2018 Presidents' Ball costs total over $130K
February’s Presidents’ Ball ran a deficit for the third consecutive year for a combined total of around $30,000, according to an analysis of documentation provided to the Grand Valley Lanthorn by the Grand Valley State University Office of Student Life (OSL).
This year’s Presidents' Ball general budget, which is not yet final, shows a loss of about $9,000. This is after the event generated $87,701 in ticket revenue and received $40,000 in allocation from the Student Life Fund. Expenses totaled $136,485.82.
The expenses' total is slightly smaller than what was spent for the event in 2017. In 2017, Presidents' Ball expenses came out to $138,790.74. However, the Student Life Fund allocated $45,000 to Presidents' Ball in 2017.
The deficit can be attributed to cost increases for traditional Presidents' Ball expenses, as well as a decrease in allocation money. For example, SMG Grand Rapids, the management firm tasked with managing DeVos Place, received a payment of $23,683 to cover both the deposit and reservation fee from the OSL. This is more than $2,000 more than the 2017 expense of $21,477.25. Captus Creative, the company tasked with designing the lighting and entertainment for the event, also received more than $1,000 more in 2018 than in the previous year.
Another line item that could be reduced: the online ticketing service that cost $7,807 for the 2018 ball. LeaAnn Tibbe, associate director of student life, explained that the online transaction fees are absorbed into the Presidents' Ball budget, as event organizers didn’t want to charge students the fees (these prices ranged from $2 to $3 extra per ticket).
Tibbe believes the shift to online ticketing is worth it. She said it’s much more convenient for students, especially those located downtown, to not have to go to the 2020 Information Desk located in the Kirkhof Center. The change to online ticketing happened because it’s easier for 2020 to administer, according to Tibbe. Selling physical tickets meant that a lot of money was collected at the 2020 Desk, and the staff was not trained to handle that, she said.
This year’s Presidents' Ball saw a decrease in charges for online ticketing. In 2017, the OSL spent $11,694.30 for online ticketing services, around $4,000 less. In 2016, the last year before sales went exclusively online, tickets cost $1,818.88.
One area that did see an increase in cost, however, was the 2018 Presidents' Ball promotional video. The video’s production cost $7,100 in 2018, whereas in 2017, the video team received a payment of just $5,570 for the production. The video is done every year through the Promotions Office video team.
Tibbe explained why she believes using an in-house production team is beneficial.
“I’ve never gone outside (OSL) because it’s just like we use our promotions team," she said. "It’s paying a student who is getting paid a wage plus getting a great experience. … I’ve never priced it elsewhere because, I mean, I just know the cost of video."
Tibbe was not optimistic about the prospect of contracting with a company outside of the university to make the video more cheaply. Sill, she is open to the idea of other student or professional organizations outside of the OSL filming the promo video in the future.
“It might be something that we want to look at next year, is to have a couple different people say, ‘Here’s how much we charge, and here’s how much the quote would be,’” she said.
Len O'Kelly, current adviser of GVTV, said via email that "the organization would likely be willing to help in the future." He added that there is a number of GVTV members who work/have worked for the video team, so there would be a familiarity with the process.
Despite Tibbe’s student-driven intentions, not all GVSU students see the value in spending around $7,000 on a promotional video. Nate Dreyer, a GVSU student who did not attend this year’s Presidents' Ball, said the video is not essential to the event’s promotion.
“I honestly have never seen the video. I had no clue it existed,” Dreyer said. “It wouldn’t have done anything to make me want to go to Presidents' Ball.”
An OSL survey appeared to confirm Dreyer’s assessment.
The survey was sent to all students who purchased dance tickets. Just 11, or five percent, out of the 202 respondents listed the video as influencing them to buy their ticket. By contrast, 153 students, or more than 75 percent, responded as being influenced by friends who were going to the ball. An additional 49 students, or about 25 percent, answered that word of mouth played a role in their decision. (This survey question in particular allowed respondents to answer multiple choices. Other choices included social media, an email sent out by GVSU President Thomas Haas, posters and a newsletter.)
Cutting the promotional video and online ticketing expenses could change the event from running a deficit to making a small profit. Making other changes, too, could lead to the ball requiring less money from the student-funded Student Life Fund that could then go to other causes.
There is no policy for venue price comparison, either, according to Tibbe. Without competitive pricing, the payment to SMG could continue to increase going forward, as the increased charge by SMG inflated expenses this year. Nonetheless, Tibbe doesn’t believe there is another venue suitable to host Presidents' Ball.
“I really have to go there (DeVos Place) because I don’t have another venue big enough in Grand Rapids for 4,500 people,” Tibbe said. “And the location is great because the buses; … that’s a huge plus for us. And again, we did this for students. … Then you’re downtown, you know, and when you’re done, you can go down to any of the venues downtown.”
The 2019 Presidents' Ball could be headed toward deficit once again, as this will be Haas’ last ball—a momentous celebration in the eyes of both organizers and attendees. Haas’ presence at the event is felt throughout the evening, and even more so at 10 p.m. when he makes his way on stage for a special performance.
“When Haas comes out at 10 o’clock, oh my gosh, (students) go crazy,” Tibbe said. “So, yeah, we’ll sell out this year because it’s his last year.”
The event is capped at 4,500 people or tickets sold—500 for the dinner/dance and 4,000 for the dance only. Haas’ final Presidents' Ball is expected to be a grand display for both himself and the university. The Student Life Fund has voted to return Presidents' Ball’s allocation to $45,000 for 2019. Whether or not the event continues to run a deficit remains to be seen.
"I think it's excessive to have that large of a budget for an event that only around 20 percent of the student body attends, not to mention that it goes over budget frequently," said GVSU student Becky Oppman, who has attended Presidents' Ball in past years. "There are a lot of organizations and clubs around GVSU that could really benefit from receiving a healthier budget, so I think some numbers need to be reconsidered in future years."