submitted by Kevin Hoffman; photo by Jeff Burkhart
Bob Babisch, of Milwaukee’s famous Summerfest, shared the history and stories about the annual music festival held on Milwaukee’s lakefront park. This year it runs for 11 days from June 27 to July 8 and is expected to draw 850,000, making it one of the largest music festivals in the world.
Summerfest started in July 1968 to bring Milwaukeeans together during a period of racial and civil strife and was modeled after the German Oktoberfest in Munich. Initially, it was a city-wide event held at various public venues but was eventually consolidated at the current 75 acre lakefront site near downtown Milwaukee at a former Nike missile facility. It is also the site of many ethnic festivals held during the summer.
Milwaukee World Festivals is the umbrella organization and has 43 full time and up to 2,500 seasonal staff. Summerfest has gained a worldwide reputation for the excellence and variety of musical talent and performances. The facilities have been consistently improved and upgraded to keep pace with the growing professionalism and standards of the live music performance industry. Between 2005 and 2016 they invested $69.2 million in new stages, entry points, food venues, and facilities.
Mr. Babisch gave us a quick overview of the business model and economics of Summerfest and the facilities. First, they have many corporate sponsors that support and upgrade the performance stages and venues. Without this support they would not be able to have first-class amenities and keep the base one-day ticket price at $21. Second, one might assume that ticket prices provide the bulk of revenue used to run the enterprise. However, in order to attract and incent the best talent, the performers usually receive up to 90% of the net revenue with a guaranteed minimum. Although this exposes Summerfest to some risk, it helps attract the best headliners. The bulk of the revenue and profit that accrues to Summerfest comes from the ancillary sales of food, beer and other beverages. Their goal is to make Summerfest a people’s festival by keeping entry costs affordable and the standards high.
So, with 11 days, 11 stages and 12 hours of non-stop entertainment each day there should be something for everyone!
If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.