Saturday, June 24, 2006

Has Ashton Court Lost its Way?

I have watched the arguments rage back and forth about the Ashton Court Festival and the sponsorship of the event, the ticket prices and new things like the VIP passes. Ashton Court is an event beloved by much of the city, so it's not surprising to see passion aroused by the event.

The argument of the festival organizers about costs is;

"This year we reluctantly took the decision to put up our basic admission price to £9. This was because we have been hit with two unavoidable cost increases: Firstly, the controversial new Licensing Act has increased our licence fee from about £1,000 to £16,000. Second, new security industry regulations (known as SIA) have added about £45,000 to our costs. In addition, inflation in the industry is running ahead of normal price inflation, and the overall cost of putting on the event this year is going to be in the region of £600,000. Because we are a totally independent organisation we have to find all the money ourselves."

OK – Lets take this apart a little. While the figures seems pretty massive, the sponsorship, including Orange, only generates 22% of the income. Compare this to the report by FilmBUZZ on film festivals where the sponsorship generated is on average greater than the 59% Ashton Court plans to take from tickets; "Festivals make the bulk of their income from corporate cash sponsorships. With a mean of nearly $100,000 annually per festival, the average total corporate sponsorship cash commitment is more than $40,000 higher than ticket sale proceeds, the second highest revenue source."

For a minority cost of the event, Orange has managed to re-brand the name of the event and its decor in their image. Looking at some of the festivals cited by FilmBUZZ, despite a higher proportion of the costs being shouldered, the events are not renamed as part of the sponsorship. In short, I think Orange as getting a bargain and Ashton Court has sold itself cheap.

Now consider the Brighton Festival – the level of sponsorship is is proportionally fairly similar to that of Ashton Court (£799,721 ticket sales vs. £416,924 sponsorship) – also not renamed by its sponsors – now this festival, unlike Ashton Court, does get council funding and their analysis is that this funding reaps a benefit of around £22 per £1 funding in spending by people who attend.

Now the site security costs are the largest proportion of Ashton Court's costs, and judging by last year, this funded an overzealous bunch of pseudo-paramilitaries to swan around in fake body armour and give people a hard time. IMHO, they were not worth the money. Also the staging costs are pretty huge plus a £35K cost for artists. So if the festival costs lots because of all these factors and so needs the sponsorship – why not reduce the overall costs? This could be done by getting back to its roots – no big name acts. I don't think they are needed. People go to Ashton Court because its Ashton Court and not to see The Stranglers or whoever. Come back to it being a show case for local talent. Acts supported by the event who do make it to the big time could be put under obligation to play a benefit gig or play Ashton Court for free as a thank you to the community that helped to make them. All this means smaller staining costs, smaller artist fees and so smaller security costs. With this in place, the case can then be put that, like the Brighton Festival, the council should be putting something in (after all we pay for the council, so its our money and could be our festival.) The council could not only help with money but in-kind stuff such as site hire etc. We could all help to lobby the council for a festival that was ours.

Next you further cut the costs by dropping the traffic management costs. Its a local festival so we could look to transport solutions that do not allow cars into the event without a very good reason. Not only will this save on the traffic management but we could turn the event into a showcase of environmental car-free planning: Armies of volunteer rickshaw drivers to take people to and fro, better bus links to and fro. After all the council (we) subsidies First Bus – lets make them earn it by helping soft the transport out on our festival day.

In short, I think the event has lost its way. It is time to step back and ask when the event is for and why we have it. I don't think its to see a few big names, but as a common place all Bristolians can get together and have fun. For that we all need to think again and I am not sure aping all other corporate sell-out events is worth it.

What is Ashton Court's Unique Selling Point? Its us, not Orange.


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Delsa said...

A quality piece with some interesting points. I enjoyed what you said about the transport options too, don't get me started on first bus. I came to the festival before the dance stage left and they tried to make it ridiculously expensive and thoroughly enjoyed myself its sad that it has degenerated so much since at £9 a ticket they are having a joke.