SPRINGFIELD — A year after the Illinois State Fair Grandstand concerts set a ticket sales record and ended up almost a quarter-million dollars ahead, last month's series of shows lost money.
And in a stroke of bad luck for the 2018 fair, the one concert that would have netted the largest profit and lessened the overall Grandstand losses was canceled because of weather.
Fair officials recently released more detailed information about this year's Grandstand costs and revenues. Here are the highlights:
In the red
Looking only at the eight Grandstand concerts that played to completion last month, the shows took in about $1.39 million in ticket sales while paying out $1.6 million to the performers, for a loss of nearly $210,000.
Country star Thomas Rhett's weather-canceled show on Aug. 16 would have lessened the hit. His show sold $434,526 in tickets — by far the best seat revenue of any 2018 show — and paid out $300,000 to Rhett and opener Danielle Bradbery.
That roughly $135,000 gain would have put the overall Grandstand losses at about $75,000.
Instead, all of the Rhett ticket revenue goes back to concertgoers as refunds. An insurance policy the state fair takes out to cover Grandstand cancellations allows the state to recoup 80 percent of the artists' expenses, state fair officials said. For the Rhett show, that's a $240,000 recovery.
The losses come a year after the 2017 Grandstand concert series ended up nearly $246,000 in the black, powered mainly by two shows — a cappella group Pentatonix and metal band Five Finger Death Punch — that each posted profits of around $200,000.
The 2017 concert series also sold a record number of tickets — 59,023. This year's total ticket sales, counting the canceled Rhett show, were 51,675, a 12 percent decrease.
"2017 was an extraordinary year for the Illinois State Fair Grandstand," said Morgan Booth, a state fair spokeswoman. "When planning and discussing the Grandstand lineup with our booking agent, we do our best to create a diverse lineup and cater to a variety of music preferences. Each year will obviously vary, and there will be ups and downs, but we are still very pleased with the turnout for 2018."
Of the remaining eight shows, three of them made more money in ticket sales than was paid out to the artists.
The leader was the country show Aug. 14 featuring Luke Combs and opener Ashley McBryde. It was the most well-attended show of the fair, with 11,868 tickets sold, earning $239,583. The musicians' base rate was $107,500. The show was more than $132,000 in the black.
Classic rockers Foreigner and Joan Jett had the second-highest ticket sales (7,327) and profit ($61,025). The other moneymaker was the show by country star and Illinois native Brett Eldredge. His concert was nearly $41,000 in the black.
Came up short
The other five shows didn't sell enough seats to cover the artists' fees.
The alternative rock concert featuring 311, The Offspring and Gym Class Heroes came up about $111,000 short of breaking even. The metal/hard rock show including Halestorm and Mastodon was nearly $109,000 short.
Brantley Gilbert's concert on the final night of the fair was the only country music show not to come out ahead. It was nearly $94,000 away from breaking even.
The 1980s rock show headlined by Boy George and Culture Club had the lowest attendance of any 2018 Grandstand show, with 2,637 tickets sold. The ticket revenue was $68,000 short of covering the musicians' fees.
The rap and hip-hop concert featuring Flo Rida and Ludacris was about $62,000 short of breaking even.
Booth said it's difficult to predict what music genres will sell the best at the Grandstand each year. Those changing tastes were seen the last two fairs. In 2017, two non-country acts were by far the most profitable. This year, four of the five non-country shows lost money.
"Each year the Illinois State Fair staff evaluates the fair — what worked, what didn’t, what could be changed, new ideas, etc. — and this includes the Grandstand," Booth said.
"Our booking agent does a tremendous job in making recommendations based on industry trends."
Booth noted the fair this year expanded its "Stage Side Party" promotion that allows concertgoers, for an extra cost, to get access to a pre-show party that includes a food bar, entertainment, giveaways, early concert entry and sometimes a surprise appearance by that night's artists. The parties were available this year for all of the Grandstand concerts.
Most expensive acts
Three performers' fees were $200,000 or higher this year, and they all play country music. They included Rhett ($280,000), Gilbert ($250,000) and Eldredge ($200,000). The other country headliner this year, Combs, had a base rate of $100,000.