All Fyred Up And Nowhere To Go

Richard Howells

I recently watched the Netflix Original FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. Fyre has to be the biggest scam since London Bridge ended up in Arizona, and its founder, Billy McFarland was one of the greatest exponents of “Humbug” since P.T. Barnham in the 1800s.

The promise: the ultimate immersive music experience

If you are not aware of the event in 2017, it was billed as a “luxury music festival” on a private island in the Bahamas (Norman’s Cay) previously owned by Pablo Esteban. It became a social media tsunami, as it was promoted by about 400 top social media “influencers,” including models Kendall JennerBella Hadid, and Emily Ratajkowski. The #fyrefestival hashtag went viral as it “blew up” the Internet.

With the goal to “create a beautiful experience, with beautiful people and wonderful talent,” the festival was scheduled for two weekends in April and May 2017 in a turquoise water Bahamian paradise. Tickets were priced from $500 to $1,500, but this paled into insignificance compared to the VIP packages for $12,000 that included private airfare, luxury “geodesic domes” (fancy tents to us mere mortals), and gourmet food from celebrity chefs. And let’s not forget the talent, which included groups such as Blink-182, Pusha T, Tyga, Claptone (and many others that I have also never heard of).

The event launched December 12, 2016, with a highly stylized promotional ad created with 10 of the top supermodels in the world. Who wouldn’t want to be there? This was the event of the year aimed squarely at the Instagram generation. Within 48 hours, 95% of tickets were sold.

Delivering on the promise

Fast forward five months to the Fyre Festival’s inaugural weekend. Anything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. There were problems with weather, security, food, accommodations, medical services, and artist relations, resulting in the festival being postponed indefinitely.

  • Instead of the luxury “geodesic domes” and luxury villas, there were FEMA tents left over from Hurricane Matthew.
  • Instead of gourmet meals for which festival attendees paid thousands of dollars, they received prepackaged sandwiches (a photo of which became an Internet sensation).

So, what went wrong?

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Experts stated that “to pull off a music festival takes about 12 months. Fyre was planned in six to eight weeks.”

After the initial wave of promotions, with only 45 days to go, and after a series of bizarre events, the organizers had to shift plans to a different location. The festival was relocated to Roker Point on the much bigger island of Great Exuma.

The festival was booked without realizing that it was also the Annual Regatta, the biggest weekend of the year on Great Exuma, which meant everything from “luxury villa” to beachside shack had been booked out for months. As a result, more tickets had been sold than they could physically fit people on the island, and the organizers were overbooked on the available tents, houses, and any other type of accommodation.

Logistics nightmare

At the best of times, from a logistics perspective, a small island on the Bahamas was probably the worst place to host a festival. It had ZERO infrastructure. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING needed to be brought to the island, from portable toilets to basic supplies like water.

As a result, costs skyrocketed:

  • The budget for production costs alone was estimated at $38 million
  • Booked talent was about $4 million
  • The contract with a catering company was $6 million

When it rains it pours!

A few weeks before the event, unknown to the attendees and in an effort to cut costs, the organizers:

  • Canceled the contract of the Starr Catering Group, which was hired to provide the “gourmet food”
  • Switched from “luxury accommodation” to disaster relief tents
  • Turned the “private jet experience” into more of a “discount flight experience”

The day before the event, things went from bad to worse.

  • Headlining band Blink-182 dropped and announced (quite ironically) on social media that “we’re not confident that we would have what we need to give you the quality of performances we always give our fans.”
  • There were 18-wheeler trucks filled with Evian water stuck in customs awaiting the payment of a $175,000 bill for duty. This resulted in one of the most “interesting” stories about the event. (I will let you watch the documentary to find out why!)
  • But there was no shortage of water. The night before the event, there was a torrential downpour, which made the unfinished site a disgusting mud bath. The waterlogged tents were uninhabitable, mattresses soaked. The ultimate glam Insta experience turned into Lord of the Flies.

Great customer experience doesn’t end with the sale

The Fyre fiasco highlights a few important lessons:

  • Centering everything around your customer from start to finish is important. Fyre had a great initial customer experience. It was the place to be. You wanted to be part of it. Expectations were set, promises were made, but unfortunately, plans were not made to deliver on that promise.
  • Visibility into the environment and supply chain is critical. Why did nobody know that it was the 64th Annual Regatta, one of the biggest events of the year in the Bahamas? One look on social media (the irony is not lost) would have told them. And why did nobody know that this small island did not have the infrastructure, materials or resources to execute such a huge event?
  • Planning and scheduling are key. They knew how many tickets had been sold and how many people were coming. So, it is simple supply and demand balancing to work out how much accommodation, food, water, and other necessities would be required to meet the demand and committed service levels and to identify where there were shortfalls.

Where MacFarland and team excelled at “making the promise,” they underestimated the effort, planning, and logistics required to actually “deliver on the promise.” Poor budgeting, an unrealistic timeline, and inadequate communication resulted in a disastrous event. Instead of partying alongside the “rich and famous,” the unlucky ticket-holders found themselves lost (and in many cases stuck) in paradise. Instead of dining on international cuisine, they were left eating sandy sandwiches. Instead of raving to the hottest bands around, they were listening to each other’s rantings and ravings.

It was an experience they will never forget, for all the wrong reasons.

Follow me on twitter @howellsrichard

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About Richard Howells

Richard Howells is a Vice President at SAP responsible for the positioning, messaging, AR , PR and go-to market activities for the SAP Supply Chain solutions.