SN Fan awards show down

Is it possible the NQC board unilaterally decided to move the Singing News fan awards from Thursday night to Saturday afternoon and to charge $20 a head for it - without consulting the SN? That’s what I’ve been hearing, anyway. And Kenneth Kirksey of the SN confirms as much. The only thing else he’d say was “that we are currently working with the NQC board to come up with a mutually agreeable day and time for the fan awards. I expect we’ll have something to announce in the next couple of weeks.”

From other conversations I’ve had with various stakeholders recently, I gather that after word of NQC’s action got out and SN and the INSP network (which has broadcast rights to the fan awards) responded less than favorably, NQC’s negotiating position softened a bit so that now a Saturday night fan awards seems the more likelier option.

But no matter. The chutzpah award goes to NQC. Or, as one person I talked to put it: “This is another fine example of the NQC trying to capitalize on something they didn’t create.” At least this has been the feeling for some time among many artists and some labels ever since NQC started charging admission to afternoon showcases several years ago. As the thinking goes here, it’s the artists and labels who are investing their time and losing paying gigs to put on the showcases, while the NQC gets a take at the gate that far exceeds the renumerative value of the showcase for the artist.

I’m not unsympathetic to this critique, but as it applies to the fan awards issues, I can see both sides of this. For the SN, there’s a matter of principle involved in NQC’s decision to make a drastic change to the SINGING NEWS fan awards without bothering to talk to . you know, THE SINGING NEWS. But more substantively, there’s the problem of Saturday night having become a sinkhole at NQC. With Gaither and his circle of talent gone, there’s no high profile act to anchor the weekends any more, so the fan awards have become the unofficial end of NQC. Everything else is just a long - and not very enjoyable - goodbye. And for the SN, there’s no guarantee that fans will want to stick around for a Saturday awards show no matter how sexed up and improved it is.

NQC, meanwhile, seems to have adapted the Field of Dreams approach to strategic planning and decided that if you move it they will come. This is not just a Saturday night or weekend attendance issue. One of worst kept secrets in sg is that NQC ticket sales have been in decline for seven years now, and on top of that, NQC lost a great deal of money on that AMG Dallas thing back in the spring. Desperate times and all that.

The younger members of the NQC board shareholders (which now includes Stewart Varnado and Mark Trammell, I gather) probably see that if there’s any way to save NQC from obsolescence (not to mention their investment in the company), it’s going to involve mass-marketable products like the Fan Awards (and if you saw how slick this year’s show was, you might better understand why someone might think to pin his hopes on the awards show). Normally, I’d consider unilateralism of this sort bad form, and even worse strategy (see George Bush the Younger; 2001-Armaggeden). But in this case, I’m not so sure. If the SN is already talking about trying to reach a mutally agreeable solution with the NQC on day and time, it’s more likely not a matter of it, but how and when, the awards show will move.

Here’s where I reserve the right to change my mind because I’m hearing two different possibilities other than Thursday. One is a Saturday night awards show, which certainly wouldn’t seem like a bad idea on its face. If a marquee artist like Mark Lowry and his gang were scheduled for the mainstage after the awards show, it would be a package deal that’d certainly have a good chance of keeping a lot of butts in the seats and artists in their Exhibit Hall booths.

The Saturday afternoon option strikes me as much more problematic. The only thing more catastrophic than no one bothering to show up would be everyone turning out on Saturday afternoon for the awards and deciding to forgo a mainstage ticket for Saturday night. NQC gets a fat take at the awards-show gate that might offset or even overcome some of the Saturday night losses; but the general trend in Saturday night attendance and the stampede for the Exhibit Hall exit are only exacerbated. Meanwhile, the SN, INSP, and other investors in the awards show get no more money out of the move than before and so have good reason to feel royally jilted as NQC gets more bang for other people’s buck. Hurt feelings and cutthroat deals are part of the grown-up world (even and especially the grown up CHRISTIAN world), but the real rub here is that the SN and INSP could conceivably decide to break the fan awards off into its own separate event, which is bad news for those of us who put up with NQC’s many wondrous flaws because events like the fan awards are part of what helps keep Louisville in September the best one-stop shop for all things gospel music.

It’s probably a little soon for that kind of chicken-littling. The bottom line (and of course it’s about the bottom line with NQC, as it is with any other bidness) is that NQC has always had to dance deftly and sing prettily to give the appearance that what’s profitable for the quartet convention also coincides with what’s good for gospel music. At best this has never been more than a useful (and for some, a very lucrative) fiction. But the Gaither debacle eroded a chunk of NQC’s cultural authority as arbiters of taste in sg (to say nothing of it profit margins). It’s never wise to underestimate the power of a group of wealthy white southern men linked by a shared financial interest and a history of getting what they want. But then the SN isn’t owned by the chairman of the NQC board anymore and appears to have a powerful ally in the INSP network. Which may help put a little more “mutual” back into “mutually agreeable.”

Update: David Bruce Murray says “I told you so” and has some good thoughts on the way a fan awards change could play out (if you’re not exhausted by all this inside baseball yet). And reader vdieoguy has a simple solution here.

Later Update: Nothing to see here, folks. Jim Cumbee, publisher to the gospel stars and president of non-broadcast media at Salem (the Singing News’s parent company), writes to correct my “spurious” comments after the jump.

I normally don’t respond to spurious blog postings, but your post this afternoon about the NQC and the Singing News Fan Awards hit close to home with some bad information that needs to be clarified. There is a lot less intrigue in all of this than your post would suggest. The NQC and the Singing News are business and personal friends. We are in a normal dialogue with NQC leadership on a VARIETY of ways to improve the fan experience and I am completely confident that at the end of the day, the fan — and the music — will be better off.

The NQC has been the home of the Singing News Fan Awards for over 25 years. However, in today’s fast-changing business environment, you have to constantly re-consider your business model and core operating assumptions. That’s all that’s going on here. In fact, these are the same kind of decisions I make everyday in the many other businesses for which I am responsible. Change isn’t the “story” any more, it is the norm.

Having sat on the NQC Board for almost three years, I know that their deliberations are thoughtful and well intentioned. The Board is always looking at ways to strengthen the business by improving the fan experience. I am respectful of (and applaud) that way of thinking. It doesn’t mean I have to approve of every decision they make, I mean, really, if somebody looked over my shoulder to evaluate every decision I made in my various businesses, I’d never get anything done and they’d see a lot of mistakes. I figure if I get 7 out of 10 decisions right, I’m ahead of the game.

I’m sorry to take all the drama out of your post, but I want your readers to know what’s really going on here. Our open dialogue with the NQC Board will result in both businesses being better off, which is good for the music we love and the Lord we serve.

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  1. Tony Watson wrote:

    I can’t speak to the line of communication as to asking versus telling what the changes might or might not be - but I personally think the move of the SN Fan Awards to Saturday night would be something worth trying. It certainly might help the major groups have incentive to stay around - though it certainly won’t make up for the lost income of not singing somewhere.

    Maybe have the concert program after the fan awards made up of the winners from the awards program?

    My inside source tells me that the attendance the year of 9/11 and after went way down but that it’s gone up each year since then so I don’t think the picture is as bleak as it sometimes is portrayed.

    The AMG, however, was a sink hole where money in the high thousands was flushed down the tube. It had too many things working against it from the beginning. Price - location (not Dallas necessarily but the actual location - us locals knew it was awful) - and lack of outside promotion.

  2. Aaron Swain wrote:

    It’s actually on NQC TV right now, though probably not in its entirety. I know just from watching last nite that they cut out the Roger Bennett Tribute Video and the encore of the “Old To Young” passing the torch thing.

  3. Trent wrote:

    You are right. A Saturday afternoon showcase has all the ingredients of a catastrophe come Saturday night….everybody would head for the house. The one alternative would be to close the convention on Satuday afternoon with the awards show, which would be kind of cool, and I think, well attended.

    Having the awards on Saturday night would undoubtedly be a boon for NQC, and might even sell the place out.

    The downside to all this is that while Saturday night has always been one of the highest ticket sales nights anyway, putting the awards show on Saturday night will add a few more tickets until the place is packed–however, Thursday evening becomes just another mid-week show and sales will drop drastically for that particular night.

  4. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    I don’t believe Trammell or Varnado are on the board of NQC…at least not yet. They bought some shares, however, so their opinions definitely would carry more weight now than they did before.

  5. dd wrote:

    Well, Saturday night, everyones pooped, short fused and expieriencing cabin fever. On top of that, people want to get home at a decent time for church. Saturday’s a driving day and would become more taxing on the groups. Also, the wonder of modern technology would warrant that most people would stay home or go home and listen to or watch the awards on the net.

    Put the awards on Friday and do as Doug says, get a bankable name such as Lowry and Lordsong and give them 45 minutes. Or a greater solution is send a great big fruit basket to Gaithers door step with a card saying PLEASE! , the key to the video truck and let the good times roll.

  6. Videoguy wrote:

    I say close the convention on Friday night with the awards ceremony. This would give groups the opportunity to book paying gigs on Saturday and Sunday, and least break even for the week.

  7. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    It not a choice between Thursday or Saturday, Saturday afternoon or Saturday night, more or less Fan Awards, summer or fall event.
    It might be for many people the question is the reality of attending the NQC at all.
    Decisions made in earlier years might have created the situation NQC faces today coupled with the today’s current events in the marketplace.
    Case in point!
    Fan Awards were cut last year!
    Doesn’t matter who made the decision.
    Inclusion works alot better than exclusion when working with the masses of people.
    When the power structure starts focusing on including people instead of excluding, southern gospel music might take off.
    Just look around and see why other people who include people are doing so well today.

  8. thom wrote:

    i tend to agree with videoguy, let Friday night with the award show be the big finale. from what one group owner told me the nqc has cut their pay and cut their stage time such that it has made some groups choose not to participate. it takes planning and saving in advance of the week to make expenses to cover the cost of missing paying dates in order to be at nqc.

    Shut her down on Friday night - and make a rule that groups can not tear down their booths until midnight Friday night. This gives them Saturday to travel - either to home - or to pick up a paying date on the way home.

  9. Bob Crichton wrote:

    I have a great idea! Let’s ask the FANS what they think! Let’s not turn this into another back-and-forth among industry people talking about their own opinions without one shread of information on how the fans view this issue. Real companies that make real money conduct real market research before making real decisions. I have complete faith in Jim Cumbee and at least two of the younger members of the NQC Board to act properly on this. The resistance will come from others.

  10. Phil wrote:

    Shutting it down on Friday night would be a HUGE mistake. Have you noticed the hundreds of buses that come in for Thursday-Saturday. If you take a day off of that 3 days how many bus groups do you think would travel long distances for a 2 day event??? (answer, not near as many!)

  11. TLN wrote:

    I don’t have a definitive opinion on when the awards show should take place, but I definitely believe that for the NQC’s attendance numbers to grow, it MUST be moved to one of the summer months which would allow the younger fans to attend. I’ve stated this before, but it IS crucial (NQC board, please get your heads out of the sand…this is a no-brainer)!

  12. jb wrote:

    I agree with videoguy on closing out on Friday night, however, we do enjoy the talent contest on Sat. morning.It really doesn’t matter to me as we are not going back next yr. anyway. We can watch it a whole lot cheaper on our computer, plus we get the whole week for the “fee”. I’m just trying to figure out how to get the ice cream and waffle cones delivered to my living room.

  13. RK wrote:

    The SN fan awards will remain NQC. Bet on it. There is not other time or place where they can assemble the talent, the crowd, the industry honchos, or potential for drama and a great storyline with the cost control and economy of scale that NQC provides. And if SN were to move its awards elsewhere, NQC could easily tap its own database of ticket buyers, augmented with easily available internet technology, and sanction and produce its own “fan awards” during convention week, perhaps diluting the value of the awards for all sides but allowing the show to go on in Louisville with little change.

    That said, SN does hold the franchise (the awards) that seems to have become the pinnacle or peak of the convention, and they would be foolish not to assert themselves vigorously in any process that alters such an event.

  14. Rod wrote:

    I agree TLN…They definately need it during the summer…I have personally heard many people say they can’t come because their kids are in school.

  15. Robert York wrote:

    I for one won’t be attending the Fan Awards if they are on Saturday. I think the NQC Board should be listening more to the fans other than the group that sets on the board. Many think it should have been moved from Louisville, with the hotel prices in 2008 you can see why. Others think it should be held in the summer months when school is out.
    Maybe they should poll the fans and see what they want.

  16. JIM wrote:

    I’m inclined to believe that Monday - Friday would be time enough to get things done at NQC, with the “finale” being the fan awards on Friday evening. This would free the groups up to schedule “paying gigs” the weekend before and after NQC, so that they can pay their bills. And I would love to see them change the time of NQC to a summer month, so that my children also could attend the most important event in Southern Gospel Music…..NQC!!!

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