When the lineup for the first Bonnaroo "emerged" in the spring of 2002, the people that needed to hear about it heard about it, and the festival sold out in two weeks. Today, the opposite is true.
When the lineup for the first Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., "emerged" in the spring of 2002--"announced" would be too strong a word--the people that needed to hear about it heard about it, and the festival sold out in two weeks primarily through Bonnaroo.com. The rapid sellout was a testament to the new power of direct-to-fan marketing and heralded a new era in immersive music experiences. That success also immediately took producers AC Entertainment and Superfly Presents from regional indies to prominent national players.
While it has since smartly evolved to encompass varying musical styles, back then, with anchor headliner Widespread Panic, Bonnaroo was entrenched in (and dependent upon) the thriving jam band scene. Festivals at large were a minor part of the North American concert business in 2002.
Today, the opposite is true. Announcements of major festival talent is big news, preceded by leaked lineups, fake schedules and rogue reporters who ignore embargoes. The 24/7 news cycle creates fierce competition, and pros and amateurs alike feel a deep need to be first, often at the expense of being correct.
C3 partner Charles Attal told Billboard a few years ago after the Lollapalooza lineup leaked that it "hurts ticket sales."
Giving one media outlet priority over another can damage relationships, which is unpalatable to events that want as much coverage as possible. With that sort of scenario in mind, Bonnaroo set out to "own" its talent announcement and turn it into an event unto itself. To mitigate that potential minefield, Bonnaroo producers created the Bonnaroo Lineup Announcement Megathon (BLAM) on Feb. 19, hosted by "Weird Al" Yankovic on Bonnaroo365, the festival's YouTube channel.
Superfly president Jonathan Mayer saw the lineup announcement as an opportunity to engage with fans and build excitement. "Our goals were accomplished in making a lot of noise and making this an event," he says.
Bonnaroo launched Bonnaroo365 last year to help make the festival a year-long presence in the minds of music fans, to extend the Bonnaroo brand beyond those four days on a farm in Tennessee. As a means of building a level of excitement and directing fans to Bonnaroo365, BLAM worked. Mayer says opening weekend sales were "one of the strongest on-sales to date."
There are revenue opportunities available at Bonnaroo365, which extends not only the branding of the festival but also its relationship with third-party brands.
Mayer was vague on how successful the platform is in terms of revenue, but the potential upside is substantial. At press time, the YouTube video featuring Yankovic with Portugal. The Man playing "Canadian Idiot" boasted some 140,000 views, nearly double the number of people who attend Bonnaroo annually. If the goal is to grow the impact of an event beyond its capacity, that's one way to do it.
But there is a trade-off. The effort it took to create the BLAM event is one reason the lineup announcement and subsequent on-sale were delayed a couple of weeks from the traditional second week in February. With what looks to us like the most expensive lineup Bonnaroo has ever fielded, and the competition for fest fans' cash now tougher than ever, every sales day counts. In recent years, it hasn't been unusual for Bonnaroo to still be selling tickets the week of show, which is a slippery slope for an outdoor event dependent on the whims of nature.
If Bonnaroo 2013 goes clean quickly, those lost sales days in February will be forgotten. If sales come up short, well, Weird Al's not going to close the financial gap. That said, kudos to Bonnaroo for trying something different and moving the concept forward.