Research at events & festivals: economic impact studies and green surveys

A few months ago the news came that the Pink Saturday street party in San Francisco was cancelled for this year. Is that bad news you might think? Well that depends. The last couple of years the event attracted a, let’s say, less ’loving’ crowd. In 2010 someone got killed and the last couple of years there was more violence (fights and abuse). Hence the costs went up and hence the organization’s reason to pull the plug from the event.

Last month, at a networking event, I heard that the street party is back on again. Even more surprising, it is financially backed by the City. The San Francisco LGBT Community Center will organize the event but the City will take responsibility. That is pretty amazing. The city of San Francisco will take financial (and legal?) responsibility for an event that was attended by 50,000 people last year. So if something goes wrong the city is the one who’s responsible? That could be interesting…

economic impact study

So why is the city so keen on getting this event up and running? Pink Saturday is organized in the same weekend as SF Pride. SF Pride attracts around 550,000 people to the city that weekend, 80% of which are out of town visitors. Pink Saturday attracts about 50,000 people to the Castro district, the place where the street party is held. You need to give these people something to do on a Saturday evening. There are not enough (gay) bars in the city to accommodate that number so a street party might just as well be the ideal solution. 48% of the people visiting Pink Saturday said they were visiting from out of town.

In 2009 the cost to organize Pink Saturday were estimated to be between $100,000 and $150,000. Seems like a lot of money? Not really considering what the city got back in return. In a research study from 2014 it was said, “total spending generated by attendees of the Pink Saturday is estimated at $6.0 million.” Total visitor impact on the city’s economy from this event alone is estimated to be $2.7 million. $600,000 is being spent in retail stores, $500,000 at restaurants, and $215,000 on hotel rooms. So there you have it: the city’s reason to make Pink Saturday happen. So this year, it’ll be business as usual I suppose.

It just shows you what research can do for an event, an audience, and for the licensor. Last year I conducted an Economic Impact Study at San Francisco Pride, the same as was done at Pink Saturday. The two-day Pride event has an estimated total impact of almost $360 million on the local economy. $40 million extra in retail, $33 million in restaurants… I’m telling you there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow after all.

San Francisco Pride

Besides economic impact studies there are plenty of other studies that can, and should, take place at events. This summer for example, I’m doing research at music festivals regarding sustainability initiatives.

I want to know what attendees think about the environmental impact of live events in America. Why? Well it astonishes me that when you go to a festival that clearly promotes green initiatives that people still leave behind their rubbish. Bottles, paper, plastic, food, tents… You know that stuff. Why do people do that? Why do people think it’s okay to do that? What motivates them to change their behaviour when at a festival site or campsite? I’m curious to find out more.

With that in mind an online survey was created. Together with A Greener Festival I launched an online survey aimed at American festival audiences. The online survey will run until October 1st.

This summer I’m going to two festivals and conduct surveys on site at Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee and Lightning in a Bottle festival in California. I want to know what we, or rather the festival industry, can do to make it easier for people to ‘go green’ whilst at a festival. I’m looking forward to it because I think the data will be interesting and hopefully will help festival organization to meet the attendee right at that point in the middle where everything is green.

Neil Armstrong once said ‘research is creating new knowledge’. Let’s hope the research conducted at events and festivals this summer gives us new knowledge about event audiences. New insights can improve the festival industry. Who knows we might find a pot of gold or a pot of green gold at the end of the rainbow.