also use select professional entertainment acts from around the world. What happens to many teams (too many performance groups) happens on an even grander scale at All-Star Weekend.
The event directors found a clever way to use all the groups, and avoided the pitfalls of a circus time out by blending the groups together. Drum lines played the music for the b-boys to dance to in one case. In another time out, hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari played music, backed up by a drum line, as a back drop for a choreographed bit between a famous halftime act and an NBA Mascot. The result was a featured and defined role for each, all rolled into one time out.
What is gained, what is lost?
This effect is very similar to how economists judge the value of adding more resources to production. Economists who use two laws would apply here, and the path to success lays in balancing the two.
The first is the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns: Which means the marginal product of a variable factor will eventually decline. In layman’s, (or game operations terms), you can keep adding more entertainment elements to a time out, but eventually they will have less of an effect in producing desired results.
Living in Portland for many years I always used the Portland Trailblazers as my example of this (circa 2000-2002). For a few years they built their team by adding the best players they could find: Dale Davis, Scottie Pippen, Derek Anderson, Shawn Kemp, Steve Smith....assuming that each player would make them better. What they found was that each player was less effective than they were on other teams because there was too much talent. Adding higher scoring players didn't add more scoring...the players had a diminishing marginal contribution.
The second law of note is the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility. Marginal utility is the additional satisfaction a consumer gains from consuming one more unit of a good or service. So in Game Operations terms, this is getting the most you can out of any one element (like your dancers or mascot) without over-using them so that the crowd gets sick of them, or stops reacting to them. The law is that at some point, the fans will get less out of seeing more of one entertainment act.
For more info:
- Law of Diminishing Returns
- Law Of Diminishing Marginal Utility
- Marginal Utility
- Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns
Balancing these two laws is the optimum way to get the most out of your entertainment options. Use each element wisely, and know that using all of them at once can be less effective than using them alone.
To Circus or not to Circus?
Each team is different and each element on your team has a different level of effectiveness (marginal utility for you economists). Finding the balance is up to your game director. In my experience, circus time outs are effective on occasion....but rarely more than once a game. If you find yourself using them more than once a game, consider breaking them into small components or choreographing several entertainment elements into one cohesive time out.
Tips for effective use of the Circus Time Out
- Less is More: Rarely should they be used more than once a game
- Design to have entertainment groups enhance each other, rather than compete for attention
- Watch fan reaction to the time outs and adjust accordingly
Jon Cudo began his career in sports entertainment with the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves (NBA). The Minnesota native performed as the Wolves mascot Crunch for the first seven years of the franchise. During that time Jon performed in over 35 states, in seven countries, for over eight million fans. During his travels he realized that great ideas in game entertainment happen at all levels of sports and many work in different sports, which was the impetus for Gameops.com years later.
Cudo functions as the webmaster and editor for Gameops.com, remains an active mascot and performer, produces several events each year, and consults with teams on game entertainment and mascot programs.
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