Thoughts on Competitive Shooting / Part 2 of 2
In Wednesday's edition (http://www.shootingwire.com/features/228571), I told you about a new shooting event that hopes to bring the world's top 400 shooters - across all disciplines- together for a $50,000 cash prize for the shooter who can compete and win across stages taken from the various shooting competitions.
It's an ambitious project, but it's long overdue. We need a sanctioned event that appeals to the broadest base of shooters and spectators possible.
But can we springboard off such an event in order to entice new prospects into shooting sports?
For years, my contention has been that there's a market for a true marquee event to bring "flash and sizzle" to shooting sports. The X-Games dueling tree matchups before the games dropped shooting was entertaining head-to-head competition.
And "Top Shots" is a made-for TV-event, isn't a sanctioned shooting competition, but it has turned a group of largely unknown shooters into celebrities. Giving credit where it's due, "Top Shots" has proven -regardless of how much some in the shooting world dislike it- there's a strong TV audience for entertaining shooting events.
"Entertaining" is the challenging word. The field's wide open for legitimate competitions that are entertaining from a spectator standpoint.
If you're not competing, shooting's not edge-of-the-seat entertainment that holds your attention. In fact, a recent survey found a majority of shooters don't attend competitions if they're not competing. There were a variety of reasons, but "boring" was a pretty common one, along with the universal complaint- scoring.
If the officials can't tell you who's leading a match until long after it's over, it's a safe bet it's not riveting action.
Today's consumer expects a steady diet of instant replays, multiple viewing angles and enhancements to the basic event itself. Views from perfect vantage points always enhance the experience. But scoring and production values have to step up.
Safety is one reason given for why shooting events can't be more entertaining. I don't think that's a reason, it's an excuse. Being safe - the primary concern of all shooters - doesn't mean boring or disinteresting.
What it will take to make shooting entertaining to mainstream consumers is spending money. More money than the industry appears willing to invest - even if it would bring new consumers into shooting.
And there's the real estate consideration. Location, location, location doesn't fit most shooting sports. Shooting facilities are generally located in places that, honestly, aren't much use for anything else. They're seldom "near" much of anything.
And with few exceptions, shooting facilities are basic in their facilities - or worse.
There's no thought given to accommodating hundreds, much less thousands of spectators, because there haven't been big crowds in recent memory. And creating a large infrastructure to support occasional events is a bad investment for a shooting club or range facility.
But none of those are unsurmountable obstacles.
Despite competitions being held over thousands of acres of water, BASS and the FLW Tour have created spectator events- weigh ins with banging music, pyrotechnics, crowd participation -and, most importantly, big payoffs, complemented by exhibitions for anglers. Jim Shepherd/OWDN photo.
BASS and the FLW Tour competitors travel as much as 100 miles during the fishing portion of their competition - not conducive to drawing big crowds. So the tours have concentrated on the weigh-ins to create excitement and interest.
And they've made it work.
Weigh-ins for the fishing "majors" regularly draw 25,000-plus enthusiastic anglers into arenas to watch anglers weigh bags of fish - for three or four consecutive days. And the qualifying events regularly bring big crowds to the docks where weigh-ins are held.
They have managed to reach out to their core membership and regular people who enjoy spectator events, so please don't tell me shooting can't
be made entertaining. And their accompanying expos offer products to an enthusiastic crowd.
To grow in today's political climate, shooting competitions must
be popularized- and quickly. Turning shooting into a spectator sport means politicians will be more careful with their demonization of shooters. Their support won't be sincere, but whatever keeps them in check looks like a good idea to me.
Popularization requires the entertainment factors that spectators have come to expect from any live event. Some areas that help popularize other sports involve "kid-friendly" areas, demonstrations and tips from professionals, product giveaways and on-site amenities.
The PGA Tour has learned that amenities mean "real" rest rooms, shade or shelter from the sun or bad weather, hydration stations, and first aid facilities capable of caring for anything from heat exhaustion to traumatic and other life-threatening situations.
The most popular events all have "must-see" areas as well, everything from today's high-tech gear to exhibitions of the sport through the ages.
Before a naysayer points out that golf, for example, has 500 years of history to draw from, I'd offer that few people know Wimbledon was a shooting facility that regularly drew tens of thousands of spectators to shooting competitions before development made it unsafe for shooting competitions.
Tennis was the second use for the property.
And there has to be a shopping opportunity (SASS has proven shooters like to buy gear when they're attending competitions). Major shooting events I've attended seldom find themselves sitting on large stocks of unsold shirts, caps and the other souvenir gear that crams up my closets.
So what are we talking about here?
Having been involved in the planning and execution of major events in my career, we're talking about SHOT Show levels of spending by exhibitors -and event organizers.
But that money needs to be considered essential investments in the future of the industry more than expenses for events.
Paul Erhardt has pointed out a terrific operational obstacle to popularizing shooting competitions- scoring. But several many readers have pointed out there are shooting disciplines with reliable instant scoring.
At last year's Bianchi Cup, the Barricade Event proved to be a great spectator draw, primarily because spectators could see-in real-time- the shots from each competitor. Jim Shepherd/OWDN Photo.
Scoring is a challenge - but it can be overcome. Out of necessity, network TV producer Frank Chirkinian first started giving golfers' scores relative to par (one-under, one-over par, etc) instead of total strokes.
That single change enabled viewers -and players- to see where they stood in relation to the other golfers. Six under par always
leads five under, regardless of what hole a golfer is playing. And leading by one stroke going into the final few holes builds the potential for celebration-or disaster-natural excitement.
Other challenges exist, including convincing sponsors there's a real benefit to talking more about the people
using their gear than the gear itself. And raising financial support to the levels where professional shooters can compete without having to hold down a day job in order to make a living. With only a handful of exceptions, today's pro shooters are really semi-professionals - because they can't make a living as shooters.
And there's an intangible that has to be recognized to keep the definition of "success" in perspective. Even with exponential jumps in prize money and the caliber of competition venues, professional shooting - like bass fishing- will never be the big-draw spectator sports that work in top-tier sporting cities.
But that doesn't mean second-tier sporting cities like Birmingham, or Knoxville, or similar sized cities can't - or won't- support events created to fit their venues.
Having seen the way Birmingham works to bring in events, I think the opposite might be true. If we turned shooting events into entertainment.
If you're running a shooting competition I am not criticizing you or your event. I AM advocating for the creation of true professional shooting competitions - with the goal of recruiting new shooters.
One way to do that is to make the sport attractive as a professional vocation.
That opportunity gets young people involved at the grassroots as they work to move up to the pro ranks. Look at high school bass fishing and the Archery in the Schools program before you shoot down the idea.
NASCAR didn't start on super speedways. It began on dirt tracks where moonshiners raced the cars that transported illegal whiskey during the week.
Competitive shooting wasn't always a sport without spectators.
But the entertainment value hasn't kept pace with the rest of sports.
Today's technology means shooting can once again made spectator-friendly- without sacrificing safety. We just have to be willing to make the investment.