Attendance, revenue up for Summerfest
Big Gig overcomes weather challenges, road construction projects

By Kevin Passon - Special to The Freeman

July 18, 2014

Summerfest drew 851,879 people to the 2014 edition, an increase of 1.4 percent over last year.
 Submitted photo

MILWAUKEE - Neither fog, nor rain, nor cool temperatures could keep the people away from Summerfest 2014, as Milwaukee World Festival Inc. officials announced a growth in attendance and revenue for this year’s event.

Attendance at the Big Gig, which ran from June 25 through June 29 and July 1 through July 6, topped out at 851,879, an increase of 1.4 percent from last year’s 840,356. Food and beverage sales at the event increased by 6 percent over last year’s totals in the same categories, officials noted.

Fog, intermittent rain and cool temperatures combined with significant highway road construction projects in the immediate area could have swung attendance and revenue in the other direction. Improved weather in the latter half of the festival helped curb those concerns. Also, the talent lineup and marketing push helped garner unprecedented levels of national and international media coverage prior to and during the event.

“We are thrilled that everyone enjoyed Summerfest 2014,” said Don Smiley, president and CEO of Milwaukee World Festival. “The music, food and beverage offerings, and promotions, were high quality, diverse and very popular with festival fans.”

More than 800 musical acts took to the stage with more than 1,000 performances. Major performers included Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan, Outkast, OneRepublic, Dave Matthews Band, Zac Brown Band, Motley Crue, Fall Out Boy, Paramore, Usher, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Ludacris, Bonnie Raitt, REO Speedwagon, Ziggy Marley and others.

Data on news coverage is still being compiled, but officials said media results are extremely positive. To date, 687 media outlets covered or mentioned Summerfest between January and July of this year. International coverage was shared by 63 major media outlets, including The New York Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, Entertainment Tonight, Billboard, Rolling Stone, People Magazine, TIME, CBS News, Forbes, Playboy and Chicago-Sun Times.

“I would like to thank our board of directors and amazing staff whose dedication and hard work really paid off,” said Ted Kellner, chairman of the board of Milwaukee World Festival. “Summerfest is a world-class mega event, and I am thankful to everyone who attended and participated in this year’s Big Gig.”

In addition to increases in attendance and revenue, officials also said corporate sales rose by more than 6.4 percent from 2013 totals. Among the highlights were new sponsorship partnerships with Southwest Airlines, 2015 PGA Championship, Bridgestone, Pizza Hut, Subway and McDonald’s.

To help patrons avoid delays and confusion at the admission gates, Summerfest officials revved up their push to have tickets purchased online in advance of the event. The Print-at-Home ticket system saw a nearly 20 percent increase in usage from the 2013 totals. Parking passes also were sold online.

And, as in years past, patrons could enter the gates for free during special admission promotional offers. In total, 80,497 patrons entered the event for free this year. Also, Summerfest gave away 25,000 weekday tickets during opening day.

Of course, Summerfest is about more than music. In 2014, the “Summerfest Wheel in the Sky” Ferris wheel became a fan favorite, providing aerial views of the festival, Lake Michigan and downtown Milwaukee. There were also several interactive experiences by Bridgestone, Texas on Tour, PlayStation and other brands. Other favorite attractions returned, including the paddleboats, the Summerfest parade and the Verlo Mattress Skyglider.

Back for its second year, the #SFLive Lounge offered up-close fan experiences and showcased artist interviews and acoustic performances. Overall, 126 bands gave interviews or performed a live acoustic song in the #SFLive Lounge. Many of these moments were captured on video and in still photos and posted on Summerfest social media outlets. Summerfest photographers captured more than 15,000 digital images during the 11-day festival.

Finally, Summerfest employed nearly 2,000 seasonal employees and partnered with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s youth employment program, “Earn and Learn.” More than 600 temporary employees between the ages of 16 and 22 were hired by Summerfest this year.

Summerfest 2015 will take place June 24 through June 28 and June 30 through July 5, and will be closed June 29.

By the numbers

851,879: attendance at 2014 Summerfest, an increase of 1.4 percent from the 2013 total of 840,356

80,497: patrons admitted free during special admission promotions

94: Summerfest corporate sponsors and media partners

140,000: hours worked by employees during the 11-day run. There were also, 875 volunteer shifts, equating to 5,400 hours from 400 volunteers and drivers.

95,423: one-way trips provided by the Verlo Mattress Skyglider

66,011: burgers eaten during event

20,799: brats consumed

17,842: eggplants strips consumed

96,344: mozzarella sticks served

38,202: ears of corn served

181,758: mini doughnuts eaten

33,718: ice cream cones served

- Source: Summerfest officials