SBD/Issue 19/Events & Attractions

CDI Dissolves Entertainment Division, Cancels HullabaLOU Festival

 

Churchill Downs Inc. yesterday announced that it is “backing away” from its two-year-old entertainment business, Churchill Downs Entertainment Group, and canceling next year’s HullabaLOU Music Festival, according to Gregory Hall of the Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL. The company also announced that CDE President and CDI Exec VP Steve Sexton “has resigned.” CDI lost more than $5M producing HullabaLOU at Churchill Downs in July, “about twice as much it was prepared to lose.” But the company after the event indicated that it was “committed to building an audience for the festival.” CDI President & CEO Bob Evans yesterday “left open the possibility of resuming the event later,” but said that a “decision on whether to go forward next year was forced by the need to book music acts now.” Evans: “If the economy’s going to grow at 1 or 2 or 3 percent, but we’re going to keep unemployment at 10 percent, I think next year’s going to be a carbon copy of this year.” He said CDI “just chose not to pursue the entertainment area further.” More than 78,000 fans attended the inaugural music festival to see 65 acts including Bon Jovi, Kenny Chesney and the Dave Matthews Band. Evans said that he thinks ticket prices “were realistic, and that the tight economy just kept too many fans away.” Hall notes CDI has “tracked the success of 35 music festivals and believes the concept can at least break even once the concert industry and economy recover” (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 10/7).

POINTING FINGERS: In Lexington, Scott Sloan notes CDI “blamed hot temperatures" for lower-than-expected attendance at the festival, but "others noted that Churchill priced tickets too high during a fragile economy.” Some question CDI’s statement “that the festival might return in future years” as Sexton, “the brains behind” the event, has resigned. CDE “being dismantled also means the end to the recently held Fork, Cork and Style food and wine festivals at Churchill on Sept. 12 and Arlington Park on Oct. 2.” Meanwhile, CDI announced that “three other entertainment division employees are leaving the company” (LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, 10/7). The DAILY RACING FORM’s Matt Hegarty noted advance ticket sales for HullabaLOU “were well below expectations, and walk-up attendance was hurt by summer temperatures that exceeded 100 degrees on all three days” (DRF.com, 10/6).

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