IBMA 2009 attendance figures

IBMA World Of Bluegrass 2009IBMA has released preliminary numbers from this year’s World Of Bluegrass and Fan Fest, held in Nashville September 28-October 3.

As most people in the industry had expected, the economic downturn seems to have taken a toll on attendance, though perhaps not as badly as pessimists may have presumed. These numbers do show some decreases, but the big picture won’t be complete until the dollar figures are in.

A quick side-by-side of some important numbers demonstrates how income to IBMA was affected.

IBMA Attendance comparisons 2009 2008 %

Business conference attendees (unique) 1557 1729 -10%
Business conference attendees (cumulative 4 days) 5017 5742 -12.5%
Business conference exhibitors 73 72 +.15%
Awards Show 2338 2225 +.5.2%
Fan Fest attendees (unique) 4223 4487 -6%
Fan Fest attendees (cumulative 3 days) 10,795 11,579 -6.8%
Fan Fest attendees exhibitors 69 76 -9.25%

Given severe unemployment and a recessionary global economy, these figures don’t seem particularly dire. IBMA is a membership organization, but annual dues are not their major source of funding each year. Most of that comes from the World Of Bluegrass events – attendance fees, sponsorships and exhibitor fees. Half of the net proceeds from Fan Fest are donated to The Bluegrass Trust Fund, which offers anonymous assistance to grassers in need.

The exhibit hall numbers are somewhat skewed this year since all 19 invited showcase artists were offered complimentary booth space during the Business Conference, and their numbers were included in the total exhibitors figure. I have had some difficulty resolving the number of exhibitors listed in the World Of Bluegrass program book and the numbers supplied by IBMA, though that confusion may come from not including sponsors among the list of exhibitors.

One number that doesn’t show up above is a measure of foot traffic in the exhibit halls, which struck us – and many of the exhibitors – as being down substantially this year. Since all registered Business Conference and Fan Fest attendees have access to the exhibit area, IBMA has no way to actually count the number of people who visit the hall over six days, so we are left with impressions as our sole gauge.

IBMA Executive Director Dan Hays shared a few comments about the situation in the exhibit hall…

“A few companies that used significant space in recent years chose not to participate in 2009 and the indication we’ve received from them is a downturn in spending is the primary factor. For others who choose to enhance their presence in the bluegrass world despite the current recession, several have indicated that having ongoing promotions are critical in jumpstarting new business when the economy rebounds.

With regard to traffic and sales for exhibitors there are probably several answers to the questions as broad as the objectives a varied set of exhibitors have for participating. We’ve heard from several that sales increased and others that sales were down, but I won’t pretend to be able analyze each situation in a short email.

We continue to explore options for giving the exhibitors a great value for their investment and working on means to enhance the relationships generated at the events. Part of that process includes listening carefully to both exhibitors and attendees which we’re in the process of doing right now through surveys and other communications.”

We have been conducting a survey of exhibitors as well, and will share those results soon, along with some suggestions for increasing exhibit hall traffic. Bluegrass Today is a strong supporter of IBMA and their annual convention, and would hope to be part of the solution in ensuring the ongoing success of both.

Perhaps the most telling contrast comes when we compare the numbers from 2005, when IBMA first hosted their week-long events in Nashville, and the recently-concluded convention.

IBMA Attendance comparisons 2009 2005 %

Business conference attendees (unique) 1557 1918 -19%
Business conference attendees (cumulative 4 days) 5017 6591 -24%
Business conference exhibitors 73 91 -20%
Awards Show 2338 2189 +.6.5%
Fan Fest attendees (unique) 4223 5630 -25%
Fan Fest attendees (cumulative 3 days) 10,795 14,010 -23%
Fan Fest attendees exhibitors 69 89 -22%

It seems clear that support for bluegrass’ big night, The International Bluegrass Music Awards show, continues to be a hot ticket but, outside of that, the trend lines for the World Of Bluegrass are all moving in the wrong direction.

You can be sure that this question is high on the list of priorities that occupy the IBMA Board of Directors, who have the personal fiduciary responsibility to steward the financial resources of the organization. Voting members of IBMA may be well-advised to stay in contact with the Board member who represents their specific constituency to stay on top of this discussion, and for ongoing progress reports.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.