Fall concert made free after dismal ticket sales

Faced with dismal ticket sales and approximately $60,000 in committed costs, Student Association President Haleema Murtaza made the decision Friday to make the fall Activities Commission concert free for all Geneseo students.

At an emergency meeting of the SA executives, Murtaza consulted with the seven members of the board before making her ultimate decision.

"This was the hardest decision of my life," Murtaza said. "I really hope [the students] understand where I'm coming from."

As of last week, student ticket sales amounted to just over 400, far below the 1,373 that were sold for the All-American Rejects concert in the spring and the 1,182 that were sold for Lupe Fiasco last fall.

According to AC chair Corinthia Kotlar, the concert, which features Gym Class Heroes and Asher Roth, is projected to cost slightly more than $80,000. Of that cost, $40,000 had already been committed to Gym Class Heroes and $20,000 to Roth - the remainder of the expenses is allotted to security, technical support and miscellaneous costs associated with putting on the event.

Although Kotlar said that it is possible that the committed costs could have been negotiated down to $30,000 from $60,000 in the event of a cancellation, it is unclear whether the artists would have accepted such a deal.

Murtaza said the surprisingly weak ticket sales were "not AC's fault, not [AC Concerts Coordinator Emily Lambe]'s fault," but pointed to the high occurrence of swine flu on campus and the poor economy as possible explanations.

"It's never a waste of money when students are enjoying themselves," Murtaza said. "We're here to provide a service for students, and we're going to provide it regardless."

Senior Brian Hartle, SA director of academic affairs, said that SA was faced with three choices: to subsidize approximately 90 percent of the concert for an audience of about 400, to spend $60,000 on nothing - a complete loss - or to subsidize the entire concert but potentially provide 2,700 people with a show.

Hartle said that of the $80,000 that will be spent on the concert, only about $7,000 would have been covered by ticket sales as of last week. He said that he supported the decision to make the concert free because so much money had already been committed in contracts and the $7,000 that SA might have saved by keeping tickets at $17 per Geneseo student did not justify putting on such a large event for a small audience when many more students stood to benefit.

"Tickets have never sold this slowly," Kotlar said. She said sales were "so drastically low that [the cause] has to be from external forces" and not lackluster advertising. She and other members of the SA executive board noted that Gym Class Heroes was in fact the top choice for the fall concert on a survey administered to all students last spring. Approximately 600 students responded to that survey.

"We're not going to do another free concert," Kotlar said, dismissing the suggestion raised by some that the decision could set a dangerous precedent whereby SA would potentially make all concerts free through allocation of mandatory student activity fees.

This academic year, $65,850 of mandatory student activity fees was allocated to subsidize the budgeted costs of $178,300 for the fall and spring concerts. This budget requires ticket receipts of $113,150 for both concerts combined.

In comparison, SA budgeted $57,650 to subsidize the 2008-2009 AC concerts, which were budgeted to cost a total of $170,100. Actual income from ticket sales was $79,002.80, and actual programming costs amounted to $173,494.83. The deficit of $36,842.03 that was not covered by the budgeted subsidy and ticket receipts was funded using SA reserves.

The Gym Class Heroes/Asher Roth concert was budgeted with the expectation that approximately $55,000 in ticket sales would be received; ticket sales as of last week amounted to about $7,000.

At the close of the ticket office on Wednesday, a total of 896 free tickets had been distributed, and an additional 191 tickets that were purchased prior to this week had not yet been turned in for a refund.

Junior Mark Petrie, SA director of business affairs, said he did not support Murtaza's decision and would have preferred to see the concert cancelled. He said SA's prerogative should have been to "try to get some sort of return" on the essentially failed investment and that cancelling the concert could have saved up to $25,000 that could have been realigned to fund next year's concert.

"I felt we should cut our losses" from $80,000 to between $60,000 and $30,000, depending on how the contracts might have been re-negotiated, Petrie said. He also said that the huge loss for this concert might mean that less funding will be available for future concerts. As a result, more student activity fee dollars will have to be allocated to the concert and away from other funded services and organizations.

Murtaza said that she would be happy to address students' questions or objections to the decision and that the situation would provide an opportunity for SA to critically examine what went wrong and how to approach future concerts.

Doors for the concert open at 7 p.m. at Kuhl Gymnasium on Saturday and the concert is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. Geneseo students can receive a free ticket with a college ID at the SA ticket office in the basement of the College Union, and those who had already purchased tickets may receive a full refund in the same way until 4 p.m. on Saturday. Refunds will not be provided at the door or after the concert.

Non-students are still required to pay for tickets - $23 for faculty and staff and $25 for the general public.