Fridays After 5, Not Free?

It looks as if the free ride with Fridays After 5 may be coming to an end. For fifteen years, acts of local, regional, and national note have performed for crowds of thousands on the east end of the Downtown Mall without cost, supported by sales of alcohol and sponsorships. Citing declining sponsorship dollars, Charlottesville Downtown Foundation is considering instituting an admission fee of $3-$5. In addition, they may end up banning outside food and drink, so that vendors at the event can have a monopoly on sales and, presumably, the amount that they can pay CDF will increase. No decision has been made on these things yet, but it seems as if the organization’s hands are tied. Lisa Provence has the story in this week’s Hook.

47 thoughts on “Fridays After 5, Not Free?”

  1. Okay, $3 to $5 is not horrible for a musical event. But I don’t agree to tie people’s hands and force them to wait in long lines for junk food. Monopolies are never a good idea and people should be free to eat what they want.

    Lastly, I want some of that money to go to proper toilets. Maybe a large public and permanent facility can be paid for by the entrance fees.

  2. Banning outside food and charging admission will drastically alter the tone of FA5. Right now families can come early, have a picnic dinner (usually carry out from a restaurant on the mall), enjoy the scene for a little while and head out when the kids get tired. Sometimes we buy beer, snow cones, pizza…If my family has to pay 2X$3 for the adults and something for the kids and be forced to eat the food and buy the drinks available at FA5, we simply will not go at all. While I agree $3-$5 does not seem like that much, combined with waiting in line to buy the ticket, then the lines for food and the bathrooms, the quality of the food and (at least for families) the sometimes short stay, it becomes a problem.

    The downtown foundation needs to think about the sales at the businesses on the mall. We may not buy much in FA5 proper, but we always end up eating dinner on the mall, we patronize the street sellers, give money to street performers, park in the garages, etc.

    The proposed changes will decrease crowd size and significantly decrease the number of families in attendance. FA5 is one of the things we always do with out of town guests, they love it, are impressed by the community spirit. It is one of the things that makes C?ville a family friendly town. Downtown Foundation–Don?t? spoil it, you will be cutting of your nose to spite your face.

  3. It seems to me that the marketing team at the CDF are not doing their job. What sponsors want is a (somewhat) captive audience in the hundreds/thousands that are loyal. Sponsors want to expose their products to this audience. They’ve got that in Friday’s After Five, which is a huge success weekend after weekend… it just makes me wonder what sponsors they are targeting (or not targeting) and why they can’t "sell" Friday’s After Five anymore….

  4. The downtown foundation needs to think about the sales at the businesses on the mall. We may not buy much in FA5 proper, but we always end up eating dinner on the mall, we patronize the street sellers, give money to street performers, park in the garages, etc.

    All of which is neat and worthy, but it doesn’t get any money for FA5.

  5. CDF used to do a fine job with sponsorships. After 911, it became more difficult, as corporate money became harder to come by everywhere. Adelphia, which had been a MAJOR sponsor, got caught up in a few legal issues you’ve probably heard about. Nevertheless, the money is out there, if they only knew how to market themselves. Charging admission, which will depress attendance (severely, I suspect), isn’t the first marketing strategy that comes to mind. (Disclaimer – my wife used to be the ED there, and devised and oversaw a sponsorship plan several years ago that generated well over $100,000 in corporate sponsorships, which was the high-water mark).

    Now I see they have put sponsors on their board of directors, which is probably not a sound business decision and introduces all kinds of conflicts of interest. How can they expect to maximize their dollars from Coke and Alltel when they sit on the board? It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the last thing you want is a potential business partner privy to your internal discussions.

    I also notice there is no longer any City representation on their board. This is puzzling. I don’t know if the City left due to a lack of interest, or were asked to leave, or what, but I imagine the City Manager and City Council will get some pretty negative feedback regarding this idea, and may squelch it anyway. Unless things have changed, the City grants exclusive rights (and waives all fees) to CDF for Friday nights, specifically for free concerts. One wonders if the City is willing to continue waiving fees and granting exclusive access if the nature of the event is going to be changing that much.

    One note: the article quotes the CDF president as saying that any local restaurant is welcome to become a food vendor. Unfortunately, unless the health department has changed their rules, that’s not true. The Health Dept. requires any food vendors at Fridays to have a certified mobile kitchen, and there are only 4 or 5 of those in town. If just any restaurant could be there, they would have bene there years ago.

    One more note: the Hook article also says that Foreignor is booked. Pollstar disagrees. Lou Gramm, the former lead singer of Foreignor, has been booked, but not Foreignor itself.

  6. You said: “Now I see they have put sponsors on their board of directors, which is probably not a sound business decision and introduces all kinds of conflicts of interest. How can they expect to maximize their dollars from Coke and Alltel when they sit on the board? It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the last thing you want is a potential business partner privy to your internal discussions”

    Interesting. Maybe there are indeed other motives for the entrance fees and force capture of public’s hunger. In this case, I only support the fee if its revenues are earmarked for specific purposes, such as toilets (my pref), but also for direct costs and support services (not affiliated with the BOD).

  7. All of which is neat and worthy, but it doesn’t get any money for FA5.

    That’s very true. However, Fridays was created originally (by the now-defunct DCI) for the sole purpose of bringing people downtown. It has filled that role marvelously. Remember how dead downtown used to be? Now on Friday evenings it is one hip-happening-now place! FA5, which was here long before Lee “The Man Who Saved Charlottesville” Danielson, deserves a lot of the credit for that, and while it is hard to quantify the value there is some value there, and it is an important factor in the overall worthiness of the event. It is perhaps to CDF’s discredit that they have never been able to truly gain buy-in from the Mall restaurants and shops who benefit greatly from the event, and in turn it is definitely to the Mall restaurants and merchants’ discredit that they have generally not been supportive of the event they have no problem benefiting from.

    In most localities across the country, events such as Fridays are operated by the municipality, which frankly would probably make sense here as well. A municipality can look at the big picture, eveluate the contribution to the greater good, and not have to worry as much about making a profit.

  8. well, i guess that’s effectively the end of Friday’s After Five.

    if the sponsorship deals are declining, it’s presumably due to a decrease in attendance (or else somebody responsible for getting the sponsorships has done a poor job of representing a healthy amount of attendance…) and asking people to pay for what used to be free sounds to me like it’s going tom effectively dig them into a deeper hole, attendance-wise.

    that said, the downtown mall is usuall SWARMING with people on warm friday nights, many of whom are there just to enjoy a friday on the mall; i doubt the death of the crappy-vendor-food-and-bad-bands event at the mall’s (relatively) dead end will significantly deplete this crowd, although surely there will be fewer "tourist"-types around.

  9. It seems to me that an overly ambitious CDF, in its desire to bring in more national acts, will negatively impact Friday’s After Five. The downtown ampitheater is not a national venue–I don’t see people coming from D.C., Norfolk, or Richmond to see some whack ’80’s band play. Friday’s After Five belongs to the Charlottesville (regional) community, and it should focus it’s attention on booking LOCAL acts that have a LOCAL following.

    And the CDF’s reaon for banning coolers is not 9/11 as one CDF official said in the article… come on, guys…. it is merely not wanting "people to bring in their own alcohol," as admitted. That’s the reason.

  10. The downtown ampitheater is not a national venue–I don’t see people coming from D.C., Norfolk, or Richmond to see some whack ’80’s band play. Friday’s After Five belongs to the Charlottesville (regional) community, and it should focus it’s attention on booking LOCAL acts that have a LOCAL following.

    What, you’re not excited about Lou Gramm of Foreigner? No accounting for taste, I guess. Someone should tell CDF that Great White’s available.

  11. The economy blows right now. God knows, companies and small businesses do not have the $$$ to spend on marketing. They don’t especially have it for such things like this. Believe me; if someone approaches my company about sponsoring FA5, they would give them a strong no.

    I am just curious in the mean time how they are going to charge this. People will still flock to the mall. Are they going to get charge if they go to where the theater is at? I think people who don’t pay will just hang out in the other parts of the mall.

    What a waste of time!

  12. Let`s get this thing taxed immediately and then increase by 16% or so each year as the venue (I hate that word) increases in value.

  13. Isn’t that whole area near the ampitheater (and the ampitheater itself) public property? Even if they wanted to charge admission, how can they stop people from going in there (assuming it will be gated off) if it is public space? Sounds like they will be spending that potential admission revenue on security enforcement. I can see people jumping the fence now…

  14. not wanting "people to bring in their own alcohol,"

    They should stop spending money on bands, porta potties, and beer trucks. Just allow open container alcohol for the entire mall and leave it to mall businesses to suck money out of the drunk fools. How hard is that? Didn’t you people go to business school?

    Oh, so I can drink a beer if I’m sitting at a "cafe" on the mall but the same beer is illegal 10 feet away? Uhhhh ok…

  15. I say we start an on-line petition showing our opposition and refusal to attend Fridays After Five this year. You never know….

  16. The FAF website currently carries updated information for this year’s first scheduled date and the following comment:

    "’Fridays’ attracts over 150,000 people to the Downtown Mall each season, and generates enough revenue to allow the Charlottesville Downtown Foundation to donate over $35,000 annually to local charitable organizations, plus fund the majority of CDF’s non-revenue generating events."

    So, even without admission, beer and sponsorships alone appear to have allowed FAF to donate as much as $35K to charity, with change left over. How much could have been donated without Eddie Money in the mix last year? I agree with those who believe that as a local venue, local acts make sense. Local acts tend to be more "family friendly." Boosting the noteriety of these local acts could potentially bring more revenue to the region, in the form of word of mouth in support of future dates played by the bands. These acts also appreciate the fact that the exposure is worth taking a lesser fee in return for performing. And I don’t mean to speak for everyone, but I LIKE the fact that FAF allows me to sample a large number of local acts for free. It’s one of the main reasons I attend. More expensive acts won’t bring more people; more expensive acts will merely increase the cost to hold FAF. If theoretically "better" acts mean an admission fee in addition to VERY expensive beer, lack of adequate facilities, no coolers and being held hostage to the Dominoes’ vendor if I get the munchies, then you’ll see me front and center at Miller’s every Friday at five. And I definitely won’t be alone.

  17. Amen! The Charlottesville Downtown Foundation is selling out… and not even for better music! They are achieving medocrity with their plan. What made FA5 unique and special and above par was the local band edge. They are not moving forward–they are sliding back… Who knows if one of the local acts they feature will be the next–dare I say–Dave Matthews? But I KNOW Eddie Money and Foreigner aren’t going to get any better, nor will they draw a local crowd b/c they weren’t even that stellar when they were supposedly hot in the ’80’s. But that’s just one individuals opinion…

  18. Sorry…. this just burns me up. The CDF deciding to feature fewer local bands in favor of "national" acts is just another signal in the McDonalization of Charlottesville. Another signal would be the possibility of a Best Buy store coming to C-ville… Do we really need another consumer electronics store on 29 with Circuit City and Crutchfield nearby?

  19. This has now become absurd. I’ve tried to bite my tongue, but yesterday’s new conference was over the top with misinformation. Several points worth making:

    1. CDF received close to $120,000 in sponsorships three years ago BECAUSE they had a person dedicated to fundraising on a nearly full-time basis (business rule #1: when sales are down, improve your sales force). Since they haven’t had anybody in that capacity for a couple of years, isn’t it logical to assume that their sponsorships have dropped? I know for a fact of at least one 2000/2001/2002 corporate sponsor who wasn’t even approached about supporting CDF this year. You don’t get many sponsorships if you’re unwilling to ask for them. I suppose they’d rather raise money on the backs of their audience, rather than beat the streets for it.

    2. Prior to the 2000 season, CDF typically raised no more than $30,000 in sponsorships. The implication in the DP article is that sponsorships have been declining for years.

    3. We’re supposed to get excited by the Little River Band (better known as the One Hit Wonders), Foreigner (it’s actually just Foreigner’s former lead singer, Lou Gramm, not the band itself), and–my God–the Marshall Tucker Band (with one original member, neither of them being the founding Caldwell brothers – this is like the Allman Brothers without Greg or Duane)? Give me a break. They seem to be banking on audience ignorance here – maybe nobody will realize that none of these bands are the real thing (except the Little River Band, but who cares abotu them anyway?).

    4. This quote in the DP article astounded me: “Weakley said she did not know how much the national acts would cost because the foundation went through a booking agent familiar with its budget.” Make no mistake – that’s ridiculous. If CDF booked ANY bands without knowing the exact cost, they are more than irresponsible, they’re stupid. National acts tend to be far more expensive than local acts, and national acts present very long contract riders that can add as much as 25% to the performance fee (with food, hospitality, hotel, transportation, etc). The fact that they seem to have handed their national bookings over to a booking agent is doubly troubling. Booking agents typically arrange for acts to play for the maximum, as it boosts their commissions. Having booked national acts myself, you can cut their price by as much as 50% by going directly to their management company (several years ago, when booking John Mayall for the Dogwood Blues Festival, a booking agent quoted me $20k FIRM. I found out who handled his bookings directly, and got him for $7,500). You just have to know what you want, what the artists’ needs are, and be willing to negotiate like a big dog. And you never, ever, ever let a booking agent know how much you can spend!

    5. I imagine most local acts would be shocked to find out that they’re getting paid about $2,500.

    6. If you put people shoulder to shoulder from gate to gate, you would have nowhere near 13,000 people in the amphitheater CDF claims attended the Eddie Money show. It’s simply physically impossible. Think about that — it’s about 50% MORE people than U-Hall holds.

    I have friends on CDF’s board, and it’s sad to see them in this shape, particularly feeding misinformation to try to justify recent decisions. I hope they can pull a rabbit or two out of their collective hat, becuase I see errors a plenty in the strategy they’ve put forth.

    I agree with ThatGrrl above – to me, the absolute value and charm of Fridays was that they showcased local and regional acts. They made a concerted effort over the past several years to eliminate the “wedding bands” they had booked for years (Houserockers, Baby Huey, Retrofonics, etc), and replaced them with bands composed of great musicianship and at least some original music. What an awesome opportunity for a band to be exposed to thousands of people who probably aren’t going to show up at Durty Nellys, Outback, or Starr Hill to see them.

  20. Thanks, Big Al, for your comments and insights. For readers’ reference, here are two links from today’s newspapers:

    The Daily Progress article is here.

    The Cavalier Daily article is here.

  21. Wow. This really appears to be increasing expenses more than I’d thought. First, they book theoretically national bands (arguably not, given the facts we know about these acts) without even knowing what they cost. Nice business practice. Charging admission led to their now having to pay for the privilege of using the ampitheater, as well as for extra security. Has anyone done any sort of even unscientific polling to see if these changes will lead to recouping the additional costs, much less actually making any money?

    All in all, I can’t say I’m surprised that FAF is in bad shape, financially. I’m less than impressed with their sense of fiscal responsibility. "Hey, let’s completely change what FAF is, increase our operating costs and do absolutely no research regarding possible cause and effect on profitability. I’m just SURE that will solve all our problems!"

  22. The folks on the downtown mall have gotten used to good pizza like Sylvias/Christians and sandwiches like Bagbys/Bashirs. To only have the choice of Dominos and Bud leavesme dry.

    They are getting rid of the Starr Hill Truck! So it appears that the $30-40.00 a visit I would spend in the past was not enough.

    I need to jack it up to:

    Admission for family: $10.00

    4 Crappy Beers: $12.00

    2 Sodas: 2.50

    A nasty soggy Dominos Pizza: $16.00

    It is simply not worth it. Without choices and the ability to eat food and drink beverages I like the pleasure is removed to a significant degree.

    Perhaps if the costs have gotten out of hand they need to try and scale things down. Oneof those diminsing returns principle things.

    Based on the beer sales alone their sould be enough jack to stay solvent! And I am in the F and B business…

  23. "A while back, Dick, Barry and I agreed that what really matters is WHAT you like, not what you ARE like. Books, records, films these things matter! Call me shallow, its the fuckin truth."

  24. Why is the Virginia Film Festival able to attract and retain sponsors when Friday’s After Five is not?

  25. Because the Film Festival is committed to corporate development. CDF isn’t – if they were, they’d have somebody on staff dedicated to that task. They don’t, and they can’t really expect volunteer board members to fill that role effectively. Like I said, I know of at least one 3-year sponsor who wasn’t even contacted this year. If they’re counting on sponsorships falling into their laps, they’re in for a long, lonely wait.

    CDF didn’t obtain over $100,000 in sponsorships a few years ago by accident. They did it by having a great plan and executing it nearly flawlessly. That institutional knowledge is now gone, and the foundation hasn’t figured out how to pick up the ball and run with it. Well, I guess they have: $3 for local acts, $5 for national acts.

  26. LOL! He’s not, and even if he was, he’s not about to step into that PR nightmare. At least not until he can determine why he’s referring to himself in the third person.

  27. Well that is because two of the biggest sponsors declaired bankruptcy, and without those huge amounts of sponsorship other sponsors might be a little nervous about giving money. Thats why sponsorship is not the best now.

  28. What overcrowding problem, I have been to almost every Friday’s and there is no apparent overcrowding. Eddie Money drew a huge crowd, but mostly it is a good steady small crowd that you can get to know.

  29. Ok, all of this complaining a bickering among the different group of people that write on here it absurd in its ownself. If you only have time to sit in front of your computer and complain about the smallest things then I don’t know what kind of work or anything else can be accomplished. In my opinion I strongly agree with the new admission charges. My goodness, $3-5 to get in, that is not going to break anyone out there. If you can’t afford to pay $3-5 to hear some great music by both local and national bands then I wouldn’t consider going out at all. Another way of looking at it is that everyone will be short one beer, to me that is the best bet for all. Also about the new food policy, if you want to eat food from another restaurant on the mall then go to that place before the event starts and then come down to hear the music. If you don’t want what they have provided, then eat elsewhere. Stop all of this bickering and complaining. Get back to work and life.

  30. I count three postings on this topic from you, Amigo. Seems a bit "pot calling the kettle black" to tell others to get back to work and life.

    Admission fee or no, it would appear that some rather poor business practices are being followed by the FAF administrators. Booking bands without knowing what they cost? Changing the tone of the event without even an informal survey regarding effect on profitability? Particularly given the fact that an average of $4.5K will be necessary each week to cover ONLY rental of the amphitheater (previously offered free by the city for the formerly free event). I think that the point isn’t necessarily that $3 or $5 is a lot to pay; it is more that NO ONE seems to be minding the books or doing any research to find out whether these changes will help or hurt the FAF financial situation. I think we can all agree that operating expenses are being increased. And that the overwhelming reaction to an admission fee has been negative. Put those two things together, and it would appear that more thought should be given to the current plan. Profitable enterprises don’t result from closing one’s eyes and crossing one’s fingers. FAF would do well to employ some basic business practices and common sense, prior to making what could be its final mistake.

  31. Well, ThatGrrl lets see. I believe that I wrote my comments at 9:30 or so AFTER work. But it seems to me that you wrote yours during the WORKING hours. And well lets see another thing, its now 5:15 so once again I am not on the clock anymore. So you need to re-do that topic and I will say this again GET BACK TO WORK!!

  32. They do however, require the CDF to reimburse the city for the extenisve labor involved. THis labor include set-up of fences, beginning early in the AM, police/security and the clean up.

    Once again, as FAF and the CDF continue to gorw and become more and more extravagant these cost willl continue to grow.

    IN addition, decreasing the "family" quotient as the CDF is doing (at least for my family and those families I have talked with) means, well, less families. And if any demograhic group requires less police presence than families…

  33. Interesting. "Extensive labor?"

    Unless things have changed dramatically, CDF owns and erects the fences (in the mid-afternoon) and cleans up the amphitheater, setting all the trash out for the City to pick up on Saturday morning. I don’t think the City has ever performed either of those chores (thought City labor does erect small fences in front of City Hall to protect the flower beds. Takes ten or fifteen minutes). Historically, CDF has a hard time just getting the City to tow illegally parked cars, ESPECIALLY when its City employees who are parked illegally. The only thing the City does on a regular basis is mow the grass, and they’d do that anyway.

    According to press reports, the City is also now charging CDF for the Mall cops who patrol on Friday nights. This is absurd. First of all, let’s see the City give CDF a little credit for drawing those people to the mall in the first place, and let’s see the merchants and restaurants who benefit from those crowds pay their fair share. Making CDF pay for that is totally unfair.

    The City Manager’s office has a report from the Pew Foundation that spells out in pretty clear detail the economic benefit the City derives from Fridays After 5. That impact is huge. By making CDF pay for the cops who patrol the Mall on Friday evening, the City seems to be BLAMING CDF for the increased foot traffic, instead of patting them on the back.

    I guess the City has never seen a tax it didn’t like. Speaking of which, CDF does pay sales tax on all the beer it sells (and I imagine, now on admission). In addition, the mall merchants pay sales tax on the increased sales to Fridays patrons.

    I have a lot of fundamental problems with this whole admission/fake national bands thing, but the fact is that the City has been giving CDF the royal shaft for many, many years. Looks like it’s gotten worse.

    In most municipalities, the local government has a special events division that produces events such as Fridays after 5. CDF is saving the City a lot of expense and hassle by doing this event for them. The event has been a remarkable marketing and development tool that the City hasn’t had to finance. Pity they seem to be too ignorant to admit that.

    The City shows MUCH more love to the Municipal Band, who plays, what, less than a dozen shows and draws a fraction of the people Fridays draws. The City insists on aiming the ampitheater lights to focus on the Muni Band, not on the Fridays bands. That’s why when it gets dark all of a sudden it seems that several of the Fridays band members are standing in the dark. Funny, since the economic impact of the Muni Band shows is a drop in the bucket compared to Fridays.

  34. Tell that to mothers trying to get through the throng of beer drinkers standing between the beer trucks at the top of the hill. Tell that to people waiting in line at the toilets.

    "Good steady small crowd that you can get to know?" Not in the recent past, but now, perhaps.

  35. And I say that as a business owneron the downtown mall.

    But I can assure you that I watch City Yard workers erecting the fences, hauling the garbage, etc etc. Now do not get me started on the "efficeny" they display…

    Most of it could be done by 2 guys working hard for about 2-3 hours….

    But you know how the guys in orange are. 1 working, 2 leaning, 3 supes for each. At least one guy making sure the doors of the trucks are latched by sleeping against it. ;-)

    I would be happy to set up all the fences and take care of the clean up for 50% of what they charge FAF!

    The police presence on the mall should not be charged.

    FAF has alienated the support of the city to a high degree by going outside of the "downtown" for most of it sponsers, and for dumping locals small business in favor of national corp.

  36. Just curoius – which local businesses did they dump as sponsors? I’m not aware of any, and I’m looking at posters going back almost ten years.

    Downtown businesses have never been willing to pay the sponsorship freight for Fridays, but they have no problem accepting the paying customers it attracts (at least those merchants intelligent enough to remain open when the pedestrian traffic is highest).

  37. As for local businesses- the $$ influx is far overrated. Unless you have a resturant with a patio mostly you get people looking for a bathroom. More than a few have actaully given up on Fridays and closed shop instead.

  38. If you feel that Starr Hill deciding not to come up with the $ to be a sponsor equates to them being "dumped," then you’re correct. But I don’t think anybody at CDF said "you can’t be a sponsor any more." In fact, I imagine they tried everything they could think of to try to accommodate them.

    IMHO, not having Starr Hill there to pour microbrews is going to be a huge disappointment to a lot of people. When they come on two years ago, people were extremely pleased, adn beer sales increased markedly. Might actually see a decrease without them in the mix. I also think Starr Hill is going to seriously miss the Friday night revenues they’ve received for a couple of years. I doubt they sell that much beer at the brewery or music hall on a Friday night.

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