Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Distaste in Minnesota

The people have spoken. The fresh, new and exciting Taste of Minnesota failed.

This blog entry follows up chapter two of my Taste of Minnesota observations, found here.

Today I read that the "festival" lost money. The face of the ownership group, Andy, put an unsurprising spin on it. He was very satisfied with the progress made in turning the event into a festival. The concerts were amazing, he said. I kept hearing how amazing it was to have national acts playing outdoors at Harriet Island. I didn't see the concerts, so I can't speak to how amazing they were, but somehow I doubt people were amazed by 62-year-old Sammy Hagar singing that he can't drive 55 for the millionth time in his life. I know Counting Crows have managed to maintain a following, but could a 2010 rendition of "Mr. Jones" be that amazing, even on the Fourth of July?

Other positive rhetoric I read was that the riff-raff indeed stayed away, there were zero, or one, arrests during the event, depending upon what you read. Yeah, that's definitely good news, but somehow I doubt that will pay the bills.

I have no idea how much money the event lost, but Andy promises to revisit his business plan and tweak the 2011 festival.

I'm not surprised the festival failed to make Andy rich. I predicted it would get the cold shoulder. It didn't take a genius to figure that out, either.

But it seems that it's not the "improved" festival that caused the drop in attendance. No, not that. It was the weather. To succeed the festival needed perfect weather, evidently, which is foolish to bank upon if you're holding an outdoor event in almost any city in this country.

The attendance is being reported at 64,000 over the four days, down from 80,000 a year ago. The Friday and Sunday attendance figures were estimated at 20,000, the Saturday and Monday figures at 12,000.

I wouldn't doubt weather was a factor. It has been quite humid, and relatively hot, for the past several days. Anyone who thought it was a good idea to be hanging out at the festival on Saturday afternoon, overpaying for food, was nuts. Would attendance have jumped to 20,000 on Saturday had the weather been perfect? Would thousands more have flocked to see the Red Rocker, Sammy Hagar, sing "Mas Tequila?"

Monday night's concert featured Offspring and 311. I would have expected that show to draw a larger, younger crowd. It rained a few times during the day on Monday, and that was being blamed for only 12,000 parading through the gate that day. I'm sure rain was a factor. How much of one we can only speculate.

So I'll give the festival the benefit of the doubt. Weather put a dent in the overall attendance. But how many patrons did the festival need in order to break even?

Honestly, I'm impressed the festival drew 64,000 this year if last year's total with the mandatory $10 food ticket purchase at the gate drew 80,000. I may have underestimated Andy's ability to turn an outdoor food fair into a music festival bearing the same name.

From what I have read, it sounds like the gate admissions were absorbed by the cost of the talent. That being the case, Andy and company needed a major source of revenue to cover all their other costs. That source was the food vendors.

Not to my surprise I learned that the festival takes a cut of food sales. It's unclear if the cut is the same from every vendor, who had to pay to be there, or if it fluctuates. But it was clear from one article I read that one proprietor had to give the festival a 20-percent cut of its sales. That's why the festival has that inconvenient ticket policy. Vendors have to turn in their tickets for reimbursement, and they get less than the value of the ticket in return.

Let's say that the tickets are valued at $1 each. A vendor collects eight of them for a plate of food, that's $8 the customer paid for the food. The vendor then gets $6.40 from the festival in exchange for the tickets he collected.

The local restaurant cited in the article said that after paying its fee to be there and charging more for its food than it charges in its Minneapolis restaurant, it barely made enough money to pay its employees for four days at the festival. You've got a real problem there, Andy.

As I noted previously, expanding food choices at an event where you're now charging people a significant cover charge is a fool's formula for success. I bet a lot of vendors walked away very unhappy that they wasted their holiday weekend at the festival.

So revenue from those vendors had to pay for all the portable toilets, festival employees and marketing costs of the event. (Those marketing costs included a prominent local public relations firm, whose primary mouthpiece was running around all weekend talking up the festival on any local TV station that would have her. (I'm sure she doesn't come cheap.) She kept telling everyone how "phenomenal" the entertainment was this year. Somebody get her a dictionary, or at least a thesaurus.)

End result: Andy and company lost money. I'm not surprised.

This was their second year as owners of the festival. Andy and company bought an established event and decided to mold it to fit their vision of an outdoor festival, presumably one that is better than what they bought. What Andy has failed to explain is what was broken in the first place.

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