Part 2: DCI audience survey not perfect, but fans are largely satisfied

by Mike Ferlazzo, DCW staff

This article originally appeared in the June 2008 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 37, Number 3).

Steve Auditore will be the first to tell you that the 2007 Audience Profile Project he led for Drum Corps International isn’t perfect.

“Yeah, it was self-selecting, self-reporting [among the respondents] — clearly bias toward people who could do things online,” said Auditore, chair of DCI’s marketing advisory board, who directed the research through his Dayton-based marketing firm, Vaticinate.

Yet it still offers arguably the most comprehensive audience demographic report out of DCI’s biggest shows and the 2,403 fans from 16 shows who completed usable online surveys told DCI they’re willing to travel to those shows — 190 miles, on average — and are largely having a satisfying experience. Fans were mostly “satisfied” or “very satisfied” in eight of 11 categories surveyed on the show experience, with the three exceptions being opening ceremonies, closing ceremonies and food concessions.

Auditore presented the report at January’s Meeting & Conference Weekend in Orlando, FL.

He had originally hoped to conduct the study through the distribution of postcards, serialized to correspond to the specific show, but researchers had to scrap that plan due to cost and logistical obstacles.

They turned, instead, to an online survey where fans were provided an event-specific codeword at the show in order to participate.

“While not 100 percent, we believe the codeword control reduced the probability of survey-stuffing dramatically,” wrote Auditore in the report. Approximately 40 percent of the more than 4,000 responses were, in fact, deemed unusable due to false codewords.

Respondents were 73 percent male

Due to its self-reporting, online methodology, some of the survey’s results may not report a completely accurate profile. For example, 73 percent of the respondents were found to be male, but while that may be skewed more heavily male than those attending a typical audience at a DCI show, Auditore believes it does accurately capture the gender trend.

“We called some other folks who have been doing audience surveys and it seemed to be pretty much in line,” Auditore said. “Maybe it’s not 73 percent. Maybe it’s 65 percent, but we feel pretty comfortable that a significant majority of people who attend events are male, and I think that would track pretty well if you think about the fairly strong alumni presence at events. And then you go back and look at the persona data and you’re looking at about a 70/30 breakdown between male and female in the corps themselves. So it tracks that pretty closely.”

The survey also found that the average respondent to be nearly 38 years old, with an    average home value of $137,854. Thirty-eight percent of respondents were drum corps alumni, while 13 percent were related to performers.

Not surprisingly, the largest groups among audience respondents had ages suggesting that they were primarily students, recent corps alumni or parents of current corps members. The survey also found the overwhelming majority to be Caucasian (84 percent) — mirroring the Persona Project study finding that 79 of the performers in World Class corps are also white — with 61 percent being employed and another 22 percent being students.

Their employment probably helps defer travel costs to shows, since all but three of the 16 shows found fans, on average, traveling more than 100 miles to get there. Only the DCI Chicagoland show in Lisle, IL (52.82 miles), DCI West Texas in Lubbock (97.64 miles) and DCI Phoenix in Tempe (88.9 miles) had average travel lengths under 100 miles. That is a concern to DCI officials and tour event sponsors for 2008 as gas prices continue to climb.

“It’s [climbing gas prices] certainly something that people talk about,” Auditore said. “The economic issues, I don’t think that’s an issue in this. But the gas costs are certainly an issue and particularly with the young people who participate and don’t have a regular source of income. I don’t know that we have factored in any reduced audiences because of gas prices. We may have to do that at some point.”

He says the average distance also shows that people are willing to come from some fair distances to see the top corps.

“That message is something that we actually passed out to our tour events partners to help them figure out what their advertising and promotions radius should be for their event,” Auditore said. “There are some events that have four top-eight corps and our advice to them was that with that kind of a line-up, you have a 100-mile event, not a 25-mile event. And so then you should think in terms of extending your marketing footprint a bit because they [the fans] will come that far.”

Fans generally satisfied with the DCI show experience

Fans seem to be generally pleased with the show experience once they make that trip. They were overwhelmingly “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with ticket availability, ticket purchase processes, performance quality and entertainment value, smoothness of the event, merchandise availability — resulting in an average overall value of 4.22 and experience rating of 4.37 on a 5.0 scale.

The only categories that failed to average above 4.0 were opening ceremonies (3.58), closing/ending ceremonies (3.58) and food concessions (3.43). The highest “unsatisfied” or “very unsatisfied” responses were in closing/ending ceremonies — at 200 or more, respectively. Auditore says DCI officials have been aware of some fans’ criticism and are trying to improve upon the show finale, within reason.

“Part of what’s going on with why the ending ceremonies have been truncated over the years is to try and get people [the corps and fans] on the road as safely as possible, without everybody hanging around for another two hours or so,” he said. “There are tradeoffs on that and I think Drum Corps International is making the appropriate one and that’s to err on the side of safety. So I think you’ll see them continue to modify and tweak the endings to try and strike the right balance. That’s operation efficiency, corps safety, legal compliance with whatever local zoning issues come into play and making sure the fans and the people that show up get a good show and get their entertainment value.”

Auditore also reports DCI officials are aware of some dissatisfaction with food concessions, particularly at the larger stadiums, but they’re difficult to improve since the stadium management typically runs the concessions.

Among other purchases, a third had bought merchandise from one corps, while another 21 percent made purchases from more than one corps. Fourteen percent purchased merchandise from DCI. He found purchases aren’t necessarily from those with the most to spend.

“As a general observation, the corps would tell you that they tend to do best in areas where the audience is a little younger and more heavily seeded with students,” he said. “I think corps would rather sell merchandise in San Antonio or down South than they would in Allentown.”

The report would support that notion, with the average age of attendees at Allentown’s DCI “Eastern Classic” being the oldest at 43.18, with San Antonio’s DCI Southwestern Championship nearly 10 years younger at 33.66. The DCI Louisville event had the youngest fans at 30.43.

Auditore is planning to undertake a more comprehensive audience survey this summer that will follow his original serialized postcard plan.

“That is the plan, although this is a tight financial year for DCI, so we’ll see if we can work it in monetarily,” he said.