Edinburgh Festival's Ticket Income Fell Severely in 2004
Thursday, March 24, 2005
The Scotsman [Edinburgh]
By Tim Cornwell
The Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) experienced a drastic fall in revenue last year with receipts from ticket sales down more than 20 per cent, new figures have revealed.
The Festival's financial statement for the year ended 31 October, 2004, which has been released to The Scotsman, shows that income from ticket sales fell from £2,237,000 in 2003 to £1,745,000 last year, a fall of almost £500,000. The Festival also faced losses at the Hub, its main centre which it owns and operates, of £120,000.
The EIF had to ask for an emergency funding bail-out earlier this year and its financial position is now top of the agenda for the annual meeting to be held at the end of this month.
The number of tickets the EIF sold last year held steady, but their average price fell. In addition, The Hub closed for six weeks for refurbishment, and an accounting change meant one month's income was dropped from the figures. The Festival says it is confident the centre will break even this year.
Sir Brian McMaster, the EIF director, has blamed last year's shortfall in revenue on cut-price late-night concerts, offering top classical music performers for £5 a ticket, and has called them a "mistake". Meant to attract new Festival-goers, they actually led regulars to switch over from pricier main events.
The EIF has now dumped the £5 nights and this year will revert to offering 50 cheap seats on the night of the performance for most shows.
City of Edinburgh Council leaders have already warned privately they will make their feelings known at the AGM about how a funding "crisis" at the Festival reached the media.
The council and the Scottish Executive, through EventScotland, stepped in with £300,000 each after warnings that the Festival would have to cut back its programmes without extra cash. Patricia Ferguson, the culture minister, was said to be privately furious over the way the cry for help emerged.
The Festival spent £7.2 million in 2003 and £6.8 million in 2004. About £5 million of that paid for productions and performances.
The 2004 Festival set a target of selling about £2 million worth of tickets. In the event it missed that target by £200,000.
Sir Brian has always maintained that the EIF is about breaking new artistic territory, not breaking box-office records. Meanwhile, the Festival Fringe has, over a series of boom years, billed itself as brassier and bigger than the year before. The Fringe smashed the million-ticket sales mark in 2003 and hit another record last year with 1,250,000 tickets sold.
Sir Brian steps down from his post after the 2006 Festival, with mounting speculation expected over his successor. It was always going to be a struggle for the 2004 Festival to rival the pulling power of 2003's, when ticket sales rose 12 per cent on 2002, boosted by the high prices for Scottish Opera's stunning Ring cycle.
Scottish Opera is back this year, with The Death of Klinghoffer. The modern opera is based on the killing of the elderly American by Palestinian terrorists who seized the cruise ship Achille Lauro.
Adrian Trickey, the EIF's administrative director, said the Festival has typically kept to six established venues: the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Festival Theatre, Usher Hall, King's Theatre, Playhouse Theatre and the Queen's Hall.
"The venues we use are the same ones the Festival has been using since the Festival Theatre reopened [ten years ago]," he said. "The number of seats available for sale has been up and down."
In recent years The Hub has become a regular venue, while in 2004 the Royal Museum hosted a couple of performances. This year, the Out of the Blue Drill Hall on Dalmeny Street, with a seating capacity of about 600, has been added. This year's attractions range from three brand new plays by Scottish playwrights to Swan Lake, performed by Pennsylvania Ballet, and a Russian orchestra.
Mr. Trickey said: "Every Festival is different. If you look back, simply as a result of prices going up with inflation, the general trend is upwards in cash taken in ticket sales, but the numbers of ticket sales go up and down year on year."
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