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UA student group loses nearly $1M on concert

Citizen Staff Writer



It was billed as the event that would prove Arizona Stadium was a viable concert venue.

But the Last Smash Platinum Bash turned out to be a nearly $1 million bust for the Associated Students of the University of Arizona.

The concert, which mixed it up with rapper Jay-Z and pop star Kelly Clarkson, cost the UA student organization $1.4 million to stage, but brought in slightly more than $503,000.

Chris Nagata, incoming ASUA president, blamed the slow ticket sales on the economy and said this would not be the end of ASUA concerts at UA.

“No one predicted last May when we were planning that the economy would have such a major downturn,” Nagata said. “But we’re committed to concerts as recruiting and retention tools. Students want to come to a campus that provides them with opportunities like this.”

Nagata said the next ASUA concert will “minimize the financial risk” to the student group through sponsorships or community partnerships.

The concert loss will be partially covered by ASUA’s $350,000 emergency reserve. The remaining shortfall will be covered by a $567,000 loan from UA BookStore to be paid back over five years, said Frank Farias, executive director of bookstore operations.

ASUA and the bookstore have a revenue-sharing agreement that is renegotiated every five years. The most recent contract was signed this year and allocates $530,000 annually to ASUA from bookstore revenues.

To pay off the loan, that allocation will drop by $114,000 over the next five years, Farias said, meaning ASUA will receive $570,000 less from its primary source of funding than anticipated through 2014.

Farias said the contract with ASUA includes a stipulation that if the bookstore covers its operating costs, ASUA will receive 2 percent of the profits. If that happens, he said, ASUA’s share will be held by the bookstore “to accelerate the loan payments.”

The red ink has launched a Facebook group encouraging UA students to boycott a student fee that partially funds some ASUA programs and to demand that stipends paid to the ASUA president and two vice presidents be eliminated.

The ASUA president receives an annual $6,000 stipend, and the two vice presidents receive $4,500, Nagata said.

Vice President for Student Affairs Melissa Vito said concerts are always a risk.

“What’s kind of too bad about this is that student government had done a lot of concerts in the past that came in within budget,” Vito said.

“They had pages of data to support why these (performers) were selected and everyone who reviewed the proposal thought they would do well. . . . Their funding will be reduced by over $100,000 and that’s a hard consequence.”

Tommy Bruce, outgoing ASUA president, began planning the concert last May on the heels of a break-even McKale Center concert featuring Kanye West. About 9,000 tickets were sold to that event, bringing in about $550,000.

He said ASUA anticipated selling 17,000 tickets for last week’s event, based on the performers’ draw in cities similar in size to Tucson. Instead, only 6,100 tickets were sold, priced from $25 to $200. About 3,000 were given away in exchange for marketing and promotions services, Bruce said. About 200 of the $200 tickets were available and all were sold, he said.

Payments for Bash performers varied. Jay-Z got $750,000, Clarkson was paid $175,000, Third Eye Blind earned $85,000 and the Veronicas got $20,000.

ASUA spent about $100,000 on staging, lights, video, audio, parking, merchandise and safety and security personnel.

The concert was the first in Arizona Stadium since Fleetwood Mac performed in 1977.

Bruce, who has successfully fought tuition increases at UA and negotiated a predictability clause in the most recent tuition agreement, knows many students are focused on the concert losing money.

“It’s the furthest thing from an ideal situation, but it’s not the only thing I’ve done in my two years as president,” he said. “But it’s one of the most public things and you just roll with it, I guess.”

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