Yesterday. Singing News announced that they will be ending their nearly four-decade partnership with the National Quartet Convention, moving the Fan Awards to Dollywood this year. The event will be combined with the SGMA Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, and the two events will be held Wednesday, September 29, 2010, in Pigeon Forge.
Reaction is mixed; some are ambivalent, many aren’t happy. [EDIT, 11/8/10: The link is broken and has been removed.]
Most of this commentary assumes that Singing News was offered the same offer as in previous years, a prime-time two and a half hour time segment. But that’s not necessarily the case; a rumor holds that Singing News may have only been offered an afternoon showcase this year. If so, the move makes more sense.
Advantages and Disadvantages
There a few advantages to the move, the most notable of which is the increased spotlight on the legends being honored at the Hall of Fame inductions ceremonies. Singing News will probably also have more control over the logistics and fewer time constraints.
Two items head the disadvantages list: First, it will be harder to get the nominees to attend. For the last few decades, virtually every nominated group has been at the Fan Awards, since they spend the week at NQC anyhow. Second, this move is from a 20,000 seat area (that typically had at least 80% of those seats filled) to an arena that seats approximately 3,260 people.
Who is risking more?
It is unlikely both events will come out ahead. With the events two or three weeks apart, non-wealthy Southern Gospel fans (and that’s about 95% of us) will have to choose one or the other.
Will the fans and artists still come to the Fan Awards?
Will the fans and artists still come to the National Quartet Convention?
The National Quartet Convention is almost guaranteed to see a 10%-20% decline in attendance. But it isn’t risking much more than that. In this context, its greatest strength is the number of groups with strong fan bases who will be on main stage but not among the top ten performing at the Fan Awards. If these groups had to choose, many would select the NQC over an event where they don’t perform and probably don’t sell product.
For the Fan Awards to succeed, nominees (especially those without a top 10 song) have to be willing to do both events.
So it would seem that Singing News is risking more. But attempting to fill a 3,200-seat theater is a much smaller task than filling a 20,000-seat arena. They should be able to pull enough fans from the area that they aren’t really risking a half-full venue. Their risk is that the event could lose its prestige and that the nominees won’t come. However, their 40-year history gives them a momentum that should sustain the event for a few years, long enough to see if this arrangement works.
In light of this move, what changes should the Fan Awards and NQC make?
The one thing that could leave the Fan Awards stronger than before would be a free online stream. Loss of ticket sales shouldn’t be an issue, since the theater is small enough that they should be able to easily fill it. Suppose nominees heavily promote the live stream to their email lists; 10,000 online viewers wouldn’t be a surprise, and 4-5 times that is possible. Releasing the e-audience numbers would help ensure that the event retains enough prestige to draw the nominees.
In all likelihood, the NQC board is trying to think up another event that will hold people all day Saturday. (Moving the Fan Awards from Thursday to Saturday several years ago was an attempt to do just that.) But the last few years suggest that this is a losing battle. Perhaps NQC should bite the bullet now and scale down their Saturday program. Most exhibitors, artists and otherwise, have torn down by 8 PM; they want to be packed and rolling in time to catch a Sunday date. Even artists featured on main stage frequently have their booths torn down by the time they’re off stage. Though some fans stay the night, most aren’t in the exhibit hall.
NQC would do well to borrow a page from their Sunday pre-concert playbook, and close the event with a bonus concert featuring three or four marquee groups, each for an hour. Each group could have a table out in the lobby, freeing up exhibitors to tear down. But for those who can only attend on Saturday, the entire exhibit hall could be open from 4-6. With a time frame this short and a closing time early enough to allow plenty of time to tear down afterwards, most booths would stay up and the exhibit hall could go out with a bang instead of a whimper.
This parting of ways is not ideal, but with a few adjustments, all parties involved can make it work.