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Seeing Opportunities [Events
Posted on August 19, 2020 @ 11:50:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Last year we started an annual tradition on the farm of holding an outdoor concert. We had 5 bands perform over 5 hours. We had great weather and everybody appeared to enjoy the event. I spent around $1200 on advertising the event. We had around 155 paying customers and around 185 altogether. At the end of the day I lost around $2000 but I was ok with that as it was the first year, things could have been worse if the weather didn't cooperate, and my ulterior motive for the event was to begin establishing local brand recognition for our farm so when we had some wine to sell, people would recognize our farm and our brand. In the end, I filed this under a cost of doing business.

What a difference a year makes.

This year we were uncertain we would be able to hold the event until restrictions on crowd size were lifted to 250 per event. All community organizations holding yearly events all cancelled this year. We are a bit different as we are a private company, a registered farm, offering a private event. The consensus required to move ahead would have been harder if a diverse group of people had to agree. Also, we were planning to hold an event with a relatively small budget with an anticipation of some modest growth in event size to around 250. That limit on crowd size was in line with the cost estimate for artists, porta potties, security and sound that we were projecting. Most larger events cannot afford to run with a 250 crowd size limit which is another reason why many events were cancelled.

I didn't have a facebook account until I made one in January of this year. I figured I needed to setup an account for the farm and the event so I spent a couple of hours at the end of January making a page and posted the outdoor concert event for 2020. I mostly did this to see what the requirements were for posting an event. After that setup session I mostly forgot about the facebook event page.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago and I'm talking with the person in charge of enlisting and organizing musicians, Rankin MacInnis, about whether the event would go on and a possible lineup. We decided to keep everything hush-hush until we had confirmations from the artists to perform and even then we weren't sure the event would proceed as attendee limits on events were 50 or less at that time.

On a friday I found out that gathering size limits were increased to 250. Shortly after hearing the news I got a paniced call from Rankin telling me that someone had leaked the news that we were having an event. Puzzled I asked him how he knew and he said it was "all over facebook". Someone posted something. Eventually I clued in that I had put up the event page and there were now 200 people saying they were going to attend. I also informed Rankin about the 250 limit increase and we decided then that we should leave the event page up and commit to holding the event.

In the next couple of weeks we finalized the talent, put up a website for the event, and setup an eventbrite page to distribute the tickets. We announced on facebook that we would going ahead with the event. Within 36 hours we sold the 235 tickets we had for sale and people kept signing up on our waitlist in case any rules changed on gathering size.

So one big cost from last year cost nothing this year - advertising. I attribute the success in selling tickets this year to three main factors: 1) We started the event last year and had alot of return attendees, 2) people are desperate for concerts, 3) facebook is a powerful platform for "word of mouth" advertising. This year I ran the event at a profit of around $2000 as I didn't have an advertising cost, had lower security and porta pottie costs, and had more ticket sales. We sold some merchandise and had a food truck supply the food. If we got into selling food we could make more but were happy not to have to worry about it and enjoy the concert. Our merchandise sales broke even in part because we gave away alot of merchandise to staff volunteers and we didn't sell as many event branded face masks as expected. Everything else sold out and we are doing some after event orders so the final tally on merchandise sales is not done yet. Having people wear our merchandise should provide some marketing for next year.

Social Distancing

The event took place in a large outdoor venue that can easily accommodate 250 people so that made social distancing easier.

Initially I felt that attendees could social distance their groups from each other without much guidance. My partner, Rankin, thought differently and wanted to draw bubbles for people to be in. We were not seeing eye to eye on social distancing. My wife felt Rankin's approach was better so I was outnumbered and had to bend towards the safer route.

I came across the concept of using pods for social distancing and thought you could make some assumptions about average group size, measure the area of a pod, and calculate some limit on the number of people that could fit into that pod. I started measuring the field to see how big the pods might be. Eventually I came to an insight: separating people from strangers by paths was as important as thinking in terms of the pods attendees might occupy.

Our final collaborative design for social distancing was tiered seating with paths 8 feet deep and seating areas 10 feet deep. The first pod was 75 feet by 10 feet. People could go forward or backward to get out of their pod into a path. The pods got wider (but always 10 feet deep) as we radiated out from the stage. Attendees were asked to walk along the paths to reach areas at the end where we had foot trucks and smoking areas. This is a simplified schematic of the tiered layout.

                                    STAGE



         ------------------------------------------------------------
                                Path 8 ft by 75 ft
         ------------------------------------------------------------

                               Pod 10 ft by 75 ft

     --------------------------------------------------------------------
                               Path 8 ft by 85 ft
     --------------------------------------------------------------------


                              Pod 10 ft by 85 ft


                                         Etc......

I believe this is a reasonable way to enforce social distancing without being overcontrolling. It is fairly natural to have seating tiers (aka pods) and within each seating tier groups can choose where to go as long at they are 6 feet from another group. Groups can dance in their own bubbles within the pods.

We created lines on the field using a baseball lime spreader used for making baseball lines. That worked good for the event but if we were having more events we would want something more permanent. When making the lines, you can either make lines to define the pods, or lines to define the paths.

Covid Opportunities

Covid is creating a distruption in the normal way we conduct our lives. There is uncertainty about how long Covid will last but it is not going away any time soon so we have to adapt. The events industry is having a hard time because of certain business models that are unworkable at present. This allows other business models to enter like my farm hosting events outdoors

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