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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Suggestion/Secession: Here We Go Again

We're nearly three years removed from seven of DCI's top corps issuing a manifesto demanding change of the Association. After that change included the Tour of Champions concept that featured these corps prominently, I thought the dissenting faction had been appeased. But not unlike realignment in college sports, the beat goes on.

Earlier this month, the same corps put forth a lengthy letter again asserting a desire for change. Having resigned from board positions following the last communiqué, this one demands return to the board and a restructuring that would place decisions squarely in control of these seven, assuming they were on one accord regarding said decision. This time, they are a little more explicit with the "taking our ball and going home" threat.

The dissonance here seems quite similar to the friction that is ultimately tearing the Big East as we know it asunder. The G7 - the name commonly used for The Undersigned (Great, Greedy, or a host of other adjectives, depending on which side you come down on) - would play the role of the Catholic 7, who have already announced their departure from the Big East. The difference here is that while there is a fundamental disconnect in the Big East between the schools that play major college football and those who do not, there's not a divider nearly so clear between these seven corps and the rest of the activity. Is it competitive? Hardly; one needs look no further than this past season to find the last time these seven failed to be the top seven corps on finals night. Is it philosophical? Perhaps, but it's well documented that there are many things on which The Cadets' George Hopkins and Blue Devils' David Gibbs don't see eye to eye, and that says nothing of the other five corps. Simply put, it would seem that the only clear mutual interest of these corps is, indeed, the mutual interest of these corps.

The argument goes that as top-ranking corps, these groups are the ones who put butts in seats, and the model of the Association should be set up to reward them with control accordingly. It's a structure I've compared before with the BCS, and it's not lost on me that while that structure is giving rise to a playoff after this next season, the system will still, at its core, reward the haves and limit access for the have-nots. But is the assertion that those seven corps pack stadiums an accurate one? With absolutely no data to back this up, I'd examine it thus:

The way I see it, there are five primary groups that make up the average drum corps crowd. Those groups, in approximate order, are:
-Friends and family of current marching members
-Folks who are simply fans of drum corps
-High school (and to a lesser extent, college) bands
-Corps alumni
-People accompanying any of the first four groups.

Let's say for example that the seven corps were to cleave off into a separate entity - We'll call it Music in Motion, or MIM, as that's the name of the apparently already incorporated splinter group. How will this new group play with each of the audiences mentioned above?

Friends and family will, of course, follow their marching member, whether they march with DCI or MIM corps. DCI may find itself with more concentrated audiences however; anecdotally, the MIM corps recruit more nationally, meaning that even a "home show" is less likely to be full of local products than the DCI shows may be.

Fans of Drum Corps may side with the MIM corps, as they do tend to be, on average, competitively stronger. That doesn't necessarily mean they would turn their back on DCI as we know it, and of course if they are fans of a specific corps, they'll likely side with wherever their favorite corps ends up.

Decisions for marching bands will be made by directors and staff. This could be a toss up. DCI already has a tried-and-true product that directors can feel comfortable supporting. On the other hand, Hopkins' ties with USSBA may make the MIM product more attractive to bands that affiliate with US Bands.

Corps alumni, of course, are likely to be loyal to wherever their corps lands. Strictly numerically, this favors the DCI corps.

The big caveat here is that DCI will be, for better or worse, a known quantity, while MIM will have to prove itself and gain goodwill after a potentially messy breakup from said known quantity. Much as the Big East's two sides will ultimately determine who keeps the name and all that goes with it, it is clear that in this case, DCI will remain while the MIM corps will be seen - again, for better or worse - as secessionists. How will this play out with sponsors, supporters, and even venues as they go forth to set up their own tour? Will the move alienate fans? What's more, how much will MIM's product continue to resemble what we currently know as drum corps? Part of this group's platform is continued evolution of the activity, and the elephant in the room here seems to be the addition of woodwinds, which is likely to push many out of the door, especially if DCI is still providing a woodwind-free environment.

DCI - the entire body, as it currently stands - is in the midst of its winter meetings this weekend. What we will see after that is anyone's guess.
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