After it was announced during the Jan. 29 University of Maine General Student Senate meeting that Student Entertainment had a $13,000 deficit, Student Body Vice President Sam Helmke and Vice President of Student Entertainment Sarah Goode have confirmed that a spring concert is still possible, despite the previous implications that it would be unlikely.
“Sarah is working diligently to see if there is something for Student Entertainment because we know it’s key to the students,” Helmke said. “A big portion of college is, you want to go to a concert; you want to see a speaker with some gravitas. But it’s tough right now because we’re a little hamstrung in the money department. But if there is something we deem will be successful, we feel that we can and should [put on a show].”
Helmke continued, saying, “At this point, if a show is going to be put on […] it should be a no-brainer that someone’s going to want to come to this show.”
Helmke added that a potential show could feature anything from a musical performance to a guest speaker.
“It would be something that is a minimal cost to the students, as well, because ticket prices have been high this past year,” Goode said. “I feel like that is another cause of [why] students [are] not coming out to an event, because they don’t want to pay $25 or $30 for a ticket.”
One of the factors cited as a contributor to the deficit was low ticket sales for on-campus shows, along with “talent not being as attractive as it was thought to be by the division” and “overall cost,” according to Helmke. The task of having three larger shows in one semester was also a contributing factor, according to Goode.
“It’s not normally feasible in a semester,” Goode said. “Normally, three big shows would be over the course of the year, but [Former Vice President of Student Entertainment Jon Allen, who booked the shows during the summer] expected sales to be higher.”
“It was probably over ambitious to try to do it in one semester,” Helmke said. “I’m not looking to throw anyone under the bus, but it was probably too much for one semester, and that’s where [the deficit] happened.”
Goode pointed out that a drop in ticket sales for on-campus events affected more than just Student Entertainment.
“Across the board, at all venues, ticket sales have been down,” she said. “Even at the Collins Center for the Arts, ticket sales have been down from what they’ve been in the past.”
When asked what factors have been contributing to low ticket sales, Goode and Helmke cited student apathy.
“I feel that students are becoming increasingly apathetic because of lack of credible talent and frequency of appealing events on campus,” Helmke wrote in an email. “Students are going to turn out for quality not quantity and that for me was one of the critical issues leading to the lack of success last semester.”
However, “[Student Entertainment] may have overestimated that value of the talent that we brought in last semester,” according to Helmke.
“I think that there was a bit of a disconnect in that maybe we needed to take some more time evaluating and then, as an organization, take some more time in building in more […] communication,” Helmke said. “[Former VPSE Joe “Pat” Nabozny] did it that way, too. He went with it, but he consulted a little bit. There was more communication, and I feel we took a step back from that.”
Talking about the co-headlining Mike Birbiglia and Michael Ian Black comedy show on Oct. 24, 2012, Helmke said that lack of performer recognition was a contributing factor to low attendance for that show — only 230 tickets were sold.
“If you knew about them, you actually might have been in the minority in this case,” he said. “They’re pretty prominent, but [they don’t have] the name recognition that someone like [comedian Daniel] Tosh had when he sold out a few years ago.”
The Collins Center for the Arts was filled to capacity when Tosh performed on Oct. 28, 2010.
“You have to walk that fine line between getting up-and-coming talent and someone who’s prominent and has that name recognition,” he added.
Goode and Helmke also mentioned difficulties in advertising shows as a reason for low attendance.
“It’s tough to market around here because you have the FirstClass blurbs, but everybody writes it off as spam,” Helmke said.
“You can only spend so much on posters because printing costs are very expensive,” Goode said. “Michael Ian Black and Mike Birbiglia wasn’t marketed as well as other big concerts because it wasn’t as much of a cost to us.
“I feel like in the future, no matter how big or small, all shows should have the same marketing efforts,” Goode continued. “You want student turnout, and you’re doing a service for the students, and you want to do the best you can.”
To prevent low event attendance and budget deficits in the future, Student Entertainment intends to utilize a variety of new tools, including OrgSync, which is described on its website as “a campus engagement network that connects […] students to organizations, programs, and departments on campus in a private online community.”
During their Dec. 4, 2012 meeting, UMaine GSS allocated $8,300 to the Division of Student Organizations toward funding the purchase of OrgSync, which Helmke believes will get students more involved in what forms of entertainment are brought to campus.
“Built into [OrgSync] is a complete polling system,” he said. “If a student has an account on there, they can answer a poll from the division of Student Entertainment with possible options that Student Entertainment has for fall [and] spring shows.”
Helmke continued, saying, “We need more student input because, again, we went back to individualism and thinking that one person is going to be able to plan a show that is going to have campus popularity. It needs to be more of a collective effort. We need to bring more students in.”
In addition to increased student involvement, Student Entertainment has rewritten their bylaws and financial policies, according to Helmke.
“[T]here is much more oversight written into the new bylaws and financial policy […] to ensure that the lack of success from last semester is not repeated,” he wrote in an email.
Helmke also emphasized that Student Entertainment has a $13,000 deficit, not debt.
“We’ve paid off all our debts, so it’s now a deficit,” he said. “I also want to emphasize that the $13,000 is not going to affect unallocated [funds] for this year. It could affect it for next year, but most likely it will be budgeted out of the Student Entertainment budget. You’ll have $13,000 less. But, in the broad spectrum, the budget is big enough where $13,000 shouldn’t affect too high a degree of the plans.”
With new plans in place, Helmke is optimistic about the future of Student Entertainment and that its recent shortcomings will be a one-time occurrence.
“We’re kind of getting dragged around as false leaders, mismanaging a budget,” he said. “I really want to stress that this is and will be an isolated occurrence. This will not happen again. There is a genuine effort now, on behalf of senators, executives and office staff, to make sure communication is enhanced and there are no more budget shortfalls. Student Government, in the past, has been notorious for mismanaging budgets and that needs to end.
“I think the image that we’re a bunch of snobby political science students just building our resumes up here [is] a falsehood,” he added. “I’m here to help the students.”
While the status of a spring show is still up for debate, Helmke is positive that by the time next fall semester ends, UMaine will have hosted a show to remember.
“You’re going to see a big bounce back from Student Entertainment in the fall,” he said. “You’re going to see that show that’s going to attract students, that’s going to have high ticket sales and that’s going to be affordable.”