Shaquille O’Neal was in town at the end of June lifting our Prime Minister like a waif to reach the basketball rim, and all hell “break loose” on that image and the cost of the programme associated with the former NBA superstar’s presence. The launch event was hosted by the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Housing. The Minister of Sports was also in tow for the launch. The newly minted National Security minister, Jack Warner, MP has come out swinging and justifying the $10 million cost of a new palliative crime reduction programme based on basketball, “whose main goal is to deter delinquent youths from a life of crime – Hoop of Life.” The presence of Shaq will “inspire” and “you can’t put a price on that,” said Mr. Warner.
Sports Minister, Anil Roberts, MP is reported in the Trinidad Express as saying:
“Whatever the cost, I can assure you the benefits far outweigh any monetary cost and we will continue to invest in the fight against crime…The decision to invite O’Neal to the country was made 11 months ago and was a collaboration amongst several ministries including the Ministry of National Security and State agencies.”
This talk of inspiring figures, and motivational speakers reminds me of the talk of “pride” associated with the flag outside the National Stadium erected by the Sports Company under the line minister at the time, Gary Hunt, MP. If you remember, that $2 million flag by Fireone Fireworks FX caused Anil Roberts to utter these words in the Lower House on July 30, 2010 reported by Hansard:
“…it is incumbent upon this Government to revisit the past, to never, ever treat taxpayers’ money with such discourtesy; to treat people with respect. To get value for money, we must know where they went wrong to be on that side so we would never again be on that said [sic] (side).”
Now Roberts tries to justify the quantum of expenditure for Shaq’s visit, unknown as yet. Jack Warner, also, once the figures are in will give a tally, but uses the word “inspiration” to justify costs. The large amounts spent in search of a palliative for crime and for “pride” and “inspiration” does not give comfort at a time when we are in a recession. It also gave me an opportunity to review our track record as a nation in spending on events that have an intangible benefit beyond profits and a positive return on investment.
Four events stick out for me:
- Miss Universe Pageant 1999
- Ring Bang Millennium Concert in Shaw Park in 1999
- International World Beat Music Festival in 1999
- Localize Itt Campaign “Rep Your Colors” Concert featuring Nicki Minaj in 2010
Miss Universe Pageant 1999 cost directly $70.249M to spur “investment inflows” and gain exposure. A short-lived state enterprise private company called Trinidad and Tobago Pageant Company Limited was formed and funded to produce the event. The Minister of Trade & Industry and Consumer Affairs, Hon. Mervyn Assam, MP read into Hansard on 04 February 2000:
“The rationale for hosting this event was based on its potential for achieving a number of objectives including:
- the marketing of Trinidad and Tobago utilizing a different mechanism;
- the seeking of opportunities for economic returns and long-term development; and
- the gaining of mass commercial exposure for tourism, art and craft, entertainment and culture.
It must be recognized that, notwithstanding the efforts of various administrations, the level of international awareness of Trinidad and Tobago as an important destination for non-oil investment is still quite low.”
Minister Assam, in addition to showing how the US$10 million initial investment had a proportionally smaller advertising cost per person of 5 US cents, also listed a number of projects in hotel construction and chemical plants that were to flow from this event. None panned out. The return on investment on a quantifiable metric like new music signings—soca was played on the show, however it was written by an American composer as per AFTRA rules and played by Roy Cape All Stars—was a negative. Similarly, up spike in new visitor arrivals was flat. Trinidad and Tobago has an image problem which won’t go away by this one event.
Ring Bang Millennium Concert in Shaw Park, Tobago was an unqualified fiasco that cost taxpayers $40.9 M. Then Tobago House of Assembly “heavy roller” and Chief, Hochoy Charles, teamed up with Caribbean music entrepreneur Eddy Grant—via his New Media Limited, an offshore company which was registered in Anguilla and set up for this particular purpose—to present this event. The business model had the THA investing $40M to fund a multi-act show from the Caribbean headlined by Grant and his Frontline Orchestra, which would have the concert, then called Ringbang Celebration 2000, broadcast as part of the 2000 Today BBC/WGBH Millennium Day Broadcast, and sponsorship, sales of collateral merchandise and broadcast rights from other Caribbean outlets would offset much of the expense. The most ambitious live television broadcast ever, 2000 Today, was a major 24-hour live television programme spanning the world that began at around 10.30 GMT on 31st December 1999 and was broadcast to an estimated 800 million viewers.
Ever the entrepreneur, this event was also purported to introduce the Grant’s brand name Ringbang™ to the world. The promise, as read into Hansard by Pamela Nicholson, MP on 14 Jan 2000 was that Ringbang Celebration 2000 was supposed to be “beamed to 2 billion people throughout the world and the Tobago aspect of the show would be beamed for 39 minutes and would, thereafter bring tremendous tourism benefits to Tobago. The programme would have exposed Tobago’s cultural groups and other Caribbean talents to the world.” We got 3 minutes!
“Mr. Speaker, only Eddy Grant, the manager of New Media Limited, was beamed and sold throughout the world for a few minutes, and Tobago’s U.S. $6.5 million—which is TT $40.9 million—was used to market Eddy Grant and his musicians to the outside world. I think Machel Montano’s name was announced as David Rudder, and he might have had a minute or two. That was the coverage given.”
Hansard, 14 Jan 2000, p. 278-279
The planned 20,000 person audience ended up as 1,500. A VHS of the event was produced and distributed by Grant’s Ice Records. This vintage item, long out of print and never republished, is now available on eBay for US$25.00. As for the broadcast rights, according to Nicholson: “The rights belong to the Caribbean Broadcasting Union because the British Broadcasting Corporation said that the only institution in the Caribbean with which they had any links was the CBU, which was hired by Eddy Grant. So the rights belonged to Eddy Grant.” Yorke Structures Ltd built a 60-foot high Ringbang™ Monument for the occasion. I guess that monument inspires pride. We later discover that there was no parliamentary appropriation for this money despite the rules at the time. Chief Secretary Hochoy Charles maintained that the THA only invested $15 million. Political careers ended with this fiasco with unaccountable losses, and a few tangible trinkets to show.
That one-off event maintained interest by the THA in event tourism and later private entrepreneurs created the Plymouth Jazz Festival. Once the parent company of the producers folded, that Jazz Festival died quickly, only to be resurrected in spirit as the Tobago Jazz Experience. While markedly interesting in utilizing local talent, the events saw dramatic declines in attendance compared with the star filled extravaganzas of a few years earlier. Some time ago, Trinidad Guardian columnist Martin George lamented the “THA’s failure to continue the rich tradition and high standard of that real ‘jazz’ event.” Money is no problem to lamenters seeking Stevie Wonder, Sting and Elton John and getting Barrington Levy, Gramps Morgan and Trey Songz.
Below are a couple of videos of the show featuring Boogsie Sharpe and Kitch, and Eddy Grant.
International World Beat Music Festival cost $11M and was a production of Imagineers Limited, which was a partnership company set up by TIDCO and Media Scheme Limited of Britain. Managing Director of Imagineers Limited, Dr. Andre Vincent Henry reiterated that:
“…the long-term plan is for the festival to become a permanent fixture on Trinidad’s annual events calendar. However, TIDCO’s intention is to see the event become firmly established and then sell it off to any entrepreneur that would be interested in buying the festival rights. The company is confident that the festival will eventually grow into a profitable venture offering lucrative returns, not only for the producers but for all involved such as performers, concessionaires and others who will serve on the periphery.”
TIDCO’s role as a government agency funded by the public purse in 1999 was, among other things, to create a viable entertainment industry on the island, a job now handled by Trinidad and Tobago Entertainment Company (TT Ent). This was the promise: “From the 20th to the 23rd of October 1999, World Beat music will have a platform like no other. For four nights every year The World Beat Music Festival will bring to the world its music, a fresh sound drawn from many cultures and belonging to all.” This event cost $11M to produce and had shortfalls in projected attendance ranging from 64,000 to 104,000! 20,000-30,000 patrons per night were expected over 4 nights; only 16,000 came in total.
Hansard reported in 08 February 2000 Trade Minister Assam saying the following:
“…the final figure showed that TIDCO invested the sum of$11,113,217.76 in the World Beat Festival and international and local sponsorship accounted for $595,000…The World Beat Music Festival was conceptualized to accomplish two purposes, the first was to provide a fillip for institutional development and capacity building in the entertainment industry in the areas of production; artiste management; negotiations; engineering; events management and so forth. The second area was an investment to create an event which would buttress the tourism calendar during what is traditionally a low period for visitor arrivals…The World Beat Festival has today generated revenues of $724,374.53…So if you add $724,000 to $600,000, you will get about $1.32 million, and $1.32 million from $11.1 million is just under $9.9 million in a deficit. It is simple arithmetic…I went on to say this was an investment.”
It was further revealed that TIDCO made the decision in its own discretion to invest the $11 million. The business model of creating and licensing the festival package did not work. The planned 3-5 year commitment to the festival shrank to one. A compilation disc, which TIDCO said would help to recover the multi million dollar cost of investment, due on the shelves of music stores “before Christmas 1999” never materialized. The planned international cable network deal for 13 specials to be viewed by a potential viewer audience of 60,000,000 never materialized. Glastonbury or Coachella, we were not. World Beat ’99 came and went and never returned!
Localize Itt Campaign “Rep Your Colors” Concert featuring Nicki Minaj cost taxpayers $869,000. It was launched under the guise of being part of a larger campaign “to encourage our citizens to buy local goods and services and to foster a greater sense of pride patriotism in all Trinbagonians.” Sounds eerily like the function of the $2M flag! According to the official press release, “this initiative is being spearheaded by the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs…We want to encourage our young people to celebrate their own…Nicki Minaj [has] the kind of attitude we want to foster within our young people: a sense of confidence in their Trinbagonian identity, a drive and determination to succeed that supersedes all obstacles and an understanding that their success is a direct result of not only their hard work and discipline.” This long germinating idea became real once Roberts became a Minister.
People may not remember, this event was initially carded for the Queen’s Park Oval car park and then moved to the larger Hasely Crawford Stadium. Venue logistics were never clearly defined for the move; size, location, management control could have all played in the decision. Ticket prices ranged from $900 to $300 with kids paying $100. That venue could hold 30,000 as we saw with Soca Monarch. A 3,000 strong audience viewed the concert allegedly with a large percentage being complimentary tickets. Co-producer of the event D Project Records’ website is currently down pending renewal or deletion.
Later, Anil Roberts was reported in the Trinidad Guardian as follows:
He said T&T had benefited tremendously since the staging of the concert to launch ‘Localise It’ [sic] as there had been several presentations on US television networks. “So at $869,000, already we have generated benefits far outweighing, by 1,000 per cent, what we have spent,” Roberts added. Responding to questions that after Government expended money for the project it benefited a private individual, Roberts said: “The Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs does not consider, when it is funding or sponsoring or granting funds to individuals, companies, radio advertising or the like, whether or not the individual (or) company will make a profit. We hope that they will.” He said the proposal “had some merit and the ministry saw some benefit in getting aligned with that product, so if the individual makes a profit, well that’s good. We wouldn’t like them/our citizens to suffer and make losses.”
So return on investment is not a criteria. In essence, value for money, taxpayers’ money that is, is irrelevant!
Individually, these events were pappyshows, and hubristic attempts at showmanship. As marquee events, they paled once the numbers were in and any pride would be lost as expenses outranked tangible revenue and intangible benefits. One would have thought that with 21st century perspective and 20/20 hindsight, the haemorrhage of public funds to support unpopular events would have stopped. Two events in the 1990s brought in 10% of the estimated crowd as did the 2010 event. It must be noted that these events took place under a UNC or UNC-led coalition government. The Patrick Manning led PNM government in the intervening years invested our money in landmark buildings that are untenanted, underutilised or incomplete! They also invested in Divine Echoes.
As a collective of events over the years, however, together with other privately-funded concerts like Beyonce in Concert, the short-lived Plymouth Jazz Festival and Soca Monarch, there should be a slow recognition that Trinidad and Tobago is a location for global entertainment and native skills must be enhanced. Lisa Allen-Agostini, writing in the Trinidad Guardian in 2005, interviewed Gilbert Rowe, founder of the Barbados Jazz Festival, and others about the music festival business in the Caribbean. His harsh words included, “Little children should not play with sharp-edged tools,” obviously never forecasting the demise of his Barbados Jazz Festival last year.
Concert and event promotion is a risky business left for deep pockets, committed individuals, and skilled personnel. A vision must be clear and not clouded by political spin. What is also apparent is that the government should never get into the business of concert promotion. Regardless, if the semantics say that private companies or public/private sector partnerships were formed to produce the shows, the personnel therein were not entrepreneurs. Mervyn Assam, MP in 2000 said: “The promotion of culture is not a profit and loss matter. It is an investment into the future of your country and for the future generations in order to create sustainability.” That is a narrow perspective. Investment of the people’s money must yield a positive return in both tangibles and intangibles. Pride, in the name of love, is not worth it.
© 2012, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.