Riverfest looks to rebound from 2008 washout
By evening, executive director Rod Beaudoin knew he had no choice and canceled the opening performances of the 21st festival.
“It was devastating; no revenue for one day of the festival,” he said. “It was the first time in history it was shut down. But we felt, for the safety of everyone involved with the pools of water and threat of storms, it was the only prudent thing to do.”
Last year’s cancellation cost the festival $74,000 in direct expenses and $100,000 in potential revenue from tickets sales and other purchases.
When the 22nd Riverfest begins Wednesday, Beaudoin and other organizers hope they can avoid another red year. Reaching that goal will take ticket sales totaling at least $400,000.
Not taking any chances, the executive board decided to lengthen the festival from four days to five.
Because equipment rental packages ordinarily run for a week, adding another day seemed a logical way to bring in more revenue without adding expense, Beaudoin said.
They also pushed advanced sales: creating a $25 ticket package that gives access to the grounds Wednesday through Sunday and a $65 guaranteed seating package for orders placed before June 15.
Advance ticket sales still were down 53 percent from June of 2008 and were 46 percent off pace by Monday afternoon, Beaudoin said.
“The national trend for events like Riverfest is that people are waiting until just prior to the event to buy tickets,” Beaudoin said. “At (Rock County’s) AirFest, organizers said people bought later and their gate sales were strong.”
Riverfest does seem to have bucked one trend. The festival gained three new sponsors this year, including major player McDonald’s, and held on to all its sponsors from last year.
Organizers said the other two sponsors asked to remain anonymous.
Even Milwaukee’s Summerfest suffered sponsorship losses this year. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that Zippo lighter company did not renew its sponsorship of a stage at the annual festival. Summerfest will pick up the tab for musical performances and equipment because a replacement could not be found.
“Obviously, it’s a tough economy, but we were cautiously optimistic,” said John McCally, Riverfest’s marketing and sponsorship consultant. “With the quality of the event and lineup and community support out there for Riverfest … we were able to get those new sponsors.”
The festival sponsors include the city of Beloit, but not in a traditional arrangement. Riverfest pays $5,000 each year in return for the city providing employees for security, setup and teardown. Riverfest also lists the city as a sponsor to compensate beyond that payment. The city estimates those costs at an additional $15,000.
The festival organizers count on sponsors to make up the estimated $100,000 gap between ticket sales and expenses that Beaudoin estimated at about $500,000. Reserve funding is minimal.
“I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said I wasn’t concerned with the economy,” he said. “My hope is the counties continue to support this … there’s no huge endowment backing up Riverfest. It’s what we make of it.”