It’s okay to dream big, whether you are a blog reader, a registration software company or someone who manages programs or events.
SuperBowl 49, for instance, just answered the dreams of the New England Patriots and their fans; the 50% of those on the winning side of the more than $1 billion bet on the game’s outcome; the broadcasting network (NBC); and a handful of advertisers (not you, Nationwide) who scored with their creative but incredibly expensive ads.
The SuperBowl itself is one of many examples of events that started out with modest goals and little fanfare but grew into something much bigger. The storyline for these success stories usually follows a vision, hard work, persistence, technological innovations and perhaps a little luck. Check out the incredible growth of these 10 events and how it happened, and maybe envision bigger things for your organization.
The first SuperBowl, held in 1967, paired the National Football League (NFL) champion against the champion of an upstart league, the American Football League (AFL). It wasn’t even officially called the SuperBowl, as that name was flippantly suggested by a team owner who had watched his children play with a hard-rubber “super” ball. (We were so easily entertained back then.) While the inaugural game drew a respectable 28 million television viewers, 30,000 seats were left empty at the venue, the Coliseum in Los Angeles. As a side note, a 30 second ad during the 1967 broadcast cost $37,500.
Contrast that to today, when the SuperBowl draws more than 110 million television viewers in the U.S., and approximately 1 billion overall across 200 countries. The venue itself is always sold out, the game is often the most watched broadcast of the year in the U.S., and a 30 second ad costs north of $4 million. Of note, SuperBowl Sunday is also the second highest food consumption day in U.S. (behind only Thanksgiving).
How did they do it? The SuperBowl soared in tandem with the popularity of the NFL, which rode the explosive growth of television to become the country’s most popular sport. The SuperBowl itself became a national-holiday type event by adding halftime entertainment featuring famous recording artists, moving the game’s start to prime time, and in 1984, having a Ridley Scott-directed Apple ad ignite an entirely different competition for the best SuperBowl commercials. In an odd twist of that old line about “only reading Playboy for the articles,” some of the millions that watch the SuperBowl today only do so for the ads.
The TED Conference began in 1984 as a one-off conference on technology, entertainment and design (TED). The first TED included then cutting-edge demos of the compact disc and the e-book, as well as 3D graphics from Lucasfilm. The inaugural event lost money, and wasn’t tried again until six years later.
Today, TED might be the most anticipated motivational and instructional conference in the world. The roster of presenters now includes scientists, philosophers, musicians, business and religious elite, philanthropists and many others considered to be some of the world’s greatest thinkers, leaders and teachers. By 2012, TED talks had been translated into more than 100 languages and had over 1 billion online video views. Today, there are 17 TED page views on the Internet every second.
How did they do it? Organizers took a number of steps to grow the event. They launched a sister conference, TEDGlobal, held in locations around the world; they created the TED Prize, which grants its winners one wish to change the world; and they built an audio and video podcast series, TED Talks, in which the best TED content is released free online. TED is a prime example of an entity using free Internet distribution of content to spur explosive growth.
Launched in 1986, Burning Man began on Baker Beach in San Francisco as a bonfire ritual among 20 friends on the summer solstice.
The event quickly outgrew its beach location and ventured away from the city to escape its “materialistic” trappings. Burning Man added an art festival, camping, impromptu classes and all-night dance parties in its new home since 1991, Black Rock Desert in Nevada. As the size of the wooden man burned in effigy grew in stature (from approximately nine feet tall in 1986 to over 100 feet tall today), so, too has the festival. The 2014 event sold out (the event has sold out since 2011) while attracting some 66,000 participants. There are now regional chapters in 28 countries. And as a side note, the busiest time of the year for the Reno-Tahoe airport isn’t Thanksgiving or Christmas – its late August, when nearby Black Rock Desert becomes Black Rock City for a week.
How did they do it? Burning Man embraced its event as a cultural movement, creating an almost anti-capitalistic, communal environment built around 10 guiding principles all related to giving of yourself to others and to yourself. In part by word of mouth and in part by it being embraced in pop culture, Black Rock became the city to escape to from the life of selfish, money concentrated and materialistic societies.
The Kentucky Derby broke slowly out of the gate in 1875 as one of four races held on the first Saturday in May before an estimated 10,000 fans – pre-grandstand – at Churchill Downs’ then-fledgling racetrack.
Fast forward 140 years to May 2014, when more than 160,000 fans filled the mammoth, six-story grandstand and clubhouse at Churchill Downs – as well as its sprawling infield – to watch what today is the country’s longest continuously running sporting event and known around the world as the “Run for the Roses” and “the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports.” Tens of millions watched the event on television, and more than $186 million was wagered across the country on the day’s race card.
How did they do it? It helped to have an innovator and P.T. Barnum-like promoter in Matt Winn, who brought in pari-mutuel wagering to circumvent gambling prohibition laws, tirelessly pitched the event to the national media, invited entertainment moguls to elevate the Derby’s social status and added all sorts of touches that would later define the event, from the playing of My Old Kentucky Home to the garland of roses awarded to the winner to the Mint Julep drink and glassware. Winn staged some incredible promotions along the way, opening the infield for concerts, fairs, locomotive crashes and the first plane takeoff in the state, and also using the 26-acre space to grow potatoes during WWI and set up camp Winn in WWII.
Khan Academy is a compilation of free, online courses that traces its origin to 2006 when then-hedge fund analyst and MIT-educated Salman Khan recorded video instruction on the Internet to tutor a cousin. Khan soon after began adding courses with the intent of providing free education to anyone through micro lectures posted online in video format on YouTube.
A funny thing happened over the next few years. Khan’s videos went viral. His free online education platform garnered the attention and funding of the likes of Bill Gates, Google and the then-richest man in the world, Carlos Slim (the Mexican billionaire wanted Khan to expand its Spanish library of videos). Today, Khan Academy has grown to 80 employees and 150,000 learning exercises on everything from Physics to Psychology. Its 15 million registered students in 70 countries have amassed 500 million YouTube views of Khan Academy-created courses.
How did they do it? Khan started with a simple idea that married his instructional acumen with the Internet’s anywhere, anytime distribution capabilities. It certainly helped that his outstanding content got discovered and attained funding, allowing him to hire teams to create additional subject matter in numerous languages to reach an even larger audience.
ComicCon – the annual conference celebrating the comic book industry – had its first run in 1970. The three-day event drew 300 attendees to the U.S. Grant Hotel in San Diego.
Today, the original, San Diego-based ComicCon International draws more than 130,000 to the San Diego Convention Center and includes close to 700 separate events. The event draws national media attention in large part because of its cult of fans who dress in full comic-character regalia.
How did they do it? ComicCon tapped into our love of comic books and then rode the wave of comic-book character mania as movies and television brought fictional heroes to the mainstream. Look at the comic book subjects who’ve become television and/or movie hit franchises since 1970: Batman, Superman, Spiderman, IronMan, Captain America, Hellboy, The Incredible Hulk, X-Men, Men in Black, Thor, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Fantastic Four and many more.
In 2003, customer relationship management software newbie Salesforce held its first users’ conference – dubbed Dreamforce (see, they dared to dream) – attracting a respectable 1,300 attendees to a hotel ballroom in the Bay Area.
In 2014, Dreamforce drew 150,000 attendees to its multiple venues in downtown San Francisco and another seven million participated online. The 2014 event featured presenters such as former Vice President Al Gore, entrepreneur/author Anthony Robbins, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen and entertainers such as Neil Young, Bruno Mars and Cake.
How did they do it? Salesforce sold their CRM software to virtually every business with a pulse, invited users to their annual conference, and built the event as equal parts educational, inspirational and entertaining. Word of mouth apparently helps, too, as approximately 95% of Dreamforce attendees recommend the conference to others.
Sundance Film Festival
The Sundance Film Festival debuted as the U.S. Film Festival in Salt Lake City, UT in 1978. It was moved to Park City and named Sundance in 1985 after Robert Redford (and non-profit, Sundance Institute) took over the event’s leadership. At that time, Sundance comprised 13 staff and screened 86 films in two theaters.
Cut ahead to 2014, when the Sundance Film Festival boasted approximately 50,000 attendees and 186 films screen in nine theaters (and served by more than 200 festival staff). It is one of largest film festivals in the U.S., and has become an incubator and launching point for independent films, including the likes of Reservoir Dogs, Blair Witch Project, Clerks, Little Miss Sunshine and Napolean Dynamite.
How did they do it? Getting Robert Redford involved with anything related to movies probably greatly enhances your chance of success. Holding the event in a resort location during skiing season creates an enticing lure to the Hollywood crowd. And “discovering” so many future blockbusters certainly builds credibility for a film festival.
Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival
The first Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival rocked the Empire Polo Field in Indio, California in 1999 with a strong lineup of bands (Beck, Rage Against the Machine, Tool, Moby, Ben Harper, Modest Mouse, etc.). Unfortunately, only 37,000 showed up for the two-day event in October, and financial issues prevented it from being held in 2000.
Fifteen years later, Coachella has gone platinum. Now held for three days over two weekends, the 2014 event attracted nearly 580,000 attendees. Organizers not only have a hit on their hands, but the Coachella model has been copied fairly successfully in the U.S. at such venues as Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza.
How did they do it? Coachella successfully copied the European music festival model of a destination festival with multiple stages, related attractions, art and camping. They also booked up-and-coming artists over those already commercially successful, earning style points from music aficionados, critics and hipsters.
NCAA Final Four
With March Madness just around the corner, it’s hard to believe that at one time the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and its Final Four wasn’t the biggest game in town. In 1939, when the first Big Dance took place in Evanston, IL featuring eight teams, the more important college basketball tournament took place in New York City – the National Invitational Tournament or NIT. Not surprisingly, the first NCAA tournament netted a total attendance of just 15,000, and didn’t do much better in subsequent years.
Fast break ahead to 2014, when more than 79,000 fans filled AT&T Stadium for the NCAA Finals. The NCAA tourney now includes 68 teams, and attendance for all games in 2014 topped 739,000, with each game averaging 10.5 million viewers via television.
How did they do it? Call it shrewd maneuvering, or maybe even bullying, but the NCAA pretty much blocked the NIT out of the action. First, the NCAA – as a governing body for many of the conferences – forced conference winners to only participate in its tournament. They delivered the killer blow in 1975 by expanding their tournament to 32 teams, allowing (and requiring) selected non-conference winners to participate. This sent only the also-rans to the NIT, making it a consolation tournament of sorts. In 2005, the NCAA bought the rights to the NIT and settled an anti-trust lawsuit with the NIT’s managing organization.
From a recent YouTube phenomena, Khan Academy – to an iconic horse race soon celebrating its 141st running – these 10 events have defied the odds to become American success stories and case studies for events done right. The examples above cover industries like sports, business, entertainment and education, but the lessons learned – things like creativity, aligning with burgeoning technology, producing excellent content and aggressive marketing – could apply just about anywhere.
If you would like to share your thoughts about these events – or would like to offer insights on other events celebrating remarkable growth – please type away in the Comments section below.
And just in case you want to know more about ABC Signup or registration software, email or call us (866.791.8268 ext. 0) at your convenience.