CHEER GYM OWNERS: BUSINESS LESSONS FROM HOLLYWOOD
Being a cheer gym owner involves many jobs: coach, concierge, babysitter, maintenance, choreographer, manager, accountant, store owner, just to name a few.. but let's not forget that first and foremost, being a cheer gym owner means being a business owner.
Cheerleading is part sport, part entertainment. There are many parallels, in fact, that can be drawn with the biggest entertainment businesses of all: Hollywood.
Many people may not know that my background was not in business or marketing, but Media Arts (an intellectual way for the University of London to say ‘Filmmaking’). My final year research thesis, ‘The Movie on The Lunchbox’ - received the second highest grade of the year.
The research showed that it was not the films themselves, but the spinoffs and sequels derived from them that made up the majority of the film’s business model. You may ask yourself, how does that have ANYTHING to do with business cheerleading?? A lot in fact: the writing of this dissertation awakened me to principles of marketing and business that were going to shape the rest of my career. Cheerleading was my Hollywood. I swapped cameras for pompoms, and after working 10 years in the cheer industry I soon realised that the same rules applied.
This is what ‘The Movie on the Lunchbox’ taught me about the family film industry, and how this applies to owning a cheer business:
THE PETER PAN RULE
A young sibling will watch anything an older sibling will watch. An older sibling is unlikely to watch something a younger sibling will watch. A female sibling is more likely to watch something an older sibling will watch. A male sibling is unlikely to watch something a female sibling will watch. To make a successful children’s blockbuster, you need to zero in on the older male sibling. This is why Hollywood is male-dominated, and so is the cheerleading coaching industry. If cheerleading were just pink, glittery and aimed at young kids - it would not have that global appeal. It is the strong male dominance of our sport, and un-knowingly abiding to the Peter Pan rule that makes cheerleading so appealing as a sport.
What we can learn from this: Using the ‘Peter Pan Rule’ in the gym’s marketing and culture is more likely to attract a larger crowd of athletes over being too feminine or glitzy. However, a male-dominated cheer business needs an equally dominant female personality, ‘the Wendy’ - to counteract the balance so that the next points are also taken care of.
EVIL VILLAINS DONN'T SELL WELL
Have you noticed that ever since The Little Mermaid (1989) Disney villains have become less and less scary or have a comedy sidekick? Marketing studies indicated that animation films where the villain was too intense scared the majority of kids, and they were unlikely to buy the film on VHS/DVD or buy toys from the movie. The solution? Give villains a comedy factor or sidekick to take the edge off. In cheerleading, we see the same: the ‘bad cop’ coach sure gets the result fast, but is also likely that they are the reason why many kids quit. They simply stop enjoy training and their happiness trumps ‘commitment’.
What we can learn from this: All young people need their medicine with a spoonful of sugar. This does not mean being weak on them or going without discipline. All it means is that there needs to be a balance between the tough love and ensuring kids want to come back to training, perhaps even bringing their friends. If you want to ensure your business and numbers continue to grow, make sure on top of the National titles and Worlds Jackets that your kids enjoy the process of becoming athletes by having FUN.
PRE-SOLD CONCEPTS ALWAYS SELL WELL
There is a reason why Hollywood keeps producing sequels. Are all the film sequels great movies? Certainly not. Do they make money? YES. Hollywood, like cheerleading, is primarily an INDUSTRY. Therefore it needs to make money. A studio, actor or director will of course make Oscar-worthy films or ‘passion projects’. However these are the least likely to fill the bank. The same thing applies to a cheer gym. Which team leaves everyone in awe but is the least likely to make money? The Worlds Team. This is the cheer industry’s equivalent to the Oscar film.
So why are sequels specifically such great money-makers? Because people already know the story. If they enjoyed it, they will want more, it’s a pre-sold concept. The film studios don’t need to spend nearly as much money trying to convince audiences that the story, the characters, are all something that they want to watch, because they already have. They want to see it again. In cheer, it’s the same: teams belonging to the same gym or branches of the same gym in a new location will fill up quicker than any new team to set up, no matter who is coaching.
What we can learn from this: Cheerleading is an industry that has suffered many Cheer Wars. Let’s face it, cheerleading is not a harmonious type of industry. From the USA to the UK, Australia or Spain, the story is the same : Athlete A left for gym B. Coach Z left to start Team Y. Governing body X split to form xx and XX. This is a trend that doesn’t show our industry in the best light. What’s important to know here is the importance of BRAND IDENTITY. A rebrand or a split might seem like the best idea at the time because of ‘who’ is behind it. The reality? Unless the identity of the brand or gym has been severely damaged, the best business decision is to join forces and make that brand stronger.
ANCILLARY MARKETS KEEP THE INDUSTRY ALIVE
The main conclusion of my study was this: the reason a movie was even made in the first place was NOT based on projections of the box office. It was based on the revenue made from ancillary products. The study that took me 6 months of my life showed that over 70% of a film’s revenue didn’t come from cinema tickets. It came from the billions of toys, DVDs, soundtracks, theme parks, ANYTHING that the studios could sell with the movie’s logo on. What was the film that made them realise this? STAR WARS. Collectible figures made for the release of the first film in 1974 were not a pre-meditated move. The items sold out as soon as they were onto the shelves, and Hollywood quickly learned they were onto something. In cheerleading we can see a similarity: people will do and pay ANYTHING to get an item of clothing from a World’s gym. Children, teens and adults alike will do anything to be associated with a brand or gym that is a hit.
What we can learn from this: Ancillary markets are one of the biggest untapped resources that gyms need to make the most of. Sure, the concept of having a ‘pro shop’ is becoming more and more popular every year. But unless you are shifting HUNDREDS of items a week, profit margins on these items can be relatively low, without counting the cashflow required to buy stock in advance. So what are mere cheer-mortals to do? The easiest way to duplicate this model is by packing out recreational classes to maximum capacity and by distributing sports products through your gym that do not require you to purchase stock (acting as an ‘agent’ rather than a retailer’).
Think of it like this: for every cheerleader on one of your teams there are 10 others that wish they were in that spot that did not make it. Where a team can hold 36 athletes, a fitness class can hold up to 50 in the same spot. Holding recreational and fitness classes for your gym’s entourage means they can have the experience to be part of your gym when they cannot be on a team and gives you the opportunity to create a whole new income stream of memberships. Everybody wins!
THE SECRET INGREDIENT: HIDDEN PARENT CONTENT
If ancillary markets are the recipe to make a successful family film, hidden content for the parents is the secret ingredient. A study showed that films containing secret jokes for the more adult audience (think of the many in-jokes in Finding Nemo or Shrek) were more likely to succeed financially. Why? Because the parents were more likely to return to watch the movie or buy the paraphernalia for their children. It is no secret that some parents live vicariously through their children. Dance Moms did not get its own show for nothing - and even ‘normal’ parents enjoy the process of being part of the gym through their children. What can we learn from this: It is my biggest belief that the most important link we’re missing in the cheerleading industry making the most of the parents. I believe making the parent the ‘enemy’ and creating an US versus THEM culture within our gyms and industries is the biggest barrier we are creating for ourselves. Ultimately, parents are the ones who write the cheque and drive the kids to the gym. Any tantrums, disagreements and dramas have one common denominator which can be narrowed down by obliteration one of Dale Carnegie’s principles: “Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely”. People, and in this case, cheer parents, only want one thing: to feel that their child and themselves matter. Of course, on a cheer team no one is more important than the other. This does not mean they are NOT important. It means they are EQUALLY IMPORTANT. Making parents feel like they / their kids don’t matter is a recipe for drama, or worse, walk-outs at inappropriate times. The secret is to provide a way for them to make their time useful instead of sitting behind a glass wall waiting to stir up drama. There are plenty of ways in which you can make parents feel valued, giving you more space to coach, such as offering them fitness classes in a secondary studio, fundraising, helping out in areas you need - almost as a more active PTA organisation. This subject will be covered in more depth in another article.
There you go: Hollywood and Cheer. Not so different after all, and it has nothing to do with Cheerlebrities! We hope this article has been useful to you and bring you some inspiration as a business owner.