Monday, February 2, 2009

Part 1: Firefighter Combat Challenge and TV

Part 1: Firefighter Combat Challenge and TV

In 1992, at our inaugural championship, FETN did a 30-minute special feature that was distributed to their satellite customers. In 1993 we were on ESPN and stayed there for 10 years with a one-hour show. For a variety of reasons discussed below, our show was not renewed and we have subsequently moved to Versus.

The purpose of this article is to provide the reader with an overview of how television works, how we fit into the equation and what are our plans for the future. As always, every Challenge competitor is solicited for his or her opinion and suggestions on how we can grow the sport. So, here goes.

TV comes in two flavors; network and cable/satellite. Advertisers pay for production costs and content is freely distributed with the hope that viewers will purchase their product. With cable, the subscriber pays for content with some channels also subsidized by commercials.

Sport on TV is an interesting model. Because some sports are so attractive to the masses, sponsors will provide lots of money to associate their product with those qualities that we hold so dear- strength, speed, etc. Professional sports attract varying levels of paid attendance. The rights-holders (team owners) can command large sums of money to control access to their events. They do this through ticket sales as well as broadcast rights. The Firefighter Combat Challenge does not have sufficient general, or even special market appeal to command a gate (the money you pay to get in). Until we are able to demand that people pay to see our act, we’re going to be severely limited in what we can do on TV.

Academic sports as differentiated from professional sports are actually the farm system for the majors; ergo they command a gate. Minor sports (wrestling, track, etc.) are able to sometimes collect a fee if sufficient friends and relatives come to watch the event and are held hostage. This simply analogy to other organized sports and the Firefighter Combat Challenge should help your understanding as to where we are when it comes to bargaining for visibility in an already cluttered field of entertainment. Said another way, while our Challenge competitors may have the fitness of world-class athletes, there are insufficient numbers of people in the general market to command an entrance fee.

If you saw the first Firefighter Combat Challenge appearance on ESPN, I doubt that you would have been impressed. We’d like to think that we’ve come a long way. But, the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge is not in a category where the viewing public will pay to attend or even pay to watch it on VOD. So how can we change that? Well, as always, we’re open to your thoughts on what you think that the masses- not your family or friends would like to see. Keep in mind, TV is about audience appeal, and audiences vote with the remote at the speed of light. Don’t like this program?, no problem, there are hundreds of others to surf through.

1 comment:

Joey D said...

It's been awhile since I've been involved with the Challenge but I am glad to see it's still going well. As someone who is involved with sports broadcasting I understand what you are saying, putting an alternative sports show on is very tough. You would think that finding a home and audience for the Challenge should be a given with it's home grown audience... but with so many options for viewers, only one event airing each year and that airing being scheduled at different times, no build up on TV from other similar events, no strong lead in, and networks that don't advertise your event or have schedules that are not easily posted, and the fact that all networks are looking for a home run with every broadcast. Well, it's easy to get lost or not get the viewership you deserve. In fact your last broadcast, I only caught in the middle because a friend called me while channel surfing and ran across the show. But this is only verifing what you already know.
As I can see you are looking for ideas to try to make your broadcast better and to have a wider appeal. Doing this would have to come in two areas I feel one would be the broadcast and the other would be in public relations or advertising the Challenge and the broadcast.
First, compare your show to other challenges. What's different your Challenge is really just one event the race seen over and over with the same uniforms and helmets it all looks the same. Adding the Relay a few years ago added a new twist to it but it's still the same course. You need to break it up for the broadcast. I know you don't want to move away from the challenge but why not break off some of the different stations at the Nationals and have mini events that you could put in as part of the broadcast. Maybe do the hammer or the stairs and hose pull as individual events and do a segment on these as the broadcast. I would probably not have them done in full gear on a different day they could be quick, short and a lot of fun. Also they can help with the build up in the broadcast to your main event. Also use them to help breakup the description of the course and the event. With mini events you could use them to divide up your course description so that we are back to the action faster. Today, all sports broadcasters want the show to go right to the action. Maybe try doing the course description over a close relay race, include freeze frames and computer graphics to emphasize the toughness of the course. I know you tell people that it's the toughest two minutes in sports, but emphasize that use some graphics to really knock the point into their head. Also scripting of your show, your announcers need to stay more on script with the action. It's easy in a game like baseball, basketball or hockey to move off script, you're going to be on a 100
times. You have one shot, talk about what's in front of them- the race, the challenge, the players, the team or their department. Get more research and find a way to personalize these players do interviews get footage if available. And don't be afraid to create rivalries and show rivalries, it is possible to be friends and rivalies. A good rivalry can make both participants stronger and build up to more exciting TV
Marketing your show. Face it the networks are just going to give you air time and not much else so getting it known and watched falls on your shoulders. You need to advertise the show, just like you do the challenge. First produce some commercials for the show do a 15 and 30 and maybe a title card. Take footage from your show and professionally edit them together. I'd contact Dave on this he does good work and has a good sense of editing and timing. Give them along with your broadcast to the network and ask them to or try to make it part of your agreement to have them aired. Next, advertise your event outside of the firefighter circle. You have many participants coming from many different areas to compete in the worlds. You need to look at doing individual press releases for each participant. In major markets with multiple sports teams and alot of government or financial news this effort may be lost. But, in your smaller markets with just one team or with minor leauge and college teams as the main event this will probably be welcomed. And with stations and newspapers cutting budgets an email with picture and updates or a FedEx DVD with footage of their local Hero/es running the event should get air time and column space. Contact the TV stations and Newspapers ahead of time to see who is interested. Keep track of who used your footage or pictures. As the show gets put together you may want to consider having some of these participants appear in the broadcast. Since, you know the local media to be friendly toward the Challenge, as you find out your broadcast date and time you could forward a press release to their local newspaper and remind them about the broadcast and their local hero/es.
Finally, quality, this is a tough year with new broadcast regulations in effect picture quality will be an expectation of your show. There is a buzz around the industry about this and everyone is upping their game those who don't may find themselves left behind.
I wish you luck and prosperity with the Challenge this year and thank you for the opportunity to express my thoughts. I hope they help.
Joey D