Edinburgh Festival Director Says Cheap Tickets Were 'A Terrible Mistake'
Friday, March 18, 2005
The Herald [Glasgow]
By Phil Miller
GLASGOW, March 17 ó The experiment of selling £5 tickets to special events at the Edinburgh International Festival was a "terrible mistake" and will end, its director declared yesterday.
In a candid interview with The Herald, Brian McMaster said although the cheap ticket deals had attracted new visitors to the world-famous festival, it had affected the perceived cultural "value" of the event.
Today, Mr. McMaster will unveil another programme of theatre, opera, music and dance, but it will not include a separate £5 ticket scheme.
In 2002 and 2004, two additional programmes were run, the first called the Royal Bank £5 Nights and its successor the Royal Bank Lates.
The first scheme attracted 20,000 new customers to a series of late-night classical concerts, but Mr. McMaster now believes he should have tried alternative ways of attracting new audiences.
Instead, this year's festival will repeat 2003's Turn Up and Try It scheme, where customers will be able to purchase a limited number of £5 tickets for shows that are already part of the main programme.
Mr. McMaster said the experiment of £5 concerts last year had also led, in part, to a shortfall of £200,000 in box office receipts. Earlier this year, the festival required emergency funding of £600,000 from the City of Edinburgh Council and EventScotland.
He said some of the performances that were priced at £5 last year may have been a little too "difficult".
Mr. McMaster said: "We're all trying to get more people into the arts, but I think I made a terrible mistake with the first of our £5 initiatives. It's an interesting subject and it's not agreed by everyone, because they were in some ways hugely successful and we got a load of people in for the first time.
"But I don't think we need need to do that through price [policy]; in fact I think it was a mistake."
He said research showed that many regular festival goers ó who would usually buy full price tickets to see events ó used last year's £5 scheme, and the festival consequently lost money. In addition, by paying only £5 for a ticket to a performance at the festival, its value as a high quality cultural event is seen to be lessened.
Mr. McMaster added: "We did sell lots of seats and saw a lot of new people, but the point is that it affected the value of the experience. It's a dilemma and there's a real question for the arts about pricing.
"It's just that if you charge £5 for Alfred Brendel (the leading pianist), yes, people are happy to come, but psychologically there's a problem about the value of that experience which may get in the way of developing the arts audience [in the future].
"I think it was never possible to do it [£5 tickets] every year, " he said. "After thinking about it over a lot of nights, I think the £5 scheme was a mistake."
Mr. McMaster said that he wanted to see the festival financially secure in his final time at the helm next year. The event needed consistent funding of around £4 million a year and that might rise as new cultural events across Britain and Europe competed for tourist and artistic attendances.
He said he realized early this year that he could not put on a festival of the same size and prestige this year without the extra money. The rising costs of putting on the festival had simply not been matched in the funding settlement.
The festival currently receives around £3 million from the Scottish Arts Council and the [Edinburgh] city council. It raises the rest of its £6.8 million budget through sponsorship, fundraising and ticket sales.
In return for the additional funds the festival received, it will now have to attain a series of key performance indicators, including increased ticket sales and being "more accessible" to the general public.
Mr. McMaster said that without the extra money, it may have had to cancel some of its programme of opera, dance, music and theatre, which would have done "serious damage to the reputation of the festival".
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