Fes up

The organiser of the Festival Conference stood by its claims last month when it stated that it would bring together the festival industry under one roof.  Stand Out reports…

Local authorities should not license their own events, a number of organisers are operating their events below a safe level of security and industry should frown upon people who don’t employ competent health and safety suppliers. These were just three opinions to come out of last month’s UK Festival Conference, which gave festival directors a one-day, window of opportunity to vent their spleens and moan about industry, rather than each other.

In what can only be described as refreshingly honest and open debate, the day saw panel after panel take to the stage, giving rise to a cacophony of opinions. Each session saw no fewer than three speakers and a moderator and so the audience was not short of varied comment and best practice from some of industry’s most experienced professionals.

Kicking off the day with a session entitled The Crime Busters, Loud Sound’s director, Jim King commented: “In terms of safety, the number of police at T in the Park is probably more than there is in Glasgow City Centre on a Saturday night, and at Creamfields you’re probably going to be closer to a police officer then you are in any Leicestershire town.”

The panel, which included DF Concerts’ Colin Rodger and Reg Walker, director of the Iridium Consultancy, argued that the level of risk on a festival site is less than if you were at home on a housing estate, yet there appears to be many organisers that continue to operate below a safe level of security and who are not in a position to have sufficient funding.

In his defense, Det Con Kevin Walker, Leicestershire Police and lead intelligence officer for Download, argued that when you 110,000 people in an enclosed area for five days crowds have to be managed differently. And as far as crime fighting goes, King continued: “How do you stop a bunch of guys sat in the back of a van with a bunch of plastic wristbands in every pantone colour just waiting to print this year’s logo on them?”

The panel and audience came to two conclusions: Banks are to blame for giving merchant facilities to criminals and fraudsters. Hence, it’s now “poetic justice” that they are getting their fingers burnt. And, search engines cause grief – organisers would like Internet service providers to do more to find out the names of those committing criminal offences and selling fake tickets online. If the authorities could find the names of people who run fraudulent businesses then organisers would have an easier time with criminals on-site.

To invite or not to invite

In the second session of the day, Non-ticketed events should be banned, both Live Nation’s COO, John Probyn and Andy Cotton, event and production manager at TAO Productions agreed that councils should not license their own events and should be assessed by an outside party.

Sean McLoughlin, senior producer at Village Green, says that the festival is concerned with turning away visitors to his free festival, hence it is now looking at adopting a free ticketing system on-site. Naturally, this brings with it the issue of giving a ticket and your event value. McLoughlin now has to consider whether giving 30,000 free tickets away will result in only 15,000 people showing up if the ticket is not deemed priceless.

According to the panel, emergency services would rather have people controlled on-site, even there are not enough facilities such as toilets, rather than have them roaming the streets, annoyed because they could not get in. The Purple Guide, in its current form, does not offer enough advice to organisers of free events in a way that people can pick it up and use it, and whose responsibility is it to look after the people excluded from the event. Jon Drape, live director of Ear to the Ground, argued it’s an issue that has to be isolated from the outset. Police should deal with issues of public disorder but if an organiser has “invited” people are they their responsibility? Dealing with issues on the perimeter fence can mean internal resources have to be dragged out to deal with outside issues, and this is not an ideal scenario.

Bidding wars

Best practice for leveraging brand activity at festivals… without selling out was session three, and whilst on paper the session looked strong, unfortunately it lacked any major impact. When asked for a show of hands, the audience agreed that it is interested in attracting a brand believing they offer customers something more, yet not one delegate admitted to attracting a brand purely to take their money. Brands are savvy enough to know that they are underwriting an event but need to see a physical presence once the money has been handed over, stated on panelist. The session did raise one interesting point though: Should organisers enter a bidding war and take the money off the highest bidder or opt to partner with the brand that suits your event the best?

If you are looking to make your festival the most profitable, then a bigger budget is the obvious route, yet organisers should remind themselves that police are the only supplier with the monopoly, commented Stuart Galbraith, chief executive officer of Kilimanjaro Live.

Festivals by numbers

The conference also saw the unveiling of the second UK Festival Market Report. The 2010 study suggests that the market is fairly convoluted in terms of ownership and as a result it is difficult to calculate precise market share evaluations. Yet, its authors Matt Brennan and Emma Webster still managed to analyse the upcoming issues they believe will rock industry over the next 12 months.

A rise in VAT from January 4 will result in higher ticket prices for the consumer if promoters choose not to swallow the costs. Currently, festivalgoers consider tickets “great value for money” but an extra 2.5 per cent may change their perception.

The survey states that a number of issues affect both the immediate and long-term future of the UK festival market, including Government policy, the PRS for Music tariff review, the health of the recording industry and the environment and green festivals.

Of the 3,067 festival-goers questioned, 53 per cent were female and 43 per cent male; the average age was 31 and the average annual salary was £18,000. Some 26 per cent of those surveyed have children, the average number of gigs attended per year was 10, while the average number of festivals attended per year was 2.1.

When it comes to the pulling power of events, 42 per cent claimed a festival’s line-up is the main attraction, while a third revealed that their main reason for attending was down to the great time they had at the same event previously. While promoters often talk about the value for money that festivals offer, only four per cent of people who took part in the survey admitted to that being their top priority.

However, it would appear that the recession is indeed playing a role in deciding which festivals to attend, with the category of “competitively priced tickets” moving up in importance over campsite organisation and scheduling.

While events such as Glastonbury remain the Holy Grail for many music fans, the survey’s participants collectively claimed that a 12,000 capacity event was the perfect size.

In addition, the survey found that early-bird tickets are now part of the festival fan culture, with less than a third of people buying their tickets the day they go on sale and 54% stating they buy their passes early.

With a nod to the future, a massive 71 per cent of respondents say they would be interested in using a system that would allow them to have money loaded on to a card or wristband so they did not have to take cash to the event.

Indeed, asked what they would like to see more of to improve the festival experience, fans gave the thumbs up to the cashless system idea, also mentioning more toilets, showers, phone chargers, cheaper beer, bouncy castles, sheepdog trials, speed dating and “no bloody flags”.