Mayor Eric Garcetti beamed victoriously following the Made in America festival over the weekend. He "aggressively pursued" the event, his office said, despite objections from some neighbors and the general sense that the party on city streets was ramrodded past the public-comment process.
Garcetti, seen head-bobbing next to event curator Jay Z and Beyonce as DJ Steve Aoki spun his tunes Sunday, said it was all worth it. "We showed L.A. can do big things for our economy and people's enjoyment," he said.
It was a grand success. Or was it? Experts say the two-day party probably didn't make money. But maybe that wasn't the point.
The official stats: Nobody died, the L.A. County Department of Coroner said, and the all-ages crowd was relatively well-behaved.
Saturday saw 29 arrests, including six for drug-related felonies, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. On Sunday police issued 67 citations, including three felony arrests for possession of narcotics and a parole violation, Officer J. Kim told us.
The kind of gatecrashing sometimes associated with all-ages events at makeshift venues didn't materialize.
L.A. the people have spoken! No major incidents just GREAT music.70k 2 days. Philly 3x Made in America. In the heart of both cities! 90k.— Mr. Carter (@S_C_) September 1, 2014
Garcetti has been spinning the event as a job creator and revenue generator for downtown. His office said that "500 people are employed setting up for the festival and 2,500 people will be employed each day of the event." Then he pulled a number for the festival's economic benefit to the community —$12 million—out of thin air.
The city might have subsidized the festival, however, so the question for taxpayers is whether it was worth it. Live Nation is paying City Hall $500,000 for police and for use of city streets, but given the promised deployment of 270 officers, that amount might barely cover the cost of cops alone, not to mention street closures, fire inspectors and traffic officers.
Police estimate there were 34,374 concert-goers on Saturday and 37,182 on Sunday, according to the LAPD's Kim. That's a pretty far cry from the 50,000-capacity crowd that promoters hoped to see each day.
Concert industry experts said the crowds that came to see Kanye West, Iggy Azalea, John Mayer, Steve Aoki and more probably comprised a loss, or possibly helped promoters break even.
"Virtually every festival loses money its first year," said Gary Bongiovanni, president of concert industry trade publication Pollstar. "Festivals are extremely risky. The overhead is just enormous. If they do a good enough job, maybe they can come come back for year two."
A concert industry veteran who has helped to produce some of the West Coast's biggest festivals told us that 36,000 to 40,000 people a day for MIA was probably "break-even," but that a wildcard could be its sponsorship income. "The sponsorship from Budweiser must have been huge—$1 million plus," said the promoter, who didn't want his name used.
MIA was held during a month with many festivals, including Burning Man in Nevada, Hard in L.A., Electric Zoo in New York, and FYF in L.A. "Festival fatigue" could have been a factor in Made in America's so-so turnout, experts say.
Some observers gave Made in America high marks for production, but low ones for talent. It wasn't that the two-day downtown festival in and around Grand Park didn't have the big names. What it lacked was a sense of theme and cohesion, they said.
Today's festivals are more about experience than the lineup. Look at the electronic dance music scene—eight of the top 25 music festivals in the Unites States are EDM-focused—where the "vibe" far outweighs the top of the marquee.
In that sense, Made in America doesn't know what it wants to be yet.
"Live Nation is more of a high-end concert production team," said the concert industry veteran. "They've not really been a creative force in festivals. The talent was really all over the place—Weezer, John Mayer, Kanye. There was no point of view or thread. There's really no connective tissue."
He echoed Bongiovanni's point, however: The weekend's festivities might just be the beginning of an annual franchise downtown:
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"They're going for the land grab," the expert said. "A lot of planning of festivals is about looking to break even the first or second year and then year three is when they plan on making money."
We reached out to a Live Nation spokeswoman but had yet to hear back.
So was it a success? If you're eager for several years of Labor Day weekend concerts on the streets of downtown, then the answer just might be yes.