November 21, 2017 / 1:19 AM

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Independent Music Festivals Contribute $1.5 Billion to UK Economy; What Can American Promoters Learn?

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The UK is home to some of the world's most acclaimed music festivals—from Glastonbury to Isle of Wight to Reading and Leeds—but it's independent festival scene is equally lucrative for the region's economy. A study from Association of Independent Festivals suggests that over the past five years, this collection of events has contributed more than $1.5 billion to the cause.

The AIF counts 50 festivals among its members, ranging from Bestival-the largest of the bunch with 50,000 attendees-to ArcTanGent, a "math-rock" showcase that attracts around 5,000 viewers. It defines "independent" as run by a company that has a less-than 5 percent hold on the global live music market (so no Live Nation or AEG events allowed).

For example, last year the 50 AIF events hosted more than 635,000 attendees and injected $445 million into the British economy (with more than $120 million coming from audience spending outside of the events from 2010-'14). The success of these events have driven ticket prices up around 6.3 percent over the last seven years.

"Wow—who'd have thought our little organization, which started off with five festivals meeting in a broom cupboard, has grown to be an economic powerhouse generating over a billion quid (British pounds) in 4 years for the economy," said Rob da Bank, the founder of AIF and Bestival. "Fantastic stuff."

Numbers for major music festivals as a whole aren't available, but reports indicate that Glastonbury contributes up to $110.8 million a year to the economy (as of 2008).

What American promoters should take from this report is the viability of smaller, more specialized festivals. ArcTanGent might appeal only to a small demographic, but that demographic will turn out in force to such an event. The United States is approaching a "bubble" for large music festivals, where there simply isn't enough major talent to stock the increasing number of major events being introduced. There soon many come a time where big promoters will need to scale back to smaller events aimed at more particular audiences.

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