Greenbelt’s ticketing model and the festival it supports …
Now that our April ticket deadline has passed (thanks to all those who booked early!), we wanted to share a bit more about our ticket pricing structure and philosophy for this year. Because this year the difference between our earlybird ticket rate and the final onsite price is larger than it has been before. But before that, let’s look at what makes Greenbelt a different festival – with its own unique challenges around being financially sustainable.
The first thing to say is that Greenbelt is a long festival. Hosting three and half days of programming is no mean feat. That’s four evening bills. Some festivals only programme two days and two evenings. Many more do three evenings at the very most. But Greenbelt has always run longer – and, since being at Boughton, we programme later too. It’s part of what makes us different. But it’s also a costly thing to do.
Secondly, for most festivals it’s their beer sales and pouring rights (alongside other commercial sponsorships) that make them financially viable. But at Greenbelt we just have one independent bar operator – running the Jesus Arms and Blue Nun. And, while we do OK from our split on this, we’re not in the same league as festivals with bars at every turn, laden with familiar alcohol branding. Also, traditionally we have favoured partnership over sponsorship. However, in recent years we have begun to grow a more mixed economy in this regard, as we start to explore the right sorts of sponsorship – alongside our diverse portfolio of partners.
Thirdly, we are an ambitious and credible arts and ideas festival with a particular activist and theological lens, and we manage to deliver the festival programme on a very modest programming budget. The sorts of fees that household music acts who are big festival draws command are eye-watering these days. We simply cannot compete with the offers other festivals are making. And so we have chosen to make a virtue of introducing Greenbelters to new and different talent, fresh ideas and alternative voices and performance. We don’t load all our programming spend onto the music bill either. Instead, we spread it into ambitious theatre, ideas, literature, comedy and children’s, youth and family programmes.
Fourthly, we place a high value on the look and feel of the festival in its setting. We invest in our site vibing and we’re pleased to have moved to such a beautiful greenfield location at Boughton House, with its Grade I-listed parkland, sometimes described as the English Versailles. We believe that the location, the setting of the festival is all part of the restorative experience of being with us.
Fifthly, we’re a registered charity so we’re not interested in making profits. Instead, the small surpluses that we might make (just about 3% of our turnover – in a good year) are reinvested to safeguard the festival’s future in the long term and into each successive event. We have to spend our money wisely and carefully.
Sixthly, we are determined to be as accessible as we can be and we have been awarded Attitude is Everything’s Gold Standard – only the second mainstream festival to achieve this after Glastonbury. Being accessible is indeed an attitude, and it has financial implications too – with huge amounts of walkway tracking and all sorts of important infrastructure for us to bring in.
All these things we are really proud of. And we do what we do knowing that we’ve worked as hard as we can to deliver a value for money festival experience.
So why have we changed our ticket pricing structure this year?
- Early sales are vital for us in planning and building the best possible festival we can. So we wanted to increase the incentive to book early by increasing the price increases at each of ticket deadlines. We held our opening price at 2016’s level, but increased our final onsite price to encourage early booking.
- We’re still absolutely committed to providing discounted tickets. That’s why we held our earlybird rate at 2016’s starting point. And it’s why the Tier One prices (that have just expired at the end of April) were held at 2016 onsite prices.
- Our adult tickets are carefully priced – alongside our other revenue streams and our crucial Angel supporter giving (see later) – to generate the income we need to make the festival work. Greenbelt is costly for us to build, programme and deliver. But if you compare our full adult ticket price with other festival events of our scale and ambition, you’ll see that we are very competitive.
- We’ve also held firm to our discounted deals for under-18s (child and youth tickets are just £50 all year) and our hugely discounted ticket for 18 – 25-year-olds (starting at £75 and only rising to £103). We also have a generous range of adult concession deals available and we offer free carer tickets too.
This is our rationale. But we recognise that buying festival tickets – especially for a group – is a costly business. And so we’re proud to be able to have our Open Festival scheme, through which you can nominate people and groups who you’d love to see access the festival but for whom you know the cost would be a permanent barrier. Open Festival tickets are absolutely free and we give away a few hundred of them each year. See here for more on Open Festival. Applications need to be in by the end of May.
Straightforward and transparent
There are hundreds of festivals across the year now and they adopt a wide variety of pricing structures. At Greenbelt, we have chosen to keep things simple and all-inclusive. Our booking fees and standard camping are all included in your ticket price. And, once you’re into the festival itself, you get into everything for the price of your festival ticket. We’ve made a conscious decision to avoid pay-for attractions (like fun fairs).
In addition, we make sure that there are homegrown cafes onsite – alongside the wonderful array of professional caterers. Cafes like The Tank and the Christian Aid Cafe: family-friendly cafes with family-friendly pricing. But at the same time, we choose our caterers carefully and we know that the quality and diversity of the food and drink available from our onsite vendors is all part of a fabulous festival experience.
But, as well as all these careful and considered commitments, what makes Greenbelt finances work – and has kept us afloat through many a storm – is our heavenly host of Angel givers. This, and the fact that so many vital roles year-round and onsite are performed by our wonderful volunteer community, means we can keep our core costs low because we have an incredibly supportive human ecology of givers and makers whose generosity and time and skills help us to keep the festival on the road. These are our secret ingredients. We know that many other festivals would dearly love the committed giving and support we enjoy. We are thankful every day for it.