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Disappointing sales plunge UApresents deeper in debt

Evan Caravelli/Arizona Daily Wildcat
A student walks past Centennial Hall, UApresents' largest venue, yesterday. UApresents has found itself steeped in budget deficits after disappointing ticket sales in recent months.
By Lisa Rich
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, November 15, 2004
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For the last two years, UApresents has struggled with a growing deficit that has caused the organization to cut back expenses in order to stay in business. Two weeks ago, unexpectedly low ticket sales for the Broadway road show "Hairspray" pushed the organization further into debt, said Saundra Taylor, UA vice president of Campus Life who oversees UApresents.

The growing deficit has become the organization's primary concern, resulting in employee cutbacks and fewer programs for next year's season, Taylor said.

The partially independent organization presents Broadway shows, dance and music from around the world at Centennial Hall. This fiscal year, UApresents has a budget of $7.1 million, Taylor said. Although the organization receives around $600,000 from state funding, Taylor said 72 percent of the budget relies completely on ticket sales.

In 2002, Taylor said UApresents started developing a deficit after the economic slump created by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Taylor said the deficit has since increased to $500,000 and could exceed $600,000 by June.

UApresents expected a greater turnout for "Hairspray," since the show is an award-winning Broadway musical. Yet the late October performance ended up being a disappointment, Taylor said, drawing a crowd less than half of what was expected.

However, organizational factors such as timing could be the reason for low ticket sales, Taylor said. When scheduling the production, she said UApresents was required to run the production for two weeks, Oct. 26 through Nov. 6. Taylor said the second week of the performance, which was during the presidential election, devastated ticket sales.

"We underestimated the timeframe," Taylor said. "The election is an emotionally draining process and can deter people who are thinking about going out."

Taylor said UApresents lost approximately $225,000 on "Hairspray," which opened many organization leaders' eyes as to how severe the deficit is and what solutions can be used to reverse the problem.

Chuck Spurling, director of marketing, said UApresents changed its advertising techniques, and targeted students this year more than ever. Although he was uncertain whether aiming to increase student attendance directly affected ticket sales, Spurling said ticket prices might also need to be reevaluated to attract a larger audience.

Spurling said ticket prices vary by show, with the top price for "Hairspray" tickets at about $72. However, students can attend any non-Broadway show for a discounted rate of $10, Spurling said.

Regardless of discount rates, Spurling said ticket sales did not meet expectations, becoming a catalyst for change within the department.

"It was very alarming. We realized we have to figure out how to cut expenses, and fast," Taylor said.

The organization laid off two UApresents employees Tuesday, which will save approximately $54,000 a year. Taylor said the publicist in marketing and the director of community outreach were dismissed first because they were the last hired.

"It's very sad," Taylor said. "We hired them because we were excited about what they could bring to UA."

In addition to employee cutbacks, Taylor said the 2005-2006 season will be reduced by 25 percent. Next year, UApresents will offer fewer shows, reducing the schedule from 43 shows to 32 shows.

"We're planning on a more financially manageable season," Spurling said.

Although the deficit will not be paid immediately, Spurling said changing the number of offered programs could help UApresents start making payments back to the university.

Taylor said she did not expect any payments to be made this year, but UApresents plans to pay back $100,000 a year starting next fall. Taylor said the arrangement was approved by the Arizona Board of Regents in order to diminish the deficit within the next six or seven years. In the meantime, Taylor said the university will cover the short-term expenses.

Spurling said a press conference will be held Wednesday at 10 a.m. in front of Centennial Hall, where Taylor and interim executive director Natalie Bohnet will provide an in-depth analysis of the UApresents financial situation.

Additional facts and figures on the organization will be released, as well as a definite plan on how the organization will recover its losses.

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