Jan 25, 2018

Bahr: Why Our Events Fire Consistently

There are a lot of reasons your events might struggle to fire. Here's a model that will help eliminate as many of those reasons as possible.

Jan 25, 2018

Bahr: Why Our Events Fire Consistently

There are a lot of reasons your events might struggle to fire. Here's a model that will help eliminate as many of those reasons as possible.

By Michael Bahr, managing partner of Desert Sky Games

Competing game stores open at a blistering pace these days, dispersing players to many locations where they used to concentrate among few. The player base is growing too, but the more saturated your market becomes, the more likely it becomes that your events will struggle to fire.

Still, a carefully programmed event calendar can thrive in those conditions.

Here's a guide to programming your calendar to give your events their best chance of firing reliably.

What does "programming" your events mean?

When you program your events, you design the entire weekly schedule knowing which player types you want to attract, how to ensure that you're serving as many players as possible, and what needs to happen so that your business can benefit from it.

Here was the event schedule for my original store in Gilbert, Arizona:

  Event Target Audience
Monday 7pm: Standard All
  5pm: Commander Casual
Tuesday 7pm: Legacy Competitive
  6:30pm: Booster Draft Casual
Wednesday 7pm: Modern Competitive
  5pm: Commander Casual
Thursday 7pm: Standard Competitive
  7pm: FNM Standard All
Friday 7:15pm: FNM Booster Draft All
  12pm: Standard Showdown Competitive
Saturday 5pm: Booster Draft Casual
  12pm: Sealed Casual
Sunday 5pm: Booster Draft All

This schedule barely changed in five years. Once we had something that worked, we locked it in. 

But it didn't emerge fully formed. Here are the programmatic decisions that went into it:

1. Some nights feature different events for different player types. This is not an accident. If I scheduled Legacy and Modern on the same night, I'd split the competitive audience.

2. Some formats have different target audiences on different nights. Also not an accident. At Standard Showdown, for example, we target competitive players with double entry fee and double prizing.

3. Each format is spread out based on its popularity. Legacy has devoted players, but not that many, so it's only on one night. Standard and Booster Draft, our most popular formats, appear several times.

4. Standard is a perfect default for a night with only one event. Monday nights are comparatively quiet in the entertainment industry, so give yourself every edge you can by scheduling for broad appeal.

5. Booster Drafts start early. We originally started at 7 or 8pm, but we moved them when we realized they tended to run late—which can raise the perceived time commitment, which can lower attendance.

The key to programming your events for success is to change them as seldom as possible.

Consistency makes it easy for regular players to plan around your events, and easy for occasional players to show up knowing they'll get to play.

But it won't necessarily happen overnight. Experiment, iterate, and once your events are firing consistently, don't change—even if you have a dry spell. No sooner will you tinker with it than a group of friends will show up expecting to join an event you don't run anymore. I speak from experience.

Three more quick tips:

1. If at least four players show for an event, fire it as a Casual (player-list only) event. For most events, you can fire even if you don't get eight players. That way they at least get to play. And those players who did show up will appreciate that you made the effort.

2. Be aware of large competing events. Attendance tends to be impacted by PPTQs, Grand Prix, and so on. If you wonder why a certain night runs shallow, that might be your answer.

3. If the store down the road schedules directly against you, don't overreact. Players might visit the other store to "check it out," but then come back to you later, when the novelty has worn off.

Most importantly, whether your events fire easily or struggle, relax. Trust the process. If you put the time and effort into programming your events and promote them, you'll gain traction organically.

Michael Bahr is the managing partner of Desert Sky Games, with two store locations near Phoenix. He served four years as a Level 3 Judge, holds a law degree from Arizona State, and spent seven years in government health care administration.

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