Selling the sport of fencing.

There was a recent discussion on a fencing forum of the future of fencing. With the vote of the IOC to drop Wrestling from the 2016 Olympics many small Olympic sports enthusiasts are concerned. Fencers should be concerned. The IOC has signaled that audience is the most important factor for inclusion in the Olympic Games. Fencing is ranked near the bottom of Olympic sports by the IOC in terms of audience.

Really? Fencing is not entertaining? That is ridiculous. Star Wars? Pirate movies? The Three Musketeers? Fencing is just poorly presented. Why are fencing tournaments nearly always in dimly lit gyms with no spectator seating, announcer or scoreboard? Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. The sport is doing a horrible job of marketing itself.

Our fencers are not satisfied to compete in a lonely gym with no audience. Millstadt Venture Crew’s recent experiment with ‘Fight Night’ proved fencing just needs to be properly marketed. MVC will test another effort at an evening’s fencing entertainment with our ‘Adewale Cup’ tournament on August 10. We have lots of details to test and evaluate but we are confident we can develop a fencing program that will be entertaining to a paying audience.

Anyway, below is copied from our post in the fencing.net forum:

What is the sport marketing analogy for fencing?

If you are trying to develop a marketing business model for the sport of fencing, where do you look for success stories to copy? What are the properties of the sport of fencing that you see in other monetarily successful sports? There are three other sports that I believe have lessons for fencing: Gymnastics, Tennis and Figure Skating.

Those three share with fencing many commonalities – with Figure Skating probably having the most direct comparables and Tennis having the fewest. I suggest that it is no coincidence that Tim Morehouse, USA Fencing’s resident marketing genius is currently participating in a celebrity figure skating competition.

1) Minimal school funded training opportunity. Expensive at the higher levels due to combination of equipment, facilities required, travel, and private coaching.
And still Gymnastics, Tennis and Figure Skating are successful. Tennis has some high school support but even then the teams are likely made up of just a few kids.

2) Some small number of athletes can make a living as a professional.
But even here, (think of tennis and Anna Kournikova) the vast majority of earnings are from modeling and endorsements.

3) Comprehension of scoring among the sport’s audience is minimal.
Can any of us watch a gymnastics competition or a Triple Salchow and correctly score the performance? Yet we watch.

4) Appeals to groups that advertisers want. WOMEN!
Fencing is elegant. Fencing is sophisticated. Fencing is a sexy. Women want to look like fencers. Advertisers want women. I again point to USA Fencing’s resident marketing genius Tim Morehouse. He is a correspondent to E! Television a woman aimed show if I have ever seen one.

The key to fencing success is women. That is all you need to know. Everything else is minor details.

http://www.dissonskating.com/sponsorships/

68% of females aged 18 and over and specifically, those between 25-54 are interested in figure skating
Figure skating is the most popular spectator sport among American women
Research has shown that figure skating is particularly popular among women aged 18-49, a segment which tends to control most families’ disposable income
Females 25-54 chose Kristi Yamaguchi, 1992 Olympic Gold medalist as their favorite figure skater
Highest rated Olympic Sport on television

http://www.dissonskating.com/2013/04…s-spectacular/

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http://www.scarborough.com/press-rel…ng-Fan-Avidity

73% of Avid Gymnastics Fans are female and 81% of Avid Figure Skating Fans are female. This is a unique demographic makeup since Avid Fans of sports like the Olympics, Women’s Tennis and the WNBA – classically “female friendly” sports – are only about 50% female. This notable demographic base helps explain findings such as: Gymnastics Fans are 53% more likely than all American adults to schedule a spa day, 30% more likely to visit a jewelry store and 33% more likely to visit a bridal store. Similarly, Figure Skating Fans are 28% more likely to visit a florist and 27% more likely to visit a dry cleaner.

2 thoughts on “Selling the sport of fencing.

  1. Great post! I also think it’s possible to market fencing, but first we need to start with television and the Internet. Fencing is filmed all wrong at the moment. I think the reason people can watch tennis, figure skating, and gymnastics is because the cameras are close to the athletes and give as close to a first-person perspective as possible. Fencing is usually filmed from a stage perspective, so you only have one angle, which is the WORST angle to watch fencing. You can’t see the blade actions from the horizontal plane or the placement of the point/blade on the body. The Olympics is the only time that fencing gets proper camera coverage, but that’s once every four years and they don’t air full bouts. Slow motion replay is also attractive since fencing is so fast. They do it in all three previously mentioned sports all the time.
    Another issue is commentary. Between points or during complicated exchanges, commentary would be great to keep the audience engaged. If there’s nothing happening between points or during the 50 seconds in an epee bout before non-combativity is called, then people are going to tune out.
    Getting fencing into more high schools is definitely a great way to expand the sport. If a generation of Americans are exposed to the sport as young people, they will be more likely to watch it when they’re older because they will have a personal connection. I’m working on a documentary that follows New Jersey high school fencers and find that a lot of people know about fencing because the public schools are getting it. (If you want to check it out, it’s called Fencing For The Edge at http://www.fencingfortheedge.com) I had a German roommate and she said that most German kids have fencing as part of their gym classes, so most Germans have fenced before. No wonder they have such support and pride for their athletes.

    • Thanks for the well thought out reply Holly. By the way, I loved your movie, The Speed of Fencing.

      Regarding the marketing of fencing, you are correct that TV is critical however that is beyond me or our little club so we will continue to do what we can to promote the sport in our area in ways that are within our abilities.

      My biggest regret is my failure to convince other area fencing clubs of the need to make competitions spectator friendly and to hold events in public venues. I think I know why, area clubs don’t make a lot of money and the idea of spending additional effort and cash for something that might pay off in 10 years and even then, maybe payoff for a competitor is hard to sell.

      Still, I’m proud of what we have accomplished on our own. In the past 5 years we have demonstrated fencing to between 40,000 and 60,000 people in the St. Louis area, sometimes with public tournaments, sometimes demo’s, mostly for free but last April for the first time to a paying audience.

      Our ‘Fight Night’ fencing exhibition was a huge success. We entertained an audience who paid $50 to $100 each for tickets with dinner and an evening of fencing entertainment. We worked hard to put on a good show for people who had never seen fencing before. And it worked. But from the start we didn’t think of it as just a fencing competition. It was entertainment.

      In August we will hold another evening’s fencing entertainment with a different format. We will continue to test and evaluate price points and formats with the goal to learn how to provide a fencing entertainment package that people are excited to pay to watch.

      Thanks again for your feedback,

      Pearce Wilson

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