Chennai music festival not finding its tempo as ticket costs go up while sponsorships dwindle

Swathi Moorthy Chennai | Updated on January 08, 2018

Most sabhas are seeing less than 70 per cent occupancy this season

With dwindling sponsorship, mushrooming sabhas and tepid patronage, this season’s Chennai Margazhi music festival is not as spirited as a few years ago.

The past couple of years have been dull — if it was the floods in 2015, it was demonetisation in 2016. If the sabhas were looking for a comeback in 2017, they were left disappointed. “Unfortunately, it’s status quo,” Karthikeyan K, Treasurer of the 60-year-old Mylapore Fine Arts Club, told BusinessLine.

Most sabhas are seeing less than 70 per cent occupancy. While the increase in cost due to GST (tickets now come with an 18 per cent tax, against the earlier 15 per cent), is a part of the problem, not many sabhas were able to bring in prominent ‘crowd-pulling’ singers, due to dwindling sponsorship.

At Mylapore Fine Arts, sponsorship has fallen by more than half. “For example, if we had 15 sponsors last year, this year we had just five,” Karthikeyan said.

Why sponsorship?

Why is sponsorship important? The season draws thousands from across India, apart from NRIs and foreigners. Hundreds of artists give around 1,500 performances across a dozen sabhas in the city. For such a mammoth event, sabhas need sponsorship to cover artiste remuneration (which accounts for over 50 per cent of total expenses), infrastructure charges (including valet parking and sound systems), traffic control and logistics.

This is also the time when sabhas rake in surplus revenue and it is the sponsors that make the whole process viable and profitable. Of the overall revenue, 75 per cent comes from sponsors and 25 per cent from ticket sales.

A secretary from another prominent sabha said: “Earlier, sponsors were able to donate unaccounted money. But with GST, each penny is accounted for and that could have resulted in reduction in sponsorship in 2017.”

Agreeing that sponsorship definitely took a beating last year, N Murali, President, Music Academy, pointed out various reasons for it.

The number of sabhas has mushroomed in the past 10 years. The 20-day music festival that starts from mid-December is now stretched from early December to Pongal (mid-January), which in turn stretches resources. Murali said the sponsors are particular about venues and prefer ones that have better ambience, sophisticated acoustics and modern seating arrangements.

Which explains why Music Academy, the oldest sabha in Chennai, has no trouble getting sponsors, he added. The academy has about 25 major sponsors and 100 daily sponsors with an average occupancy of almost 100 per cent.

Published on January 02, 2018

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