By Andrew Fletcher (originally posted on his blog on July 17, 2015)
This is in response to Moogfest’s damage control spin-zone press release published today. I recommend you read it before continuing on.
“Beyond a traditional music festival, Moogfest aims to be an engine for driving economic development in Western North Carolina … the long-term goal say Moogfest organizers, ‘is to inspire big thinking start-ups, entrepreneurs, and innovators to consider Asheville as a community to relocate their forward thinking businesses, just as Bob Moog did in 1978′…”
“Moog Music President Mike Adams took the risk on financing this speculative venture because of the potential payoff for the community’s future – helping to attract new businesses and create jobs in Western North Carolina.”
(Newsflash: Durham is evidently now in Western North Carolina)
I wouldn’t have any problem with this if Moog hadn’t pitched the whole event as a slam dunk for our community and a surefire sign of their commitment to the growth of Asheville. Talk of growing a “Silicon Mountain,” throwing a great party (it was fun) and bringing national media attention to our city falls flat. It’s more like Silicon Molehill, and my busking friends and I entertain thousands every week and have brought plenty of tourists and national media attention here. Moog is not the only people working for Asheville. But they did a great job of losing $1.5 million while doing it. And now we have one less music festival here, not one more.
And how impressed should we be with that $14 million figure? $30 million sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? That’s what was promised by Moog when they initially chased that public investment. No doubt this was on the minds of the Buncombe County Culture Recreation Authority when they rejected the plea for $250,000 for the 2015 festival that was eventually scrapped. It probably didn’t help that the grant application was late and incomplete. Whoops. For comparison, Bele Chere was estimated to create $8–10 million of economic impact and on a much smaller budget. Not as cool or fun, but on the same order of magnitude if you look at it per day of the festival.
The vaunted “cool factor” that Moogfest claimed would bring tech startups to the region loses a lot of cool when the big accomplishment of the festival is showing everyone what a “cool” place to lose money Asheville is. Cool doesn’t impress businessmen. Profit does. Clyde Smith wrote a great piece about the hollowness of that “Silicon Mountain erupting from a music festival” bull-dinky over at Hypebot. Check it out.
Moog spent money like a college student with a credit card. They booked dozens and dozens of niche artists with some blast-from-the-past headliners like Kraftwerk (3D!) with largely overlapping draw. Some of these bands had to be flown in and put up at great cost, money spent that likely did not impact ticket sales. A better approach would have been to create a more horizontal promotion scheme. The fire sale on tickets in the last two months before the festival were a clear indication that their vertical promotion scheme had failed. Everyone that was going to buy a ticket bought it immediately, but the appeal outside the narrow, core audience didn’t spread. You could call this wild speculation of mine Monday morning quarterbacking. Or you could call it Promotion 101.
Kraftwerk performing in Asheville at Moogfest 2014. Photo from the Moogfest Facebook page
Oh, and that bit about the 7,700% return on the public money invested? That’s not how “returns” work and the independent study mentioned in the press release doesn’t actually say how much money was actually returned to local municipal coffers. Little of that state and local tax actually returns to the City of Asheville or Buncombe County governments. Most goes to the State of North Carolina who return a small portion of it to the community it originated from and the Tourism Development Authority receives all money collected from the hotel tax. Elsewhere, I’ve seen that there was a direct ROIof 200% to the city, but I can’t find a primary for that figure. Caveat lector. But municipal grants don’t aim to turn a profit — they are designed to augment the community and expand the tax base over many years. By that measure, those grants were a failure because Moogfest is leaving.
The truth is, Moog couldn’t figure out how to get $3 million of revenue out of 6,090 ticket buyers. Because that’s ridiculous! Tickets would have had to have cost $492 each to break even. A smaller, cheaper, yet more horizontal, more diverse lineup (I’m not talking banjos + beards, more like adding some electropop-hipster bait like Beach House) could possibly have brought more ticket buyers and appealed to corporate sponsors as perhaps, more realistic. (Yet there are no auditoriums that can fit 3,000+ for the headline acts in Asheville, an admittedly major stumbling block for any large festival that wants to locate here.) Costs were simply way too high, and the corporate sponsorship wasn’t there. Were companies that skeptical to sponsor an event in Asheville? Or were they just that skeptical to sponsor the doomed event that Moog pitched them?
And of course, Moogfest’s newest suitor, Durham, thinks that they’ll “fit right in.”
Just admit it, Moog: you’re not committed to Asheville. You’re committed to Moog. And that’s fine. Just don’t tell us you love this community when you don’t. In the words of the old song, “Be sure it’s true when you say ‘I Love You.’ It’s a sin to tell a lie.”
The only question remains: was Moogfest inept, hypocritical or merely opportunistic? Or just naively before it’s time? Let’s ask Durham this time next year.
P.S. For anyone who wants to drive to Durham next year for Moogfest, there are [or at least were] 300 tickets available for Asheville locals at the Moog store for $99 a piece.