The Power in Feeling Seen

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The Knicks at MSG

“Friendship is the privilege of being seen.” These powerful words by poet David Whyte have always resonated with me when thinking about the power of live experiences.

I recently brought my kids to the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, to watch the surging Knicks keep their hot streak alive.

From the moment we entered, we were high-fiving total strangers, chanting, “Let’s go Knicks” with the crowds walking into the arena, and even waving a Knicks foam finger given to us by an international tourist who was in town for the game and wanted to make my boys feel special. It was an afternoon that reminded me of why I invested my entire career into the world of live experiences – they are an incredible force for creating a sense of belonging.

In our country today, the idea of “belonging” has never been a more pressing topic – so much so that America’s Surgeon General released an advisory naming loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection as public health crises.

Consider this:

1 out of 3 people globally report feeling lonely.

1 out of 2 young adults feel that no one “genuinely cares” how they’re doing. 

4 out of 5 American young people under the age of 18 report feeling lonely.

It’s terrible.

For live event brands in sports, the arts, and attractions, the issue of loneliness brings a new focus on the importance of access to live experiences in people’s lives.

At face value, there is nothing “lonely” about a live experience. A live experience doesn’t start at tip-off, and it certainly doesn’t end when the final whistle blows. From the parking garage to the restaurant before the game to the ushers pointing you to the exit, there’s so much human interaction baked into attending a live experience. But, as we all know, loneliness isn’t cured with sheer proximity to other people. Rather, it’s a function of something far more powerful – the power of connection. 

My advice for live event producers in 2024 is to put a newfound urgency on the importance of making your patrons be and feel “seen.”  It’s good for business, good for society and, quite frankly, what I believe the best of the best in the live event field are naturally great at.

Here are a few conversation starters courtesy of the brands that I’ve seen do this best:

Respect the swivel.

Every seat sold to a live event is equipped with a proverbial swivel.  When the seat is facing the stage, field, or court, you have an audience. But with one small swivel of that same seat, you can see everything — and everyone — that’s around you; that is the community. Great experiences recognize that they aren’t just “selling tickets,” they’re cultivating both an audience and a community that wants to feel seen.

Budget to your values.

If your budget is a reflection of your values, what portion of your budget is centered on new audience development versus fan engagement? The best respect this balance and understand the flywheel of true passion.

Staff for the magic.

Most major live events are full of professionals trained in the magic of show business – they know what they need to do to put on a great show. They hire based on craft and lean the highest focus on putting on a great show. The buzzer beater, the 11 o’clock number (does that even exist anymore!?!), the half-time show. Are the same people who create the show’s magic the same people expected to create the community magic?

Evaluate your community.

What the sports industry does so amazingly well (like our friends at the NY Knicks!) is creating a sense of a shared community.  Win or lose, the audience is in it together around a shared vision — or hopeful outcome.

As I reflect on those high-fives, chants, and unexpected connections from the Knicks game, I am reminded that the true value lies in the precious time spent with my sons, pulling them away from the allure of the doom scroll and into a real-life place with real-life, meaningful, shared memories to be made.

That’s the magic of what we do, and if we have an opportunity to make a real difference in this uniquely lonely time, I think we should grab the bull by the horns.

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