Olympics brings no Fringe benefits to Edinburgh

Paul and I went to Edinburgh last year for the Festival and had a fantastic time, packing in 9 shows in 44 hours. We loved it and have very happy memories. But we didn’t go this year.
It’s not that we didn’t want to, it’s just with other stuff and the Olympics etc we couldn’t make it work.

Ah, there – you see, I said it. The Olympics, the catch all excuse for 2012.

“where’s my parcel?”
“It’s the Olympics”
“what time does that train leave?”
“it’s the Olympics”
“why can’t I take this bottle of water into the cinema?”
“it’s the Olympics”

The Olympics was a ready made excuse for people not do things that they normally would. And as reported by the BBC yesterday, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t make it up to Edinburgh this year because of the Olympics.

Yes, ticket sales were down by 1% on last year. 1%? As my friend and colleague, Ian Taylor, commented on Twitter yesterday (@IanTix) – I think they got off lightly.

If the West End had only been down by 1% we would all be cartwheeling down Shaftesbury Avenue. For many shows in London the figures were more like 20-30% down on last year. For theatre in the capital, the Olympics were a disaster. Ok , I should acknowledge that it wasn’t for all shows and that the official Society of London Theatres figures for this period aren’t out yet. But at the front line, speaking on a daily basis to producers who saw revenues tumbling – this was not a good time.

But, we were told, theatre will reap the benefit in future years when there will be an influx of visitors to London because of the Olympics. That is of cold comfort for today’s producers whose loss of income this year may mean that they or their shows won’t be around to cash in on future riches.

And this is the important point. The Olympics coincided with some of the most important weeks in the West End year. A profitable time which usually helps to provide investors with a return and generate incomes that can be invested into future productions. This didn’t happen this year.

I am not anti Olympics, I loved them and was always a big supporter of London hosting them.What I am concerned about is the casual attitude that our leaders had to this important industry. An industry that generates billions for the exchequer, creates thousands of jobs and of which the UK are World Leaders.

I am delighted that Edinburgh escaped relatively unscathed from the Olympics, because ultimately by protecting the grassroots, the starting ground for many writers, performers and producers,we have avoided doing real damage to this great industry of ours.

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