All It Was Was A Fairy Tale and Devotion To A Dream
The rock band Phish is a jamband that entices listeners of all ages. They are known primarily for their live concerts, never playing the same show twice. They have been a touring band for over 30 years, with a few breaks along the way. They have never had a top 10 hit, and their best-selling record peaked at number 7, 20 years ago. Even with that, in 2013, according to Billboard Magazine, they had the 2nd highest grossing US Summer tour. Phish consistently sells out large venues across the United States and they do it with a brand loyalty that is truly amazing.
Fans of Phish are known for their devotion. One possible measure of devotion is the percentage of shows seen out of all possible shows after the first show seen. I wanted to determine whether fans who started seeing Phish in the 1990’s, often referred to as Phish 1.0, were more devoted than fans who began to see the band later. I conducted a poll of 683 fans online. I shared this poll on several Phish message boards, so the poll is likely biased towards those who are more interested in the band than the general public.
I was interested in the age breakdown, the year that they started seeing the band, and how many shows they had seen in total. The numbers are staggering. One individual had seen the band 281 times. He started seeing them in 1992 and has seen roughly 25% of all the shows they have played since then. That’s not even the highest percentage of possible shows seen. That honor goes to a fan who started in 2009 and has seen over 40% of possible shows since then. The top 15% of fans, by this metric, have seen just over 22% of possible shows since they started seeing the band.
Fans of Phish often discuss 3 separate eras, “1.0” covering their beginning up until their first hiatus in 2000. “2.0” covers their brief reunion from 2002-2004. And “3.0” covers the period from 2009 until the present. The distribution of when those polled saw their first show is shown in Figure 1.
This chart shows a broad distribution of respondents. It is possible that the spike in respondents in 2009 was due to pent-up demand following their second hiatus. Figure 2 shows the average number of shows seen by year started. The earlier a fan started seeing Phish, the more shows, on average, were seen. However, a more accurate gauge of devotion is the number of shows seen as a percentage of the total number of shows you could have seen. Because I only polled based upon the year started, I counted one half of the number of shows from that year plus all the following shows as the standard. I call this the Devotion Quotient and its distribution is shown in Figure 3.
An examination of this graph seems to indicate that people saw more shows, as a percentage of possible shows, if they started seeing the band in 2003 or later. This was examined more closely. At a 10% significance level, people saw more possible shows if they started seeing the band in 2003 or 2004 than if they started seeing the band prior to 2000. The p-value on this test was 0.013. However, the differences between those who started seeing the band after 2009 and prior to 2000 were not statistically significant.
One possible explanation for this phenomenon is that people who started seeing the band in the 1990’s would likely be in their late 30’s or into their 40’s and thus would not see as many shows as they used to. With many folks in this age group, family and career pressures restrict the number of concerts seen in general. However, an examination of the data broken down by age indicates that there is no statistically significant difference between the various age groups. This is a somewhat surprising conclusion because many fans do not consider the period from 2003-2004 as the finest work the band has ever produced.
The data makes clear that Phish maintains its touring revenue by convincing a relatively small number of people to buy a relatively large number of concert tickets. Figure 4 show that, regardless of what year a fan started seeing them, they still tend to see 3 or 4 concerts a year. Thus, a small core of a fan base is able to generate sales of a million or more tickets each year. At an average ticket price of $60, that is $60 million in gross ticket sales from perhaps as few as 300,000 devoted fans. While all of Phish’s fans exhibit a tremendous level of brand loyalty, those that saw their first shows in 2003-2004 tend to be the most devoted.