Sidmouth Folk Week 2010: the festival ticket structure

The ticket structure for Folk Week continues to generate comment and confusion - albeit many people are now resigned to it. The most common complaint seems to be that Folk Week season tickets are just too expensive - which is not true if you look at what is on offer for a whole week. Many people continue to dislike the fact they have to pay extra for Ham evening concerts - but there is really no option but to keep this feature.

However, season tickets for many attendees (I would guess it would be a majority) could be made less expensive and therefore more attractive if the minority of people who really wanted to make use of the Bulverton were made to pay for it.

The logic seems inescapable - Sidmouth Folk Week as presently organised needs to build five major venues:

The Ham - which is the major concert venue, paid for by the people who buy Ham event or Ham season tickets, and to some extent season tickets.

The Blackmore Gardens marquees - which act as a central focus for the whole festival and (it must be assumed) generally pay their way

The Craft tent - where stall holders pay (and presumably the venue runs at a small profit?)

The Bulverton - which is largely paid for by everyone who buys a season ticket whether they like it or not (and many of us who use the venue don't much like what is on offer).

The campsite - which (it is to be hoped) is largely paid for by camping tickets.

So why not substantially reduce the price of a basic Sidmouth Season ticket and have two supplementary tickets - a Ham Season (as now) and a Bulverton Season?

The age range structure of the tickets seems also to be overcomplicated and therefore subject to fraud - who ever checks that anyone is under 18, between 12 and 17, under 12, under 7, under 24? There are even different age ranges for different purposes! The degree of perhaps unnecessary complexity reminds me of the UK's discredited benefits system - although it is not as complicated as it was in 2007!.

So as a suggestion (and using rounded ticket prices, not exactly those used in 2010), instead of season tickets at 160 why not make them 100 to include everything except the Bulverton and Ham evening events? Ham evening events and Bulverton evening events could continue to be bought separately (as now) or as a season ticket - one for the Ham at 60 and one for the Bulverton at 60 - or whatever figure was necessary to ensure that most of the cost of running the Bulverton venue was paid for by those who chose to use it after 8pm?

Both of these season tickets would (as now for the Ham Season) only be available to holders of the ordinary season ticket. More ordinary season tickets might be purchased and the Bulverton venue might be further modified once it became clear how many attendees really wanted what was on offer - rather than (as now) merely filling the venue up as a late night meeting place.

As for the Supporters Club route to cheap camping - maybe it could continue but it certainly produces some confusion - despite that things are well explained on the Folk Week website.

In all, the present ticket structure can be seen as one consequence of the management's near obsession in recent years with attracting 'yoof' to help prevent abandonment of the Bulverton venue - as nearly happened a year or so ago.

They have made the venue highly attractive to young people essentially by reducing season ticket prices for youngsters to quite low levels, offering cheap camping and making the bulk of 'loyal adult season ticket holders' pay for the Bulverton - despite perhaps few of them making much use of it.

This also touches on the problem of so few accomplished social dancers now coming to Sidmouth. Venues are a problem but so are costs - if these (adult) people were to return they might almost exclusively buy season tickets - they would want to attend many dances, some Blackmore ceilidhs and quite a few non-dance events. So a season ticket would be the best and least complicated option - but maybe not if it costs 160 and includes dancing at a venue which is over-crowded, undisciplined, sometimes dangerous and where the music (if you can call it that sometimes!) is always far too loud.

So which would tempt serious dancers back - season tickets that are good value at 100 or poor perceived value at 160?

The Bulverton would be most cost effective at a larger size but there would need to be a suitable number of paying attendees - people who are willing actually to pay to attend each specific event. It is not clear that the organisers know what people really want (and judged by what they are prepared to pay for). At present attendees are given crowded conditions and very loud music. However, this is provided effectively for free via a season ticket (and a cheap one for youngsters). Present attendance figures therefore provide virtually no proper market information for the LNE: the numbers may be much influenced by 'It's included in my ticket so I might as well go and hang out there'.

How about testing the market for late night but less crowded conditions and with music at a sensible volume? If people are actually prepared to pay more door money for this than would be prepared actually to pay for the present mix - then the logical future direction of the venue might be clearer.

Value for money did not feature in most peoples minds when they supported the early days of the revived festival (2005 to 2007). However, it is now becoming a concern: here is one edited example.

We paid 68 each for weekend (season) tickets. For that we got one decent dance in a crowded hall with Geoff Cubitt.

Else it was all beginners workshops, nothing for good dancers at all. We went to a couple of Ceilidhs, but couldn't take the loud noise.

We probably won't bother with Sidmouth next year (like so many others) unless things improve.

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