I recently was interviewed for an article about the impact of “The Hunger Games” on kids. The author asked how this movie and similar movies and TV shows affected archery. I repeated what I’ve said often since the “The Hunger Games’ original release in 2012: “We’ve seen an unprecedented surge in archery interest.”
In the same article, the author quoted others who attributed increased archery participation to NASP, more interest in bowhunting, and kids enjoying their first outdoors experience. One source, however, said 10- to 12-year-olds weren’t interested in “The Hunger Games,” didn’t care for outdoor television shows, and couldn’t be recruited into the outdoors through social media. A famous author, Richard Louv, believes these movies and television shows give kids little reason to go outdoors. Louv also thinks “The Hunger Games” will have a short- term impact, much as fly-fishing enjoyed a brief surge after “A River Runs Through It” hit the big screen in 1992.
So, what is the impact of the media’s recent fascination with archery, and why are so many people suddenly interested in it? Further, why is archery participation increasing? Make no mistake: The increases are well-documented by program leaders, archery retailers and membership organizations like USA Archery. Our Release Your Wild campaign has engaged more people than all previous ATA communications, marketing and promotion efforts combined. Almost 90% are under 18 years of age and two-thirds of this group are girls which means we’re into a new demographic. These increases have been measured via Facebook, Twitter, website views, paid memberships, equipment purchases, Groupon buys, and participation in classes and individual lessons.
Will all those movie and TV viewers and social-media participants take up archery? Of course not, but some will be interested enough to investigate archery, talk about it with friends, and look into what archery is all about. We have documented many kids who were stimulated by an archery image or story, and then liked, commented, shared or even taken action and used a locator tool to find a program, or an instructor or archery pro shop. In many cases, the kids’ parents got involved, which is common when kids develop new interests. After all, parents control the money, transportation and activities in which their kids participate.
Do we think kids who see “The Hunger Games,” “Game of Thrones,” “Snow White and the Huntsman,” “The Avengers,” “The Hobbit” and “Brave” immediately want to try archery, go shooting, get outdoors or show a deeper appreciation for nature overnight? Of course not – How could they? No entertainment can substitute for the real thing. To me, once something – anything – triggers an interest in archery or the outdoors, the question becomes: How can we help them take action? Can we provide effective ways to sustain their interest, deepen their intrigue, tweak their curiosity, and then, carefully compel them to investigate archery? How do we help those who are entertained by archery to turn that energy into engagement then action and finally the satisfaction that comes with participation?
I look at this new phenomenon as a huge funnel, with all those intrigued by archery pouring into its open top. Those numbers are staggering, and many prospects will go no further into the funnel. But if we stimulate, engage and entertain them with some archery facts, images and information, we will get many folks far enough into the funnel to at least make them archery fans.
Fans? Yes, fans. Most who work to grow participation in shooting and hunting never consider the possibilities of fandom. Participation has been the only goal for many well-intentioned leaders and, during the pursuit of that goal technology, entertainment and modern cultural activities are considered a hindrance. That belief must change. Fans today ONLY participate via technology, live to be entertained and they ARE the modern culture. All our activity-level measurements for new archery fans come from the web or social media.
So, what’s the value of having archery fans, other than it beats having opponents? If we can create fond memories for each brief encounter newcomers have with archery, those fans might one day try archery. Even if they never take action, but remember archery as fun and interesting, sometime in the future they might support archery as a school sport, encourage their kids to try archery or vote for bowhunters to control deer in their city. Whatever the case, the more people with positive memories about archery – whether from direct experience or through social media – the better.
When the ATA Board of Directors decided to capitalize on the media buzz about archery, we agreed we didn’t want to be guilty of passively standing by and watch this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity unfold. At no cost to us, archery became a major cultural story and we would be foolish to ignore the millions of people who were stimulated by it. That’s why we are aggressively working to engage these new archery fans and connect them to the world of archery. One major advantage is the technology and social media tools are already in the hands of these young people which means the second they start looking for archery, we are there to plant seeds via Facebook, Twitter, Vine, and the web that we hope one day will grow a new archer.
No matter how we respond, it will take all of us doing our part to increase participation in shooting, hunting and the outdoors. Today we have a legitimate opportunity to turn archery into a mainstream sport and an activity that will be a gateway for many to explore the outdoors. And, being mainstream means we must accept what accompanies popularity: fandom, eclectic ideas and activities, images concocted just for fun, and other fashionable aspects of archery. In fact, this new popularity will bring about activities never before considered by traditional shooting, hunting, conservation and outdoors folks.
All these new dimensions might be a bit unnerving, and they’re certainly not what we have known. But who cares? If the social and cultural interest and media as well as all the new technology can work to our advantage, why not work with it? We gain nothing by ignoring it or, worse, fighting this tidal wave of interest.