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Report argues the case for huge boost in Adelaide Fringe funding

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Adelaide Fringe is using a new report analysing the event’s comparative and future economic impact to push for a significant rise in State Government funding – from $2.4 million to $4.4 million a year – to help it rebound from the impact of COVID-19.

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The report, released today, was compiled by PwC Australia after being commissioned by Fringe in late March this year.

It concludes that prior to the pandemic, the total gross expenditure generated by the open-access festival was more than 30 times the amount provided by all levels of government, and that the festival generated more than $30 of gross economic impact for every dollar provided by the South Australian Government.

It says that in pre-COVID terms, “for every ticket sold at Fringe, the State Government invested approximately $3. Comparatively, other major South Australian events looked at in this analysis receive between $10-$100 of funding per ticket sold.”

The report states comparison is not presented “to the detriment of other events”, but to help understand the importance and impact of Adelaide Fringe within the broader festivals and events ecosystem.

It doesn’t name other festivals or events ­– instead listing them as Events A to K – but indicates that they include a range of arts, sports and food events. Fringe is said to have had both the highest total attendance and gross economic impact.

According to its annual review released in June, the 2021 Fringe delivered $56.39 million in gross economic impact, down from $96.7 million in 2020 due to the impact of the pandemic, which severely reduced the number of visitors from outside SA. The net economic impact expenditure in 2021 was $31.6 million compared to $41.6 million in 2020.

The PwC report says that in the current economic environment, the event will struggle to return to pre-COVID levels without increased investment. It highlights key challenges as being the cashflow pressure on artists, putting their participation at risk, and the difficulty in attracting visitors from new markets and demographics with current resources and travel restrictions.

In a statement this morning accompanying the release of the report, Adelaide Fringe argues that an additional $2 million a year from the State Government – taking its annual operating grant to $4.4 million per year – would enable it to “rebound and continue delivering economic and social returns to the state that significantly exceed pre-COVID results”.

We can turn an additional $2 million of annual funding into an event that will generate a staggering $160 million per year in gross economic impact

Adelaide Fringe director and CEO Heather Croall said that additional support was needed for the Fringe to “continue to deliver a high return on investment to South Australia”.

“Adelaide Fringe is the largest festival in the Southern Hemisphere and we need to maintain SA’s competitive advantage in this area,” she said.

“We believe this PwC Australia report presents a compelling case on how to bounce back from COVID and return even more cultural, social and economic value to our state. With this, we have a plan of how we can build back better than ever before.”

The PwC report outlines three specific areas for which Fringe is seeking targeted investment. The first is for grants that would be distributed to artists and venues to encourage participation in the festival. The second is for a large-scale “headline spectacular” ­– along the lines of this year’s Borealis attraction in Gluttony – while the third is for a tourism campaign targeting potential visitors, initially (in 2022) from Australia and New Zealand. For each of the latter two goals, the organisation is seeking around $750,000 per year.

Modelling conducted by PwC analyses the potential economic impact over the next four years if investment is made in one or all of these areas.

“The modelling from PwC Australia shows we can turn an additional $2 million of annual funding into an event that will generate a staggering $160 million per year [by 2025] in gross economic impact,” Croall said.

“There is also significant scope to increase ticket sales at Fringe and huge room for visitor growth. We aim to triple the number of tourists at our festival.”

The PwC report concludes that if the Fringe’s State Government support was increased to more than $4 million per year, “this investment per ticket sold would still be lower than all the other events examined”.

Asked this morning what consideration the State Government would give the report, a spokesperson said there was “absolutely no doubt the Adelaide Fringe is a world-class event that generates hundreds of jobs and economic return for the people of South Australia”.

“The State Government wants to see this event grow stronger into the future and is currently working with Adelaide Fringe organisers on the State Government budget for the 2022 Fringe Festival.”

It said that the State Government had contributed nearly $15.5 million in core funding to the Fringe over the past six years, not including state funding from other agencies such as the SA Tourism Commission, the Department of Transport and Infrastructure, the Department of Innovation and Skills, and the Department Trade and Investment.

The Adelaide Fringe’s pitch for increased funding comes after Premier and Arts Minister Steven Marshall yesterday launched the SA Tourism Commission’s new “Bloom” spring events push.

Marshall was asked at the launch whether existing events, such as the Fringe and the Adelaide Festival, needed more marketing support from the State Government in the ongoing pandemic climate.

“We’re just talking about Bloom 2021 at the moment, and that’s got a big increase in marketing,” he said.

“But I’ve got to say the SATC has done a really good job at pivoting their overall budget. So, for example, in a traditional year, there would be a huge amount of money spent on attracting people from overseas into South Australia.

“Now that didn’t make a lot of logical sense because there weren’t flights coming in… So they used that and they pivoted that budget to go into promotions like the ‘great state’ vouchers.”

In the Adelaide Fringe media release promoting the PwC report today, Tourism Industry Council of South Australia (TiCSA) CEO Shaun de Bruyn said tourism providers would welcome growth in visitor numbers during the month-long Fringe.

“TiCSA strongly supports increased investment into the Fringe as it will help grow tourism numbers and visitor expenditure to the state in February and March,” he said.

“There is huge potential to grow visitor numbers and ultimately create many new jobs during this period.”

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