Mar 9, 2010

SPAC ticket fee as budget cure? Let's get real and just fuggetaboutit!

Concert surcharge = voodoo economics

As the Saratoga Springs city council continues to grapple with its budget predicament, last night's public forum on the matter was primarily devoted to exploring various revenue enhancement options.

Despite the thoughtful commentary from Accounts Commissioner John Franck that such a discussion was merely skirting the real task at hand --- personnel cuts --- the audience was nonetheless offered a smorgasbord of ideas, including raising the sales tax and either instituting or establishing user fees on everything from walking one's dog to taking a daytime nap.

With paid parking seemingly off the table, an old idea has again reared its ugly head as being the end-all and cure-all to the city's money problems; hitting up the attendees of SPAC's rock concerts with a ticket surcharge. Whereas the original thinking was to add a dollar to each entry, the number used last night was $2. The logic offered for this plan is that a vast amount of city resources (mainly public safety) are dedicated to supporting these events, hence the city should be compensated for their costs.

Now, I'm not a big fan of SPAC's management nor its booking decisions of recent years. More so, I'm certainly uncomfortable aligning myself with the likes of Ticket Master and Live Nation, who have both done incredible damage to the music industry. But you can't always choose who's sitting in the seat next to you on the 6:05 to BWI, and this is one of those cases where it ain't real pretty but that's the way it's gonna roll.

At the risk of getting labeled as 'the guy who doesn't seem to like any of our bright ideas',for patching our budget mess, let's go on the record as saying that the SPAC surcharge should join paid parking in the fuggetaboutit file.

Anyone who has had the misfortune of driving past the Avenue of Pines when a SPAC concert is letting out can provide a pretty good vehicular traffic analysis. I'll take a shot here myself: 85% of the cars are tuning right, southbound onto Route 9 on their way to catch the Northway. The backside shows a similar pattern: the vast majority are turning left onto Route 50, southbound and away from the city. State DOT can surely offer input here on this observation.

Keep in mind, now, that both Routes 9 and 50 are roadways outside of the city's jurisdiction and responsibility, meaning that their maintenance is covered by the county and state. Yes, getting cars from the parking lots onto those roads is a giant mess, but how much of this traffic control is being managed (or needs to be managed) by city resources?

But back to the original point: the typical concertgoer is an out of town visitor utilizing state highways to enter a New York State park. He or she flashes an internet purchased ticket at the gate, enjoys the evening in a setting overseen by a combination citizen volunteers, paid employees, private security and EMS, NYS troopers, NYS park police and city public safety personnel. After the show, our visitor hops back in the auto and reverses the earlier path to get home safely. Any mess left behind (i.e., beer cans and paper) is disposed of the next morning by college kids with pointed sticks and trash bags.

Three questions then need to be asked:

1)What is our visitor “getting” from the city in return for this $2 surcharge now being demanded?

2)It seems here that the Parks Department is providing a greater level of service; should they now demand their own surcharge of, let's say, $6?

3)So what percentage of that multi - organization division of labor is the city's share? Those thinking that it is a major component are either mistaken or mis-led.

Further is the issue of fairness. Why is SPAC – and in particular: rock concerts at SPAC — being singled out like this? You want impact, how about the race track's impact on city services? That venue is inside the city limits, hence 100% of those daily visitors are using city streets, tying up local traffic, bumping into each other and requiring dispatched attention, leaving trash that needs to be picked up by city DPW, and on and on. If we apply this 'impact' logic, should we not be hitting up racing fans for $2 each day? How about the Chowder Heads or the First Night'ers? Where does it all begin – or end?

The SPAC experience is already a financial nightmare as it is. Let's go to the scorecard on this: those Tom Petty tickets that just went on sale sets one back $140 for the good seats. Then comes Ticketmaster's crime against humanity, otherwise known as its advance ticket convenience fees. Once there, each car is happily greeted with a $10 parking tab. Inside, pre-show socializing with friends costs dearly: $8 beers and $4 pretzels.

Now the city wants to pile on and add it's own two cents – I mean two bucks. Welcome to SPAC – and to Saratoga, folks! How's it feel?

The bottom line is this: the city PROFITS from SPAC rock concerts. Sales tax is collected from onsite transactions and those “15%” that make the left hand turn from the Avenue of Pines and into town to either continue the party or hit the hotel rooms further fill the city coffers.

Do the math – and end the greed.


Anonymous said...

Hmm that's amazing but to be honest i have a hard time figuring it... wonder what others have to say..

Anonymous said...