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Live Event Cancellations: Why Are So Many Festivals Being Canceled?

Left and right it seems like music festivals are getting cancelled for one reason or another.

Left and right it seems like music festivals are getting cancelled for one reason or another. The current 2018 festival graveyard is filled with bankrupted companies, poor ticket sales, fraudulent companies, loss of venues, lack of permit, severe weather, and other factors that lead to the cancellation of an event. The music festival industry is becoming a place where only the fittest survive. Hosting a well rounded event that draws crowds for more than just the lineup, maintaining solid relations with the local community, outrightly owning the land on which a festival operates, and leveraging data and analytics to better market events are just some of the ways that a festival can ensure that it’s event survives.

Securing Venue & Proper Permits for Events

Omestead Music Festival, which had been running for 17 years, was abruptly canceled due to loss of venue. Organizers stated that they were told on short of notice that they were not able to use the original venue. They felt like they were unable to find an alternative with such little time and hope to bring the event back in 2019. Another festival that face venue issues was The Meadows in New York City. They had intended to move the event from Citi Fields in Queens to Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Unfortunately they were unable to obtain a workable multi day permit to host the festival. Event organizers hope to work closer with the city to be able to make the event happen next year.

Even as this article was being written another major festival’s future was put into question. Ultra Music Festival celebrated its 20th year in Miami in 2018. Unfortunately they may not be celebrating 2019 there. Recently the City of Miami commission voted to not allow the festival to take place at Bayfront Park. The decision comes after complaints had come from the growing residential area around the park. The situation demonstrates the waivering relationship between the festival and the community.

There are a couple of ways to avoid the nightmare of losing your venue. One is to purchase the land outright. This is what Bonnaroo did in 2007 when they purchased 530 acres in Coffee County Tennessee. While this requires a large monetary investment, it gives the festival the security of knowing that the city cannot pull their permit since it is on private property. It is also key for the festival to make good relations with the neighborhood it is in. One way to do that is by demonstrating the positive economic impact that the festival has on the community. Insomniac, the creators of Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC), published an economic impact report that revealed that over the course of five years, from 2010-2014, the group’s events had generated $3.17 Billion for the US economy. Within this report they also smartly stated that the $81.4 million in tax revenue from their anchor event, EDC Las Vegas, was equal to the tuition of 1,055 undergraduates at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. This comparison helps to put the money into tangible terms and really shows the positive impact of the event.

ticket sales

Poor Ticket Sales

Rock the Roots in Boston event organizers waited until the very last minute to cancel the festival. The day before the event was supposed to take place the sponsor, Angry Orchard, updated the Facebook event page with a message noting that the festival was cancelled. After this they then sent out an email to ticket holders through Front Gate Tickets that stated it was not happening “due to several unforeseen circumstances beyond their control”. Fortunately they also announced that they would be refunded all tickets. This is a much better outcome for ticket buyers then those who had intended to attend Pemberton Music Festival in British Columbia, Canada. That festival was canceled because it went into bankruptcy. As a result of this financial failure, those who had purchased tickets in advance did not receive a refund. It was later revealed from a spokeswoman for the City of Boston who was informed in an email to city’s Property Management Department from the production company that Rock the Roots did not take place due to lack of adequate ticket sales.

This is not the first event to be cancelled prematurely due to poor ticket sales. One of the most newsworthy cancellations came from FYF fest in Los Angeles. The festival, which had been running since 2004, originally faced controversy in November of 2017 when multiple women came forward and accused the event’s founder, Sean Carlson, of sexual misconduct. Goldenvoice, the giant festival production company that was in charge of running the festival immediately severed ties. In early 2018, all signs showed that the festival would be returning, under new, mostly female leadership. However, by May, despite the announcement of a line up, the festival officially called it quits. Even though the event still had two and a half months to go when the announcement came, poor ticket sales were revealed to be the main factor behind the decision. The future of the event is unclear because the reason for low tickets sales has not been determined. The line up, which heavily overlapped with Coachella and Outside Lands Festival in San Fransisco set to take place just weeks after, could be one potential reason. Even though it is the only festival of its size within the city limits of Los Angeles, the event had been struggling for years to sell out the 40,000 capacity venue. Goldenvoice has the tough choice of resurrecting the event next year or moving its resources to focus on it’s other events like Coachella, Panorama, Stagecoach, Splash House, or others under its wheelhouse.

Sometimes, event organizers take a risk without fully researching the viability of an event. That is what happened to electronic duo, Above & Beyond when they tried to host an event at an all inclusive resort in Mexico. They had to cancel Anjunabeach Mexico due to lack of ticket sales. Often times an event does not alway get insight into why fans are not buying tickets. However, because the duo has such a large and loyal following online they were well informed via complaints and other outcries on social media outlets like Reddit. The high price of tickets, in addition to travel costs proved to be too high for fans. In a long message on Reddit the group responded, admitting that they may have set their sights a little too high. “Our partners set a package price significantly higher than the average A&B show but ultimately necessary to help us achieve our full ambition and, with initial feedback positive and pre-sale signups numbering over 10,000, at first we felt good about how the event was being received. But, having listened carefully to all of your feedback – and after doing a lot of soul searching – it’s apparent this foray into a new event format isn’t coming together the way we intended, and so we’ve taken the difficult decision not to proceed with it.”

Leveraging the correct data and analytics to help improve an events marketing plan is one way that festivals can combat low ticket sales. The more insight that organizers have about their target audience the easier it is to create a successful marketing plan. Research into the viability of an event is also important. While the event may seem like a great idea, if it is at the wrong time of the year, wrong price point, or other factors are miscalculated then it will not successfully sell out. Having a well rounded festival that draws loyal crowds to the event regardless of line up is also another way to protect an event. If fans buy tickets only for the line up then it is not going to consistently sell out.

Mother Nature Interferes

Some festivals cannot control why they get cancelled. Sometimes mother nature has other plans in mind. Louder Than Life Festival In Louisville was cancelled before the event could take place due to flooding that created unsafe conditions at the venue. The previous weekend the last day of Bourbon and Beyond Festival had to be cancelled at the same location due to unsafe conditions. It is important to explore venues that are “weatherproof” when selecting the place to hold an event. Cancellation due to weather can be avoided if the location is not dependent on the weather conditions. Places prone to flooding or other unsafe situations should be avoided.

Financial Troubles

Financial troubles, aka poor planning, is another reason why a festival can get cancelled. A week before the official announcement, rumors about the instability of LouFest began to circulate after several contractors pulled out. Those who were set to remove trash and provide other essential services stated that they would not participate since they were not paid to overdue deposits. “They failed to fulfill their contract with us,” Chip Self, owner of Logic Systems, said to NPR St. Louis, referring to payments he said were overdue from Listen Live. “We’ve stepped back from the project. We believe other vendors have stepped back from the project.” However, a tweet from the festival indicated that things were “100% good to go.” Later, event organizers released a lengthy statement detailing the reasons that the festival would not be occurring this year. Despite having run for the past 8 years, the festival was hit with a lot of financial trouble when trying to plan this years rendition. Due to many vendors and artists demanding up front payments and lack of ticket sales (which they blamed the potential for bad weather on), the event not only canceled but also stated that it did not have the funds to refund ticket buyers at the time of announcement. However, Front Gate Tickets, who is owned by Live Nation and Ticketmaster, will be issuing refunds while the event works to pay back it debts.

XO Festival is another one that recently announced it would not be taking place as planned. There was a bit of controversy surrounding the reason for the cancellation. Festival organizers released, and then deleted a different message on their website. It read, “Due to lower than anticipated ticket sales and in part due to the fact that there were some negative media reports targeting us, with which we strongly disagree, the XO Music Festival … will be postponed to another time.” However, the venue released a different message. “Due to the promoters lack of fulfilling contractual obligations between the Contra Costa Event Park and World Class Entertainment, Event Park Management in the best interest and safety of our facility, event attendees and the City of Antioch have no choice but to cancel the XO Music Festival scheduled to take place at the Event Park July 12-15, 2018,” a statement from Event Park CEO Joe Brengle reads to East County Today. What adds even more contention surrounding the events cancellation is that the mysterious event organizer. Amplify Magazine launched an investigation which led the to believe that the person behind XO Festival is a man who called himself Sami Habib and was arrested earlier in the year. Police in Fremont revealed that Sami Habib is actually an alias for Habibullah Qadir, who along with his brother was arrested and charged with over 40 felonies for a high end real estate property scam. Amplify Magazine also launched an in depth article, before the event was even cancelled, revealing the many attempts of organizers to conceal their identity and drew many parallels between XO Festival and the infamous Fyre Festival. It is unclear whether the festival was ever intended to take place or if it was a money making scam.

The music festival business is no easy market to break into. Many get into it thinking that with the right social media campaign they can make some easy money. However, it takes the right formula of proper planning, successful marketing, and a lot of hard work to make an event run smoothly or even run at all.  

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