The last Monday in May is the day on which one of the fastest growing sports events in the UK takes place. I know you’ve all been waiting for it, but you’ve got to be very brave now. Here’s the unbelievably bad news:
This year’s “Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake” has been cancelled!
This year’s what? Am I kidding? No and yes. No because there is an event like this and it really has been cancelled for 2010, yes because I am well aware that not quite all of you have been waiting enthusiastically for it. Some may even not have heard about it before.
Therefore, please allow me to give you the basics of the event:
For probably over 200 years now (the exact year of the first event is not exactly known), the Cheese-Rolling and Wake takes place close to Brockworth, Gloucestershire, England, roughly 100 miles west of London.
The idea is quite simple: From the top of Cooper Hill, a Double Gloucester Cheese is rolled. The cheese gets a little head start, then the participants start chasing it. The basic idea was that someone could catch the cheese, but given the steepness of the hill that is practically impossible (the cheese can reach speeds of up to 70mph (110 km/h). Therefore, the first to reach the finish line at the bottom of the hill wins and gets – what else – the cheese.
It’s dangerous (there are injuries every year, though in most cases no serious ones) and it does not make any sense, but it is to say the least a quite unusual event. Until a couple of years ago it was a purely local event, but in a time where stuff that does not make any sense but is very unusual is zeitgeist and exactly what a lot of people are looking for, the event has gained popularity (it was mentioned e.g. in an episode of ER and The Gilmore Girls) – and that’s the problem:
Cooper’s Hill can only cater for a maximum 5000 people. Therefore the organization committee strongly encourages people not (!) to come to visit the event. The information on their website reads like this:
“Unless you’re local, you’ll wait in a traffic queue for hours, either before the event, after the event or both, plus a long trek to/from your car” (…) “it’s very difficult indeed [to visit the event]. Please don’t try and attend the event!” (…) “There are NO facilities for lots of cars, big crowds or the runners. Please don’t come to the event”
Still, in 2009, 15000 people tried to watch the event live – a nightmare from an event security perspective and the reason for the cancellation of this year’s event.
So why do so many people want to attend the event? Obviously because it is rare. It brings us back to the seven triggers of fascination Sally Hogshead came up with (I already discussed them in more detail a couple of months ago when speaking about Diego Maradona). The “Vice” trigger (the desire for the forbidden fruit) seems to work perfectly here, probably in coalition with “Mystique” (“what is really going on there?”) and “Prestige” (“I want to be one of the few that have been there”). The more the event organizers recommend not to come, the more it will fascinate people and motivate them to come anyway. A dilemma.
The organizers have been surprised heavily by the size of the attendance in 2009. A pattern that can be seen a lot in the market place: Companies create an offering but are not prepared that people actually might really want to buy (don’t get me wrong: I’m not blaming the people of Brockworth at all – they never tried to create and sell a “product”, it just happened by accident).
The magic word is scalability. Make sure you will be able to grow or you might get caught wrong-footed. Alternatively, have a plan ready on how to deal with an insufficient availability of your product or service. That’s an approach which is seldom discussed but can be very effective as it reduces your risk and gives you many options to become profitable. Just imagine what price the people of Brockworth could ask from non-locals for tickets to the event if they would close they venue and only let, say, 2000 “foreigners” in. However, when you follow this “shortage on purpose” approach you are a lot more vulnerable to new entries of competitors, as a large part of the market demand is not satisfied yet. That’s why the approach can be seen more often in mature markets.
The Cheese Rolling Committee, the village of Brockworth, the County Council and the local Police are currently considering options how to make it possible to host the event again in 2011. The ideas discussed so far seem to go exactly into the two directions I mentioned above: a) Make the event better available by expanding it into the city, streaming the footage on the Internet, etc. or b) create a shortage on purpose by restricting the number of visitors with a ticketing system, making the date variable and only communicate it shortly before the event, etc. Let’s wait and see what decision they will end up with.
The story could well end here, but there is one little anecdote left:
It’s not the first time the event had to be cancelled. Quite remarkable, in each of these years the committee was rolling a single cheese down the hill anyway without anybody chasing it – just to maintain the tradition.
I love this idea. We all know that sometimes things can go wrong. Don’t let it kill your enthusiasm, make sure you come back. When things go an unexpected way, saying no may be an option, but never close the door completely.
By the way: In 2011, the May bank holiday will be on May 30th. Don’t even think about going to Brockworth that day.