So what was that!?
The last time this rag hit the streets BayFest had sent out press releases announcing its big move out of downtown to The Grounds. The 20-year-old music festival was headed west and it was the talk of the town.
Then, quick as a wink, BayFest Board President Bobby Bostwick was back out in front of the cameras backpedalling and saying the BayFest Board had decided to stay downtown after all. The Grounds’ price, he said, was going to be “outrageous.” Another reason for the flip-flop he mentioned a WKRG poll showing 53 percent of the people who normally would attend BayFest wouldn’t if it was at The Grounds.
Further complicating the picture, The Grounds director Scott Tindle then sent out a press release saying The Grounds had rejected BayFest because it wouldn’t give them enough time to get ready for the Greater Gulf State Fair. It essentially took on the feeling of middle schoolers saying, “I’m breaking up with you.” “No wait, you can’t because I broke up with you first.”
As I wrote last week, I was willing to give BayFest in WeMo a chance, but frankly this whole “we’re doing it, no we’re not” program is a pretty big fail. I like the folks who run BayFest, but it is my job in this situation to say I really have no idea what they were doing.
It pushes the boundaries of logical thinking to suggest BayFest made the decision to move to The Grounds without asking them how much they would charge, and also that the people running The Grounds would not have realized their biggest event of the year was just a couple of weeks away. Are we really supposed to believe that?
On the part of BayFest’s leadership it’s especially difficult to believe they just ran out and said, “We’re leaving downtown,” without doing any research. If the WKRG poll is, in fact, one of the reasons they chose to come back downtown, that too seems pretty inept. I can’t imagine any entity of that size making such decisions based simply upon gut feelings or signs in the coffee grounds.
And was anyone really surprised the majority of people said they wouldn’t go if it was moved to The Grounds? Certainly if the BayFest leaders had such little faith in their plan that a poll frightened them back downtown, then they really didn’t have a plan. And that’s probably the core of the issue. People are always change-averse. When you ask the people who like BayFest enough to go every year if they’d like it to move, it’s a pretty sure bet the results will be negative. But I wonder what the result would be if you asked regular BayFest attendees if they would brave the wilds of West Mobile if U2, Coldplay or Jimmy Buffett were there.
This deal was Mobile’s version of New Coke. (Note to younger readers: Coca-Cola in 1985 decided to change its product for no particular reason then had to quickly change it back after everyone stopped buying it. It is considered one of the bigger marketing blunders in modern history. OK, back to the column.) A move like this should have been deliberate and presented with some kind of plan accompanying it.
The explanations as to why this quickie marriage failed seem completely contrived and felt like a situation where one side of the boat is bailing water out and the other is bailing it in. Unfortunately Bostwick and the entire BayFest board and staff have gone silent after the announcement it’s staying downtown. Nearly a week’s worth of emails and phone calls by our reporter to Bostwick and his staff, as well as other board members were ignored. Unfortunately there are times people in the public arena think not talking to the media is a smart strategy.
So in the case of BayFest we’re all left scratching our heads and wondering what the hell this was about. And the only real answer seems to be the festival is headed the way of the dodo bird. (Note to younger readers: See there was this bird … Aw just Google it. Or maybe it has its own Instagram account.)
Al.com’s Lawrence Specker, who probably knows more about BayFest than anyone else in the media world, wrote a column earlier this week that expertly lays out the festival’s financial struggles. Simply put, looking at revenue generated versus expenses, the festival had about $1.24 million in reserves after 2010, lost about $400K in each of the next two years and about $1.1 million in 2013. Bostwick has admitted 2014 was also a loser.
Without $3.2 million in BP money it received in 2013 for some reason, BayFest might be around $1 million in the hole. Music lovers should thank God for environmental disasters, or the show would probably be over already.
It would be nice to be able to go through BayFest’s financial situation with a little finer-toothed comb as a method of perhaps getting some ideas of where things are really going wrong, but even though it was formed by the city to help downtown thrive, BayFest is one of those dastardly 501 C3 non-profits the city is so fond of forming, which means they don’t have to tell us how money is being spent.
I’m a big fan of BayFest and enjoy it being downtown, but it seems pretty clear right now that unless there’s a change, the festival is probably just going to bleed the rest of that BP money into oblivion. Perhaps making it smaller is one way, or maybe that just makes it bleed slower. Maybe rolling the dice on a few really big acts while there’s money to do that is the answer to actually making some money, but that’s for the board to figure out.
It’s disappointing to watch BayFest’s leadership flail the way it has in the past week and then just clam-up as if it’s really no one else’s business. It would be nice if they could express some kind of strategy, but the way this situation has been handled doesn’t provide a lot of hope for the future.