If you missed Part One, you can find it here. Today we will discuss the following:
Part Two: The three major shifts in perspective Wizards of the Coast needs to have any chance of a legitimate professional tour with proper numbers.
The key to keep in mind as we discuss Magic growth is that all of this has been done before by other niche sports/games that have successful tours. Wizards of the Coast seems to be reinventing the wheel constantly and making the same mistakes made by other professional tours decades ago. You don’t need to come up with this stuff in a vacuum—there have been professional tours in niche sports confronting the same problems you are confronting since 1850. The three shifts of perspective mentioned in this report are shifts that all of these sports/games need to make in order to move forward.
Golf had something very similar to Gold/Platinum at one point until they realized it was infinitely easier to just call it “the 125” (golf gives its version of Platinum to the top 125 players). “The 125” is intuitive and easy to understand—a casual fan doesn’t need to Google Platinum and read about it to get that the top 125 players are special. The mistakes Magic is making now are common and have been made by many games trying to become mature professional tours. You aren’t alone—look to other sports and games and see how they became successful and apply those lessons to Magic coverage.
Wizards of the Coast seems to be struggling trying to figure out all this stuff as if Magic is a unique game—it isn’t. It is exactly like any other niche sport that isn’t exciting to anyone except its player base but that still should expect to draw a certain percentage of its base to its broadcasts.
Shift of Perspective #1: The purpose of your Tour is not to attract participants; it is to attract fans.
The biggest problem with coverage—and the easiest explanation of why the numbers are so poor—is that Wizards of the Coast is stuck in 1995 and needs a major shift in perspective. Everything about the Pro Tour—from the Organized Play rules to the scheduling of the events to how they are covered—everything is built on the theory that the Pro Tour exists to get new players playing Magic and that the best way to do that is to get new players interested in qualifying for and grinding for the Pro Tour.
When Magic had a 200,000-person player base in 1995, this approach made a whole lot of sense; even if the coverage attracted the statistically appropriate viewer levels, it wouldn’t be all that many people. Therefore, in the early days of Magic, WotC stood to gain more by promoting the Pro Tour not as something people should be a fan of but rather something people should be a part of. Even in 2005, when the player base was around 2,000,000, this approach had merit. At 10,000,000 players, it doesn’t make sense anymore. That is a critical difference of perspective.
The Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour is set up like no other professional tour on Earth for a game its size because it is focused on attracting participants and not fans. This makes sense for a game in its infancy that has an interest base of 300k but is leaving a lot of money, promotion, and value on the table for a game with millions of players and an established base. This is the first fundamental shift of perspective I would recommend to Wizards of the Coast:
Given the explosion of Magic players since 1995, the best way to use, structure, and cover the Pro Tour to grow the game is to attract fans and not participants.
The shift of perspective is a very important one and is something all individual commercial sports must undertake before they can have appropriate coverage numbers.
You can see numerous examples of when these shifts take place over time in other more established sports.
Before the explosion of the PGA Tour with Arnold Palmer in the late 1950s, the primary purpose of the PGA Tour was not to attract fans but to attract participants to the clubs who paid the Tour to hold an event. The main feature of the traveling Tour in those days was to give lessons to players at the various towns in which the Tour stopped. Private clubs would pay the Tour to visit to get people to play the game and then join the club that hosted the Tour. The total marketing focus of professional golf was to get people to show up to the host club and play a round with the pros.
Golf as a spectator sport was virtually nonexistent until it undertook the change to attract fans and not participants. In fact, pro golfers used to have to take and pass a teaching test in addition to a playing test to join the tour as professionals—actual playing ability was second to the ability to attract new students (and for the host club to sign up new members). There was very little prize money involved, and the best players of the era were amateurs, not professionals.
The “touring pros” were just that—players who would tour the country and give lessons when they stopped in a particular town paid by the club hosting the event to attract new members and players to that club. Eventually, the player base reached a critical mass (for what it’s worth, that base was smaller than Magic’s base today) where it made more sense to market the tour as a spectator event than an educational seminar, and the game took off. You can see similar shifts in baseball at the dawn of radio, poker (most recently), and several other games that had to change the organizational mentality of its tournaments from a goal of getting players to join the tournament to a goal of getting fans to watch the tournament.
Building through fans instead of players is simply a more efficient way to make money once the game reaches a certain size. After this shift, many more people try out golf as participants because they begin by watching the professionals as fans than try out golf as participants because they want to play with the pros. Given a certain size, attracting fans and not participants is a much more efficient way to grow the game.
It’s time for Magic to make the jump. With Magic, you can see numerous examples of this player-based approach and how it works at cross-purposes with a fan-based approach. The two are mutually exclusive. Consider the Magic World Cup and how it’s set up in contrast to the Ryder Cup and how it’s set up. Wizards of the Coast has clearly prioritized attracting players over attracting fans—it is set up so the “average” Magic player can win a cup qualifier and play. WotC sees the WMC it as a way to attract people to enter the qualifiers and not as a way to attract people to watch coverage.
The fact that people might happen to watch the coverage is incidental to how the WMC is set up. That’s great if you have a small game and need to attract players (Magic in 1995). But it’s awful for fans because you end up with one big-time pro and a bunch of people nobody has ever heard of so nobody watches it because everyone knows, deep down, it’s not the real Magic World Cup—the best players aren’t there. It could be a marquee event, but instead we get 7-10k viewers, which is awful given the statistical analysis with the player base.
[1 ]To be blunt, 7,000 people in a ten million interest base is nobody.
 Who would watch the soccer World Cup if instead of having the coach pick the best players who play professional soccer they just conducted open tryouts that 300 people showed up to?
It would be infinitely more compelling if it were set up like the Ryder Cup—the top Pro Points earner in the country is the captain and they pick their three teammates with the stipulation they must have at least one Pro Point. There would be coverage/debate about who the captain’s picks should be and more.
Who would Hayne pick to play with him for Canada?
Who would Kibler pick to play for the Americans?
Who would Edel pick out of the great Brazilian players?
Would they pick great players or people they play well with?
It would be a seriously compelling event. There are hundreds of articles written every year about which golfers the Ryder Cup captain will pick. The Ryder Cup is set up with the goal of attracting viewers—the Ryder Cup isn’t focused on attracting golfers to play in it. If the WMC were set up to attract viewers, it would. Wizards of the Coast needs to adjust its perspective on its marquee events from attracting participants to attracting viewers. At a certain point, using the professional tour to attract players by trying to get them to play on the tour stops being as efficient a way to grow the game as using the professional tour to attract players by trying to get them to be fans of the tour. Magic is long past that crossover point because of the size of the player base.
Consider the promotional videos shown during coverage and compare them to promotional videos shown on almost any other type of coverage in other sports. Magic “promotion videos” are never about the players but rather about the cards. During Grand Prix Portland, they showed numerous videos with very high production value, but they were all about the plot of Dragon’s Maze and why players should buy Dragon’s Maze cards. You don’t see the PGA Tour showing huge video segments on why the people watching should play golf—they already play golf, which is why they’re watching.
You see video segments on virtually every other tour broadcast except Magic highlighting the stories of the players who are playing that day who are marquee pros. You never see this on WotC coverage. The promotional videos shown during a Pro Tour are even worse; there is usually a recurring video shown every two hours announcing to the people watching coverage that they too can go to a Pro Tour Qualifier and play in a Pro Tour.
Think about the message this sends to the people watching: these guys playing here are just like you! Come be like them! That works at a certain level of player base, but by announcing to the viewers that they too can join the pros, you drastically undercut the credibility of your program. The message is that these guys here are nothing special because you can just win a PTQ and be here.
You need to switch the narrative: you should be telling us all the time how elite the Pro Tour is and how the people we are watching are the best in the game. You should never be telling us during coverage that the average Magic player can make it too. You never see the PGA Tour advertise their qualifiers system during broadcasts because it undermines the message that people are watching to watch the best in the world.
The PGA Tour has something very similar to PTQs, but you never hear about them on purpose—the size of the player base takes care of PTQ attendance. At 300,000 players, telling your interested base they can be pros makes sense: your game is so small that attracting people to play PTQs is the priority. At 10,000,000 players, it doesn’t make sense any more to announce that “anyone” can be a pro over and over and over during Pro Tour coverage—you are alienating way more potential fans than you are attracting in potential PTQ attendees.
Imagine if the NFL showed “come play for the Eagles!” ads during games on Sundays. It would have a huge negative effect on viewership because it sends the message that the people you are watching are not elite. How many more people would play in PTQs if the proper 700,000 people watched and the prize purse was four times as large? It is simply more efficient at this size to grow the tour by growing the fan base than the player base.
WotC has to realize that in 1996 when Magic had a tiny base attracting 300 players to a qualifier tournament was a big accomplishment and helped grow the game. In 2013, it’s literally meaningless compared to the size of the player base. WotC needs a fundamental shift in perspective: the game is big enough now that the players will always be there—the fans are what it’s missing. As a result, the entire system should be set up to attract fans.
WotC needs to realize that in a decision between a 300-person qualifier and an event that attracts 100,000 viewers the choice is easy: the viewership event. With the growth in the player base over the last ten years, this is the choice they are making by continuing to set up their marquee events to attract participants as opposed to watchable entertainment.
You can see this perspective over and over in small things such as the tweets and press releases from Wizards’ staff. There are constant tweets and announcements about how many people attended Pro Tour Qualifier this or Grand Prix that. There are literally zero tweets / announcements of how many viewers coverage attracted for particular events. WotC’s head is in the wrong place: they are running a professional tour as if the game has 300,000 players when their game actually has ten million players.
Recently, Helene Bergeot tweeted they wanted to “avoid” a repeat of Grand Prix Indianapolis. Last year, Grand Prix Indianapolis was held three days before Christmas, and they did not cover it because of the holiday. This shows a perspective that doesn’t take into account viewers. Most people are off during the Christmas holiday, which is a perfect time to get fantastic viewership numbers—there’s a reason Thanksgiving is owned by the NFL and Christmas by the NBA. (Sneak Preview: My plan puts the World Championship on Dec. 27, 28, 29 when most people are off school/work and can watch all day and at the end of the year to build drama). Instead, WotC is totally focused on tournament attendance. They don’t think:
“Let’s have a Grand Prix on December 26 because everyone is off and tons of people will watch.”
Instead, WotC currently thinks:
“We better not have a Grand Prix during Christmas because no one will go.”
The focus is on the tournament attendance and not on the tournament coverage. If the structure was geared at viewers and they were getting six-figure Pro Tour audiences like they should be, PTQ and GP attendance would take care of itself no matter when the events are held.
The most glaring example of this is the scheduling of the World Magic Cup and the World Championship. These should be two of the biggest events of the Magic year for viewership, but WotC scheduled them on near-consecutive weekends. Think about that for a minute.
Golf would never schedule the US Open and the Masters in virtual back-to-back weeks.
By scheduling these two events nearly back-to-back, it’s clear WotC has made no allowance for viewers in their tournament decisions; you’re expecting a Magic fan to tune in for two 20-hour weekends of coverage in three weeks? These are two of your marquee events. They should be as far apart on the calendar as possible so each can be hyped and so that big-time fans can watch all of both of them. By putting them on near-consecutive weekends, you couldn’t more clearly announce “we don’t care if you watch or not” than if you spray-painted it on the wall of the tournament site.
If viewership numbers were at all considered by WotC when organizing their year, they would never put their two biggest events nearly back-to-back. It only makes sense when viewed through the “we want to attract participants” lens. It makes no sense when viewed through the “we want to attract viewers” lens. Magic is simply too big to care whether or not a GP gets 1500 or 1800 or 2300 players. That shouldn’t even be a consideration in tournament planning. It should be all about getting viewership up to the 10% / 30% thresholds.
There are ten million players, folks. A jump in GP attendance from 1600 to 2300 is totally irrelevant in the grand scheme of things with a ten million base.
Further, once WotC commits to coverage of a fan-based tour rather than attracting players to individual tournaments, the benefits to pro players will be able to be increased beyond what is even imagined now. By making the pro system short-term good and “fair” for the current pros and aspiring pros and very boring for fans, WotC sacrifices the long term of the very tour they want to support and grow. Fans give a tour monetary value and stability. Setting up a compelling tour for fans and attracting the viewers that the metrics tell us they would attract will after a few years allow them to reward the players a hundred times more than then can now.
It’s simply an issue of committing to attract the proper percentage of the interest base as fans. Fan numbers are the key to prize support, sponsorships, promotion of other content; everything you want in a professional tour is unlocked when the fans come (and the fans will come, just as in fishing, because the interest base is so big). The only way to attract these fans is to start planning tournaments to be watched instead of planning tournaments to be played in.
The bottom line is that all those casual players out there think the Pro Tour has nothing to do with them because all the discussion on the Pro Tour—from structure to special invites to Pro Tour numbers to tweet to announcements to everything else—is about how to make the system better and more accessible for the small percent of Magic players who want to get on the Tour. The vast majority of the ten million Magic market will never play a PTQ, just as the majority of the 52 million golf market will never try to get on the PGA Tour.
When it’s 1995 and you have 300,000 people who play your game, approaching a Tour with the goal of attracting participants makes a ton of sense. In 2013, with ten million Magic players, that doesn’t make sense anymore. The Pro Tour should be all about attracting the viewership of casual Magic players, just as the poker broadcasts are all about attracting casual poker players to watch, the golf broadcasts are all about attracting casual golfers to watch, etc. Some will say Magic isn’t built for that, that Magic will never be popular as a TV sport, or that those casual players “would never” watch the Tour no matter what is done, but those people are, quite frankly, wrong.
Examining fishing, cricket, darts, poker—hell, spelling bees and Scrabble—there are many sports on the same “excitement” level as Magic that attract the proper 30% of their interest base to the coverage because they have set up their sports to be compelling to fans. When Magic starts focusing on attracting viewers and not participants to the Tour coupled with a few production improvements, they will attract the viewership numbers that will allow dramatic expansion of the Pro Tour.
Even if the Pro Tour attracted just 5% of the interest base, which would still be quite poor, that is 500,000 viewers. It’s there for the taking, just like other sports/games with properly built, fan-friendly tours and a large interest base. Because we have such a big interest base, if you build it, they will come. Given a ten million player base, the critical numbers to evaluate the success of the tour should be viewers and not participants.
In short, WOTC needs to stop thinking “this GP was a success because X people attended” and start thinking “this GP was a failure because virtually nobody watched it.” Until this shift happens, Magic coverage will never meet its potential.
Shift of Perspective #2: You aren’t covering a tournament; you are covering a tour.
The second fundamental shift of perspective that WotC needs is in terms of how they see coverage. Right now, WotC sees coverage in terms of tournaments and not the tour. All other tours give their weekly Grand Prix-level events significance by gearing the coverage toward the tour and not the tournament. NBC doesn’t promote “The Farmers Insurance Open at Quail Hollow” one week and then the “Disney Championship” the next week as if they are independent, discrete events; they promote the PGA Tour as a whole of which they show an event every week. You never leave their broadcasts thinking that you are watching a one-of event—you leave knowing that next weekend on the same channel they’ll have the next installment in a season-long drama.
However, if you didn’t know better and you tuned into a Grand Prix, you would have literally no idea that there is a larger, bigger picture to the Magic Pro Tour.
You would think they were covering some one-of tournament. And you would probably turn the channel because who cares? Nobody wants to invest an afternoon in watching a tournament that has no impact on the overarching world outside that tournament. Weekly Grand Prix coverage needs to communicate effectively to the viewer that the particular GP they’re watching fits into an overarching season-long competition. That is how you build drama and get referencing other events in the season and the season standings. The viewer who tunes in for just one GP should leave that broadcast knowing exactly what Platinum means, who the top players are, and when the big events that season are.
During the recent Byron Nelson Championship, the commentating team mentioned the season-long points race on average every six minutes. Conversely, during Grand Prix Portland, the coverage team mentioned the season-long points race in total twice. The golf coverage attracts viewers because it fits the tournament into a season-long drama and this gives it meaning.
A required change to transform Magic viewers from seeing events as individual events and instead parts of a larger tour is to change the Platinum qualification system to a ranking system rather than a race for an arbitrary level of points. Rather than award Platinum to anyone over X Pro Points in a given year, Platinum should be awarded to the top 30 players. Right now, WotC picks a number of Platinum pros they would like to have in a year. WotC then uses a variety of mathematical calculations based on the previous year to set a point threshold they think will produce that many Platinum pros.
Helene Bergeot confirmed this approach in a Twitter conversation about a week ago. As a consultant in this industry, that approach is insanity. Instead of projecting the point total for Platinum and trying to get it exactly right so that X people reach it, just make it the top X players. Not only is this immediately predictable and much, much simpler as far as number of Platinum pros, but it’s infinitely more compelling to watch. The entire year of tournaments should be about this dramatic race, just as it is on virtually every successful non-Magic niche professional tour.
 As has been pointed out to me several times, they tried this before with Planeswalker Points. However, that system was so bad overall that it’s not a good test. They don’t give out PGA Tour ranking points for winning your local club’s Saturday tournament. To rank people based on PWP that can be earned by entering/dropping from FNM is stupid. (Keep in mind that I’m discussing these within the current Pro Points structure.)
A good parallel is League of Legends. Imagine if instead of head-to-head playoffs, the League of Legends championship was determined by each team playing against the CPU for points and then awarding co-season champions for any LoL team that scores over X points. It would be significantly less compelling than head-to-head competition building week-over-week to an end goal, right? That is exactly the setup WotC has chosen with arbitrary “point levels.”
 I’m not a LoL guy, so I’m not sure if playing the CPU for points is an option. Regardless, it’s for the analogy so bear with me.
WotC’s current stance is akin to everyone in the Olympics running the marathon and anyone finishing under two hours getting a gold medal. Nobody would watch that. The drama of the Olympics comes from the head-to-head competition, and Magic needs season-long head-to-head competition to attract proper viewership to its competitive events. Without season-long head-to-head competition, the product is not at all compelling.
A tweet by Eric Froehlich summed up the problem with how many pros and OP officials view this issue:
— eric froehlich (@efropoker) April 30, 2013
Right now, Eric is correct. Organized Play and determining levels has nothing to do with fans. I see this mentality as a serious problem and the #1 barrier to increasing the viewership of Magic events. Imagine a top pro like Froehlich (Tiger Woods, Jeff Gordon) in any other individual game with a professional tour legitimately saying the season-long point standings have “nothing to do” with fans and that year-long results don’t “impact fans in the slightest.”
The season-long “Pro Points leaderboard” should be just as important at GP coverage as the current leaderboard for that particular tournament! You see the season points leaderboards of the PGA Tour, NASCAR, fishing, and tennis dozens of times during a broadcast because they are covering the tour, not that particular event. In Magic, you see it precisely never during coverage—it’s obvious the focus is on covering the event not the tour. The mentality needs to shift. Coverage at GPs and Pro Tours should be all about the tour not about that particular tournament, just like it is in virtually every professional tour except Magic.
By focusing on the broader picture, you get viewers invested in what happens later in the year. It builds like a snowball: as viewers watch more and more tournaments, they care more and more about the season standings, causing them to watch more and more tournaments. Right now, there is no building investment week after week culminating in a grand event like the World Championship—it’s just a tournament each weekend. It doesn’t cost any money, just a shift of perspective on the coverage team from covering each individual tournament to covering the tour as a whole.
Viewers have too short a memory to remember to tune in every three months for a Pro Tour. The GP coverage needs to build to the Pro Tour by constantly reminding us there are other events coming up and where the top pros are for the season. In this way, coverage builds on itself, and you get momentum. Without constant linking to other events and the overall pro season, you do not get any viewership momentum—you get people who like Modern watching some GPs and people who like Standard watching others. It needs to be a tour,not a collection of individual GPs.
The numbers tell us that we need to change our approach. Excluding the “fifth major” in golf—the Players—the most popular PGA Tour events are the last three of the season as players battle it out to see who makes the various cuts at the end of the year. Magic coverage numbers are totally flat—there is no boost to viewership at the end of the season over the beginning of the season. Football, baseball, fishing, NASCAR, golf—virtually every televised sporting tour sees huge upticks in viewers as the year ends and playoff spots, qualifications for the next year, and so forth are being decided. Magic sees the same viewership numbers at the first GP of the season as at the last.
This should never ever happen in coverage of a professional tour.
The end of the year, if coverage is approached as a season-long race instead of one-of tournaments, should bring in the most viewers as things like Platinum for the next year are decided. The fact that Magic coverage numbers remain flat throughout the entire season, and never go up or down based on the time of year is a very strong signal that viewers see zero drama in the season-long points race(s). Tournaments at the end of the year, when there is much more on the line for the average professional, should significantly outdraw those at the beginning of the year.
Whenever you see a broadcast flatten throughout the entire year rather than peak at the end, it is a sure sign that there is not enough drama built into the yearlong structure of the tour. Again, by analyzing the viewership numbers, we can extrapolate the problems with the coverage structure. A flat-line attendance regardless of where in the season the tournament falls is a sign that there is no drama in the season at all. If there was drama at any particular point during the season, we would see spikes in viewer numbers during those periods. The lack of viewership spike at the end of the year demonstrates that viewers see no drama at all in the overall Magic season.
Shift of perspective #3: New viewers are constantly tuning in, so it is absolutely imperative that you have your “A” game going for everything shown on your main channel.
People might think this is irrelevant or unimportant—when I’ve brought this up before, people have waved it off. However, this is on the page of big structural changes for a reason: it is absolutely critical. WotC needs to stop putting random low-production value stuff on the same channel they broadcast their marquee events. Casual fans don’t know and don’t care that you are doing a Beta Q&A this time and a Pro Tour that time. They just see the Pro Tour channel live, tune in, and assume it’s always like that.
Every day people in that 10,000,000-player base are hearing about a Twitch channel called “MagicProTour” and tuning in. If they tune in for a Pro Tour, they get a certain level of quality. If they tune in for a Grand Prix, a lower standard. If they happen, God forbid, to tune in during a “special event” like the horrific MOCS coverage or the Beta Q&A, they will probably never come back. Don’t experiment and show sub-production value programs—like having some guy on a screen doing a Beta Q&A—in the exact same place you want casual fans to think of as your Pro Tour channel.
As usual, we can see these things in the numbers. There was a stretch during the fall of 2012 when Cedric Phillips and Osyp Lebedowicz/Patrick Sullivan did coverage for three straight weeks for SCGLive. Those numbers are eye opening because these teams maintained a consistent level of professionalism in their broadcast. The first tournament did about 4,800 viewers, which is slightly above the SCGLive period average of 3,813. The second did about 6,100. The third did around a whopping 8,600 at one point during the broadcast; this wasn’t a Grand Prix—this was a SCG Open—and they almost hit 10,000.
Given consistent quality, we saw a near doubling of viewers in just three weeks, so the growth potential is there. The next week (the fourth) without Cedric after three weeks of consistently professional, strong commentary, numbers fell drastically.
Think about that for a second: we saw an almost doubling of viewers in just three weeks when the broadcast remained consistent and of strong quality. As soon as the consistent quality the viewers were used to left, the numbers dropped. How many people of the 8,600 from the week before tuned in, saw the broadcast was totally different and inferior, and left? I would bet a large amount of money that if Cedric and co. had returned for a fourth straight week they would have broken 10,000 viewers pretty easily given the 4k-6k-8k progression of the previous three weeks. Imagine the numbers if they went unbroken for six months.
The message from the numbers is clear: you need a consistent broadcast of repeatable quality to attract and build viewership numbers. Taking just one week off to put out a substandard product causes you to lose a large percentage of your viewership momentum, which is what happened to SCGLive by leaving their top commentators off for one week. You simply can’t do it—if you are going to broadcast, broadcast well or don’t cover it at all.
Once you have 50,000 tuning in for a GP (which is possible with 10m players) you can give your top guys the week off. You can’t change it up every week when you are trying to build the audience. SCGLive would not have lost much with a graphic explaining Cedric was off that week and to come back next week. Cedric returned after that one week off and did about 4,000 viewers—the same as the first week. By changing it on the viewers for just one week, SCGLive lost all the gains it had made by being consistent for three weeks. Putting on something of less quality with no explanation as to why it’s suddenly different caused a large percentageof viewers to turn the channel.
WotC faces this every single week with the varying quality and professionalism in their Grand Prix coverage. The Grand Prix coverage and the Pro Tour coverage are intertwined: you cannot build a PT audience by being good three or four times a year and having GP coverage as an afterthought. You can almost feel the attitude—from the set to how the commentators are dressed and groomed to the breaks to the constant talking off camera—that a GP is second-rate. I realize WotC won’t spend PT money covering GPs, but the production can still be carried out as though the GP is a big deal. Nothing I am going to discuss here requires more money; it just requires a shift in attitude.
I think everyone will admit that there’s an incredibly cavalier attitude at GPs among the coverage personnel when compared to PTs. Nobody ever yells off camera at a PT; people do it all the time at GPs. You need to act like you are covering a Pro Tour at all times. None of these things requires more money or higher production value to achieve. Nothing will hurt PT viewership more than substandard GP coverage thanks to the three to one rule. Every viewer you lose at a GP is three you lose for a Pro Tour. Every viewer you gain at a GP is three you gain for a Pro Tour. They feed each other and are most certainly not independent.
WotC needs to realize that they have a 10m player interest base and that “new” fans are constantly tuning in to their channel to check out coverage. Every time that channel is live, the top quality product needs to be featured. It’s obvious with everything from the attitude of the commentators and the reverence with which they treat the events that they think of GPs as second-rate.
Think about the message that sends to people who tune in just to “check out” GP coverage: you are watching a tournament that doesn’t really matter that much, so it’s ok if I yell off camera at this event, but I’d never do that at a Pro Tour because the Pro Tour is important. There is no easier way to make people shut off GP coverage than sending that message, and those people don’t come back to watch the Pro Tour.
Every GP is a walking billboard for PT coverage. Someone who has watched a Pro Tour, really liked it, and then tunes in for a GP will have a totally different experience. It’s not production value—it’s a general attitude and the reverence with which they treat their role. You don’t see two minutes of dead air time while clarifying a judge call at the Pro Tour, but you see it all the time when covering a GP. During some between-round confusion at Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze, they cut to a video to avoid dead air. During the same (to the viewer) between-round confusion at Grand Prix Portland, they gave us literally three minutes of dead air while the commentators stared off-screen looking puzzled. It’s no extra money; it’s just maintaining quality.
Consumers of broadcast media do not come back once you do things like this. They don’t understand the Pro Tour will be different. The NFL doesn’t treat regular games like they are second-rate and still expect people to tune in to the Super Bowl. The production value is drastically higher at the Super Bowl, but during regular NFL games the commentators still treat it as though it is an extremely important sporting event. The events feed off one another—if a person watches one, you want them to come back for the other. If an event is good enough to be broadcast, it’s good enough to be broadcast well.
If you can’t broadcast it well, don’t throw something together; take a week off. A casual fan is much more forgiving of a graphic saying “no GP this week, come back next week” than coverage that lets everyone know the current tournament isn’t all that important compared to PTs. When you tune in to a regular PGA Tour event, you get the exact same level of professionalism as a golf major. They don’t have ten commentators at a regular event or the same highlight packages—the production value is less—but the professionalism is maintained.
You can see the lack of detail in something as seemingly simple as the Twitch title. During Grand Prix Montreal, the first three or four hours of the GP were broadcasted under the heading “R&D Q&A!!!” before it was changed. Countless people asked “is this the GP?” in the chat until it was changed. In reviewing the Twitch titles for Grand Prix in the fall of 2012, there were five variations of the Twitch title for eight Grand Prix, and two of eight (25%!) Grand Prix were mislabeled as something else for a significant portion of the broadcast.
It is little things like this that matter—to attract casual viewers and not hardcore viewers, it has to be of consistent quality. At the 300,000-player base in 1995, these things didn’t matter. At the 10,000,000-player base in 2013, they are extremely important. These aren’t money changes; they are changes that will come about when WotC starts actually paying attention to and caring about the coverage quality at GPs. WotC doesn’t seem to do any of that. WotC would never mislabel a Pro Tour broadcast on Twitch, but doing it at a GP sends the message that they don’t care about GP coverage. The little mistakes must end or all the other changes I suggest won’t matter.
Furthermore, I am not talking about just the commentators —I’m talking about a thousand little mistakes during GP coverage that scream “we don’t care.” If you take nothing away from this article, take away this: GP viewership and PT viewership are intertwined thanks to the three to one rule. They are not independent. Poor GP coverage drastically reduces PT viewership. The number one reason people don’t watch PTs, in my opinion, is that they have bad experiences watching GPs.
The Twitch channel you use is what casual players will identify as your broadcast. How many people tuned in for the MOCS coverage where they were trying all that stuff that didn’t work and never came back? We’ll never know.
You’re competing with a lot of other media—a casual player who tunes into a half-assed broadcast is going to think it’s always like that and not come back. A perfect example of this is in fact the broadcast of the MOCS championship with the beta client. As a few of the people involved explained on Twitter after, they were “trying out some new things” and thought it would be a “nice showcase for the beta,” so they put together some coverage at the last minute. Those same people further explained that they were “taking the chance to try something new in coverage.”
The problem with that is that any casual fan who decided to check out Magic coverage that weekend didn’t know it was a one-time thing. They think that coverage is always digital or that it’s always done with a buggy, crazy program. You can’t just “throw something out there” with a 10m potential following like you could when there were 300,000 players. It turns people off.
The PGA Tour experimented with a “Stableford” scoring system, and they broadcasted it—on the Golf Channel at 11:00 AM, not during primetime on NBC (where their marquee events are shown). You can’t broadcast stuff like Beta Q&As and half-assed MOCS coverage and experimental computer programs in the same place you broadcast your heavyweight competitive events like Pro Tours. It doesn’t work—you cannot build an audience that way. Create another channel to experiment and have Beta Q&As. The casuals who see the “Pro Tour” channel is live and tune in to check it out, only to find that it’s an experimental MOCS broadcast where you’re “trying out” a bunch of stuff that doesn’t work, don’t come back.
The constant changes in commentator attitude and professionalism between GPs and PTs and the million small mistakes like the Twitch title coupled with the various strange events that are broadcast on WotC’s channel destroy viewership momentum. You have no idea when you tune in if you are going to get a serious broadcast, a bunch of laughing while they show a GP in the background, good GP coverage, mislabeled content, dead airtime, some Q&A with R&D, etc.
You need people to see the Pro Tour channel is live and know they are getting a premium product by tuning in. It is totally fine (see the Tennis Channel and the Golf Channel) to create a second channel to test and try out potentially substandard content. The only way to attract and build up an audience over time is with consistency in the product. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
Get a second channel to use when you want to beta test coverage ideas or show something like a developers Q&A. Get your substandard, non-competitive events/content off the same channel where you show your heavily-invested, feature product, and communicate to commentators and producers that standards are just as high at a GP as at a PT for things like yelling off camera, being organized, dead air, etc. I am not speaking of production value—I’m speaking of the general attitude the coverage staff brings to events.
If you watched the same exact commentators at a PT versus a GP, you would think they were totally different people. In reviewing archives for this article, I watched the same commentators at a GP versus a PT, and back-to-back the contrast in the attitude and the professionalism is striking. To build viewers over time, you always must act like the event you are currently covering is the most important Magic event of all-time.
In sum, we have the player base to have a fan-based tour. Other Hasbro brands should be fighting over the right to advertise during MTG events because we have ten million players. In order to get to a fan-based tour, we need a total shift in how the community and WotC view the tour. It’s a chicken-and-egg thing: you need to start catering your tour and coverage to fans in order to attract fans. You can’t wait for the fans to make the changes—they’ll never come before the changes. You make the changes because you know the fans are there due to the size of the player base.
When WotC starts thinking “viewers” not “participants,” starts thinking “tour” not “tournament,” and starts thinking “if it’s on our Pro Tour stream, it better be our best work,” you will start to see the viewership numbers drastically increase.