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Councillor strives to set the record straight

Over the last few months a number of residents have been in the local media demanding answers to why the 2015 Exploits Salmon Festival lost money. Despite information being available to anyone who wanted it, accusations of some sort of wrongdoing are the centre piece of the articles.  I felt it was time to set the record straight.

Advertiser file photo
Grand Falls-Windsor Councillor Tom Pinsent is pictured during his 2016 budget speech in council chambers.

First of all I will go through the series of events that led to the 2015 Salmon Festival Concert. 

The 2013 Eagles headlining concert was the beginning. This concert was one of most well attended and successful financial concert events in the province’s history. Despite the success, there was a tremendous amount of negative publicity about water and the VIP section. The press fixated on it and made it sound like it was a disaster. The fact was that with the huge crowds and high temperatures on concert day saw a great demand on water and the huge crowd made it difficult to transport water across the field to vendor stations. There was no water available for about 30 minutes and the town did give out about 2500 free bottles of water to patrons. It was with the negative publicity and the task of trying to match the huge success of the Eagles show we had to deal with.

 In planning for the 2014 concert, the committee had to find a suitable act. This was no small feat as the Eagles were tough to follow. It is important to note that trying to book mega acts is difficult and time consuming. You don’t book them; they book you. A promoter is required to submit a proposal and management of the band would consider it. This could take months as negotiations go back and forth. In pursuing an act we could not submit to more than one because if more than one accepts you are way over budget.

In 2014, we were in negotiations with a huge act that everyone felt would be a worthy follow up to the Eagles. All indications were that we were close to signing. However, in the spring we were informed that the act we had been pursuing decided to not tour that summer. We were also under constant pressure to confirm a date for the concert and the promoters felt that we could do that as a huge act could be found for the date planned. Act after act turned down proposals and it looked like we would not be able to find an act for the 2014 Concert. A booking agent representing Maroon 5 contacted the promoters informing them that they may be interested in adding one more show to their North American dates. A proposal was put in and Maroon 5’s management replied they would be interested but the only date available was the week prior to the already announced date. We had to either accept the date change or there would be no concert in 2014.

The decision was made to book Maroon 5 and Pit Bull. The rationale was these two acts were among the biggest in the world. In fact, Pitbull had headlined the 2014 World Cup, the biggest event on the planet. The acts were announced as well as changes to the venue where free water stations were made available and improvements to the VIP Section.

However, despite the changes and the inclusion of two of the world’s biggest acts, the show did not resonate with the buying public and the concert managed to draw approximately 5000 people which meant a huge loss of approximately $470.000. In analyzing why ticket sales were low it appeared that the acts designed for younger patrons was not accepted by people who seemed willing to only accept classic rock acts.  Also, changing the date and negative publicity of the Eagles concert were factors.

When plans began for the 2015 concert, it was clear that we needed to book a classic rock act early.

The first issue we had to deal with was the promoters. SRO seemed more interested in dealing with a possible mega show in Paradise than serving the towns interest. After some discussions, three of the investors in the SRO team and the town agreed to sever ties. One of the investors decided to stay with the town and continue to work to bring a 2015 mega concert to Grand Falls-Windsor. The remaining promoter had the opportunity to confirm John Fogerty early in 2015 and the price was half of the Maroon 5 price tag. The committee agreed and the contract with John Fogerty was signed.

We viewed this as a positive development as one of the criticisms was the line up being announced late.  Also, the general terms of the agreement between the town and the promoter were discussed and agreed on by both parties. The terms with the promoter would be the same as the contract with SRO with the town picking up the other investors’ investment. 

While work was being done on getting the undercard signed, the committee learned that a promoter in St. John’s had signed Rod Stewart on Confederation Hill on the same date as the Salmon Festival concert. This was a major concern and after a long discussion it was agreed that we would proceed, but would have to be frugal in booking the undercard. Due to pressure from the public and the announcement on Confederation Hill, we announced our headliner with the rest of the line up to follow. We succeeded in finding what we thought was a great undercard lineup for a reasonable price. Our break-even was around 7500 people which was lower than the year before and we felt that was attainable. The final written contract with the promoter was overshadowed with getting the show promoted and signing the undercard although the terms and conditions of both parties were understood to be the contract with SRO and there are emails outlining the changes.

On May 12, the promoter called a meeting to inform the committee that sales were soft and informed us that he could not continue with the show and recommended we cancel.  As most know, the result was a 4–3 vote to continue with the show.

I was one of the councilors who voted to continue with the show. My reasons were:

We had invested $350,000 as deposits to the bands and that was not refundable;

In talking to people it appeared that the show was being received positively by the public which was not the case the year before. Just about everyone I spoke to said they were going but had not purchased their tickets. The sentiment seemed to be there would be plenty of tickets given there was a big concert in St. John’s;

The financial analysis told us that to get to the point of suffering a loss of $350,000 we needed to sell 5000 tickets which I felt was possible if we promoted heavily with contests and allowed patrons to leave the field and return and allowed children under 12 free;

The acts we had booked normally attracted tens of thousands of fans to their shows. Despite St. John’s having a major show, there was still the Central, Western and Northern regions of the province that we could draw on. I felt that with the strong lineup, heavy promotion and contests, and if the weather was good, we could reach the 5000;

I was not convinced that the acts would not want final payment of their contracts due to canceling less than two months before the show. Some will disagree with this, but, the amount of money in play could have a tendency to change the bands’ minds;

The backlash we would endure from the public if we cancelled the show with a loss of $350,000 with nothing to show for it.  Also, we still had to put off some sort of a concert which would have cost extra money;

If this failed, no reasonable person could now come back and say we should continue with the mega shows and we would know for certain that with the competition on the East Coast and the number of mega shows now on the island that pursuing mega shows here in Grand Falls-Windsor for the immediate future was futile.

Unfortunately, the weather forecast was not good leading up to concert day and the Canadian dollar continued its decline. Despite our best efforts with cutting costs, using social media to promote with contests, the actual ticket sales were slightly below 2500 people and resulted in the loss of over $600,000.

To say that the result is a disappointment to all who worked hard would be a huge understatement.

The simple fact is the reason the show was a financial failure was that despite everyone’s best efforts, we could not sell enough tickets. There is no conspiracy. One resident has asked Municipal Affairs to conduct an investigation accusing us of having secret meetings and breaking the Municipalities Act. This is not true. The decision on the concert was approved and the vote on May 12 was to continue. Had the committee decided to cancel then it would have to go to a public meeting. Also, if we had to go public that ticket sales were low would further hurt the possibility of selling tickets.   Seriously, why would anyone buy tickets to a show that could be cancelled?

As the old saying goes ‘we were in a no win situation’. If we cancelled the show we would lose at least $350.000 with nothing to show and still have to do something of a concert. The “what if we continued” would always be there. I am willing to bet that the same people who are so vocal now would also be upset if we cancelled the show with a huge loss. They are looking for someone to blame when in reality, there isn’t anyone.

We had no control of the show in St. John’s being booked on the same day which happened after we had signed our main act.

We had no control over the weather. 

We did everything possible by allowing exit and re-entry to the shows and promoted to reduce the financial risk

The Salmon Festival has been in existence for 31 years and despite the loss the last two years, (has) been a financial plus for the town. The purpose of the concert was to bring an economic boost to local businesses. To that degree it has been a major success. The last two years make clear the risk involved in hosting a large mega concert. Consequently, the risk of having a mega concert given the competition from the East Coast and other concert venues such as PEI which is held on the same weekend is not sustainable and the decision has been made to not continue with the mega shows and return to our roots of offering an affordable show with greatly reduced risk.

As the 2016 budget showed the loss of the show did not have a huge effect on taxes or a reduction of projects by the town. Investment will continue in paving and other essential infrastructure. However, if we continue with the mega shows the risk to having the funds to do all the projects we did this past year like the Splash Pad Park, dog park, Main Street park, lights at the ball fields on Main Street that were either completed or started in 2015 could not continue.   The 2016 budget, which is available for any resident to read, shows we will continue with capital works improvements and other projects while having one of the lowest tax rates in the province.  My purpose for writing this letter is not to engage in an argument with anyone, but, to set the record straight as to what actually happened.


Tom Pinsent


Grand Falls-Windsor

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