Sunday, August 05, 2012

On the high wire, dressed in a leotard...

We all enjoyed the sight this week of the world's worst piñata, as Boris Johnson dangled from a zip wire in Victoria Park:

But why was Boris in the park in the first place?

His remarks, once he was on the ground, give a clue:
"I brilliantly decided to come to a juddering halt in the middle of the zip-wire in order to promote our wonderful live site at Victoria Park.

"Get on down to Victoria Park, folks. Free entertainment, hog roast, you name it. It turned out I was the Yuri Gagarin of the zip-wire. I was testing it."
Boris isn't the only one who was hanging in the wind of Victoria Park hoping people would turn up - so too are LiveNation, who had annexed the vast swathe of the park for the event.

They'd been expecting 1.2million visitors across the Olympic and Paralympic weeks, but
Trail By Jeory finally got LiveNation to admit they're a little off the pace:
I asked Live Nation. Spokeswoman number one said 20,000 on the opening night and an average of 8,000 a day thereafter. Again, I asked for the daily breakdown. “That’s the only number we have,” she said. So when I said that an average can only be worked out by having the daily breakdowns, her boss, a very senior dude within Live Nation, called me.
He eventually read them out:
July 27 – 18,814
July 28 – 14,759
July 29 – 8,039
July 30 – 8,169
July 31 – 7,031
Aug 1 – 8,235
Aug 2 – 10,462
Note, these are total daily attendance figures, not the peak crowds at any one time. As you can see, they are a little more than 10 per cent of what the council and Live Nation were expecting.
There was, you'll note, a small uptick in attendance the day after Boris hung against the clear blue sky, so maybe it was worth his effort.

But why are things so grim that Mayor McCheese is having to try and bark up a crowd?

Trial By Jeory thinks that the removal of packed lunches on the way in has killed word of mouth:
I then pressed the senior guy from Live Nation on the question of food confiscation: quite categorically he told me that that was beyond their control, that they had to adhere to Locog’s rules (Locog run the Olympic Games). That’s funny, I said, because I’ve been going into the Olympic Park every day with sandwiches and packets of crisps and not once have they been taken, even by the G4S guards. So he went away and came back a few minutes later and said their rules have now been relaxed, that families can now take in–wait for this–Mars bars, crisps and sweets!
What about sandwiches and other picnic items, I asked? No can do, he said, Locog rules…yeah, right.
It's true that LOCOG have frowned on picnic hampers going into the Olympic Venues, but the only general restriction for Olympic venues is "excessive amounts of food" and the general paranoia about liquids. LOCOG, categorically, do not forbid you from taking in a couple of picnic eggs and a round of egg mayonnaise sandwiches, and so if the security at the LiveNation site is stealing people's food on the way in, that's down to LiveNation.

Boris might enjoy his hog roast, but if you're a family struggling to make ends meet, having to pay closed-event prices for four hungry mouths isn't much of a great draw.

The other major problem with the event is the ticketing.

Now, supposedly, most of the events in the park are free. But the website suggests you buy tickets to get guaranteed entry.

So you've already got a confused message: you can either just walk up and get in, or else, to be sure to get in, you need a ticket. "Shall we go to the park on the off-chance that we might be able to queue for a bit?" is something of a passion killer.

The wise family will book in advance, to make sure their plans come off. Here's where the "free event" becomes a little less free, as there's a booking fee.

Yep, just when you think you've heard every argument against ticket fees, here's a new one - LiveNation's ticketing arm, Ticketmaster (of course) will charge you £3.50 for "ticket fees". For this, you get, erm, an email which you print out. I cannot for the life of me fathom how Ticketmaster feel they do £3.50 worth of work here.

In fact, all it can do is add an extra disincentive to go. Who wouldn't feel ripped off being told they can go to a free event in their park, only to discover that they're being shaken down for cash in order to get access.

Sure, three quid fifty isn't much, and given that it's a totally made-up sum of more-or-less pure profit, I suppose you could raise a festive Union Jack hat to Ticketmaster for not charging £40, or £3.50 per ticket rather than per order. But if you're on a tight budget, it's a hurdle. I suspect it's also a fairly clear signal that the "free" fun is going to be rather less free than advertised - a bad taste in the mouth that no Boris-endorsed hog roast will wash away.

(You could see the Ticketmaster shake-down effect at the BT River Of Music event before the games - brilliant line-ups, great weather, nice venues, but - certainly in Battersea - quite poorly attended because, again, the free event in the park required a payment to Ticketmaster.)

So there we have it: an event that has taken over a large swathe of a public park, pinched sandwiches from the audience and looks to be costing more money than it'll make. Was Boris Johnson being dropped from the sky to try and salvage the event from a terrible hangover?

[I heartily recommend the Trial By Jeory post for the full, murky backstory of the LiveNation event]