by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
B2B and B2C
Most discourse in the meetings industry tends to coalesce around “private” events for individuals, companies or associations. Occasionally, when a private event is particularly large – the welcome event for a city wide convention of 20,000, for example – we need to interface with civic and municipal authorizes and, perhaps, work within the limitations of planning laws or other public regulations. Mostly, however, we’re working with closed groups and, while we’re still subject to industry regulations (particularly if we’re in the Pharma sector) we tend to be masters of our own destinies.
But, of course, our industry in its fullest expression includes all meetings and events, including public events such as city marathons, rock concerts, public rallies etc. These large public events require highly specialist planning because they impinge on issues of public order and safety and often impact very significantly on the lives of citizens who happen to live in the vicinity of the event. In addition to the usual meetings or event toolbox, planners of large scale public events need to know how to navigate the sometimes stormy waters of local authorities, councils, residence or neighbourhood associations. This past week in Ireland has show two examples of how to do this and how not to do it!
The Garth Brooks Concerts – How not to do it
Josh Ritter, Garth Brooks and David Grey are three performers of slight to modest profile outside of their respective niches (Folk, Country and Singer-Songwriter) but massive popular appeal in Ireland – particularly Garth Brooks. Following almost 10 years off the road Garth Brooks announced his comeback in 2014 and chose to stage it in a country where he’s loved and cherished – Ireland. He committed to perform at Croke Park, Dublin, a stadium under the ownership of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) that takes 80,000 (it’s actually one of Europe’s finest arenas with match day capacity of 83,000). A PR campaign ensued and, before you could say “Blame it all on my roots …” 400,000 tickets were sold. This equates to a staggering 6.25% of the population of the island of Ireland buying a ticket, or, if this was the US, 20 million!
Ticket sales unleashed a booking frenzy in the hospitality sector too and quickly every hotel and restaurant in Dublin was sold out over the 5 nights of the shows. The trickle down economic impact was nicely illustrated yesterday when one ticket holder described some of the other things he did in preparation for the gig – he bought an original Stetson and Tony Lama cowboy boots, took line dancing lessons and purchased all the Garth Brooks albums on-line. The total economic impact of the event – and this is the figure used by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny – was in the region of €250m (almost $350m).
But, as we now know, the staggering economic impact will not be felt as all five shows have been cancelled. Dublin City Council refused to grant a licence for all 5 shows on the back of a well-choreographed protest campaign by a neighbour group living in the vicinity of the stadium. It beggars belief to think that the well-founded concerns of the residents (you’re basically in lock-down for the 5 show days, a prisoner in your own home) couldn’t have been addressed adequately over the past months. It’s shocking to think that all parties – the community activitists, the City Council, the City Manager, the concert promoter, the legal teams, the police, Brooks management and Brooks himself – couldn’t find a compromise and now 400,000 people are left disappointed. Not to mention the quarter of a billion that’s been taken out of economic circulation. As one Tweeter said “It’s a pity Brooks didn’t have friends in high places”
The Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle – how to do it
By contrast, in the South West of Ireland, a charity cycle event involving massive disruption to more than 8 towns and the complete transformation of Killarney town centre into a start / finish zone was successfully staged last week to the immense satisfaction of the 10,000 cyclists who participated and the numerous local charities who benefitted from the funds raised. This Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle has become an overnight success after 30 years (!) but is now capped at 10,000 participants – up from 7,000 in 2013. It is run by a committee with strong links at grass roots level to the communities along the 180km circuit and has become a de facto pan-community event that illustrates the transformative power of events – people coming together, working together, collaborating together in support of a common vision and goal.
There are many factors behind the extraordinary success of the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle – it is staged in an area of outstanding natural beauty to which visitors have flocked for over 200 years so welcoming visitors and understanding the benefit they bring is in the DNA and muscle memory of the various towns; it is a charity event so no individual or company is “profiting” from the sacrifice that locals make to allow it happen so you take it on the chin in support of the charity; disruption is mostly limited to one single day as opposed to the five days of the Croke Park concerts. However, I’m convinced that the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle is successful mainly because of the people and the communication channels that have been established between them. Something clearly amiss in the Garth Brooks events. I imagine at committee level there are disagreements etc but the event simply couldn’t be successful without on-going, joined up communication between all of the parties concerned. Thus, ultimately, everyone is on board, everyone shares the vision and all of the communities along the circuit take the pain and share the gain – remember a body of 10,000 cyclists plus their accompanying persons is itself a major economic impact.
Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner with Patrick Delaney at SoolNua, a boutique consultancy form specialising on MICE.
The picture above shows him with his cousin John Dowd, his daughter Cliodhna and his soon-to-be-son-in-law John Purdue.