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What Makes A Spectacle?

  • I've been stumped lately trying to figure out the difference between an interesting event and something that is truly spectacular. Furthermore, how exactly does one go about creating a spectacle spectacular?
  • They say it's all about marketing and bandwidth these days. While I've never exactly been sure who "they" are, it's beginning to dawn on me that they just might be right. I am not convinced it is always the actual content quality or venue that drives demand to high levels of interest.
  • A couple of days ago I went to a relatively new stadium-style seating movie house in the Midwest and enjoyed a "private screening" of a newly released film as its only patron during that particular screening. The movie was pretty good, but by no means was it a spectacle or even nominally spectacular. Mind you, the seating, parking, concession, projection and audio systems worked perfectly. Two hours of entertainment for six bucks per hour seemed like a pretty good deal, especially when it included a snack.
  • Our family then returned home, and my sports-obsessed son inquired about the possibility of attending this year's Rose Bowl BCS championship game. Local scalping houses were quoting $1,500 per seat for decent tickets, thus the total bill for a family of five approached that of a European vacation. This must indeed be a spectacle, considering it is freely available on television.
  • Yet I am not entirely convinced it is the venue that makes the spectacle. I can safely state that the Rose Bowl doesn't even come close to the comfort of the theater's stadium seating. The video scoreboard could politely be called lame, the audio system marginal, the lack of access to the concession stands abysmal and financially perilous. Parking could charitably be termed disastrous (the surrounding golf course and soccer fields make up most of it). "Deferred maintenance" is a term that comes to mind when discussing the facility.
  • I did attend a lopsided Rose Bowl three years ago where one of the head coaches had quit his team a few days earlier. The scalpers outside the gate couldn't even give their tickets away. One knew walking in that day this was not going to be a spectacle.
  • During my lifetime, the Rose Bowl has hosted many major events, including concerts, Olympic soccer, a few Super Bowls, a World Cup Final, and even a few Rose Bowl games. Yet I can't recall any event even coming close to this most recent BCS championship in both the hype and ticket prices.
  • So what makes the difference between the movie and the football game? Is the BCS championship game truly 300 times more desirable? Based on the demand, one could only conclude theanswer is a resounding yes.
  • For comparison, the Rolling Stones' recent tour sold $162 million worth of tickets to 1.2 million fans. Based on numbers alone, the tour must have been a spectacle. Perhaps an attempt to recapture one's lost youth?
  • I'll admit there is some morbid fascination hoping to witness "the last tour" with Keith's health issues, but is that really worth $200 a seat? While 1.2 million fans can't be wrong, at least we'd all have to admit the concept of rarity is somewhat lacking from this particular tour. One evening with them now costs more than all of their recordings over the last 40 years.
  • Since our readership is geared to making spectacles spectacular I thought it might be important to know exactly how one goes about making a spectacle. How does one spawn curiosity and pique the interest of the general public? Why does one event succeed and another fail?
  • Obviously, a spectacle must be a public performance on a large or lavish scale with sufficient hype. Our industry adds the necessary accoutrements to augment the performance to effectively increase its lavishness, but perhaps not the hype. A large element of risk involving the performers is clearly a prerequisite. The risk of public humiliation or defeat appears to be important for a successful spectacle. The mighty must be able to fall devastatingly hard in a format convenient to our limited attention spans.
  • People are willing to spend handsomely to see what is perceived to be the best of the best and have very little interest in what is perceived as the sixth place contender even though it might offer 90 percent of the overall experience.
  • Most importantly, it may be a need to be part of the event. The need to say, "I was there, and my presence may in some small way have determined the outcome." Ultimately, it may be about feeling more important for having attended. Apparently, $1,500 is a small price to pay for a slice of immortality.
  • We humans are indeed fickle things. I regret not going already.