Twice a year, Dover welcomes NASCAR and tens of thousands of race fans to town. This year, sandwiched between last weekend’s NASCAR visit and its next in September, Dover will see another major weekend event as Dover International Speedway tries its hand at hosting a music festival. This week, DFM News’ Larry Nagengast examines July’s Firefly Music Festival. Today, what a successful Firefly Festival could do to draw similar events to Delaware.
Officials at Dover International Speedway and Red Frog Events already see the Firefly music festival as a near-certain success, a win-win deal for the host and the promoter, and Delaware and Kent County tourism and economic development professionals agree with that assessment.
“Our primary focus is to establish an event that people in the area are proud of,” said Red Frog’s Greg Bostrom, director of the music festival. “From a business perspective, we need to keep our head above water so we can bring this event back year after year.”
Assuming everything goes according to plan — attendance is in the 35,000 to 40,000 range, the music is great, the weather is ideal, and the festival attendees behave like good citizens — it is reasonable to start thinking about what comes next.
For the Speedway, the arrangement with Red Frog is an ideal opportunity to create a new revenue stream for a property that essentially sits idle for 50 weeks of the year. “Because of the economy we had to look at generating incremental revenue from other sources,” said Mike Tatoian, chief operating officer.
“Firefly is a perfect example of how we can use our skill set, our core competencies outside the motorsport world,” he said.
Firefly Music Festival: Firefly may blaze a new path for Delaware/h3>
Kent County Tourism exec. dir. Cindy Small and Dover Int’l Speedway COO Mike Tatoian, discuss the possibility of hosting events in addition to Firefly.
Success, then, can lead the Speedway down two parallel paths.
The first, and most obvious, is to continue the partnership with Red Frog. “From what we’re hearing, Firefly could become as large as a motorsports weekend,” Tatoian said. “Some experts in the music industry say Firefly is one of top ten festivals for music lovers to get to.”
Bostrom hopes the partnership continues. “The Lollapaloozas, the Coachellas of the world, a lot of them have the same general attendance for the first couple of years,” he said. “Our projections are looking healthy. Hopefully, we’ll be back for years to come.”
The second path, one that is less clear, is based on the Speedway using a successful festival “to let the world know that we’re more than a motorsports facility,” Tatoian said. “If you need beautiful woodlands, or a facility that hosts 130,000 people, and a casino and hotel,” the Speedway is a viable option for hosting a mega-event.
“We don’t have anything specific in mind,” he said, “but we’re here, we’re open, we’re aggressive, we’re anxious to learn more about anything you might want to bring into the region.”
Tatoian did say that other music ventures would have to be “unique,” a festival somewhat like Firefly, rather than a tour stop by a superstar like Bruce Springsteen or Madonna who would likely be performing in several big cities in the region.
Jim Waddington, Kent County economic development director, suggested that a success with Firefly might get other festival operators interested in the Dover venue. “There are a number of folk music festivals in the Delaware Valley that have been moderately successful, [and Dover] is a venue that is significantly larger,” he said.
The opportunities may go beyond music. “Once you start thinking about using this facility for more diverse activities, it’s easier to think of what the possibilities might be,” Waddington said. That includes possible use of the Dover Downs Hotel and Casino, adjacent to the Speedway, for larger conventions, meetings and entertainment events than they have hosted up to now, he said.
Other partnerships with Red Frog are also possible, said Linda Parkowski, state tourism director. She said that state officials had, independently of the Speedway’s negotiations, spoken with Red Frog about collaborations in hosting sporting events.
“They have a really good reputation in the sporting industry. We are still working on finding the right fit and the right sporting event,” she said.
Bostrom confirmed that those conversations have taken place but said he was unable to comment on further details. He did say that he hoped Firefly 2012 “is the start of a long-lasting relationship between Red Frog Events and the state of Delaware, and we’ll continue to look toward Delaware when expanding current and future event series.”
Also under consideration are athletic tournaments that could be hosted without a Red Frog partnership, she said. Possibilities include hockey, BMX racing, track and field and rowing, she said. “We’re working with a lot of sporting organizations to bring events to Delaware.”
The first year of an event like Firefly, she said, “is all about the exposure,” both for festival visitors who may return on future vacations and for event organizers who might recognize the state’s potential.
Delaware is fortunate, she said, to have several good-sized venues — the Speedway, the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington, the University of Delaware Stadium in Newark and Frawley Stadium in Wilmington.
“All it takes,” she said, “is imagination, vision and finding the right partner.”