Hangout Fest tickets selling below face value

Hangout Fest tickets selling below face value
G.S. will hold public hearings before extending contract beyond 2025

By Fran Thompson
Four mornings before MADDS was scheduled to kick off this year’s Hangout Fest on the Monster Beach Club stage, jenmil-1992 had received only a single bid for $220 (plus $4.02 shipping) on her ebay offer of one general admission ticket for the May 17-19 event at Gulf Shores Public Beach.
Jenmil was also offering two GA tickets for $600 or best offer on ebay. A general admission ticket on Stubhub was available for $293, including fees.
And this was before the forecast called for rain for most of the Hangout Fest weekend.
That same ticket on the festival website was $420.93 with fees, and, unlike secondary market tickets, which tend to get cheaper in the days before the event, that price is not going down.
Thankfully, the City of Gulf Shores, unlike in past years, is not letting fest organizers, who own a vast majority of the real estate surrounding the city’s public beach, sell single day tickets.
Unpopular with locals, the fest ties up Gulf Shores Public Beach for two weeks. The beach itself and East and West Beach Blvds. are also closed to the public for multiple days before and after the fest.
A Little History
The event was first promoted and pitched to Gulf Shores City Council as a family event back in 2010, the year of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill. A very cool children’s village filled the entire Hangout Restaurant courtyard. It included an area stocked with musical instruments for kids to explore.
During its opening press conference, Saul Zislin, fest founder and spokesman for the real estate holdings company that dominates the blocks surrounding the city’s sparkling $15 million Gulf Place, said families could spend a week in Gulf Shores and enjoy fishing, our zoo, boating, parasailing and other family activities in addition to attending the fest while here.
By the second year, children could barely find a spot in the children’s village among the adults while Michael Franti played an acoustic set especially for the kids. The children’s village was shuttered altogether after year two.
Zislin is no longer the event’s primary producer and has remained in the background as its spokesperson since a former employee at one of his other Pleasure Island restaurants, The Gulf, filed a civil suit that was splashed all over the media in August of 2022.
Fans of the bands he books and music fest aficionados will agree that The Hangout offers a first class experience, and many 20-somethings really do have their “best day ever’’ at the fest.
But does Gulf Shores really want to take Zislin and company up on his offer to become “forever friends’’ with the fest?
For sure, there will be well advertised public hearings before the city signs any future contracts to host the fest beyond 2025. Gulf Shores leaders have no intention of making any decision about the fest without citizen input, according to city spokesman Grant Brown.
Since the fest is no longer selling out here, maybe the Hangout poobahs will decide one of its other beachside locales is a better option.
Do fest organizers even want to sign a new contract that does not include incentives that would sweeten the deal?
The tax, license and franchise fee revenue the city collects from the fest helps support the incredible amenities Gulf Shores citizens enjoy. But that revenue is not irreplacable, and unlike Shrimp Fest in the fall, The Hangout Fest is not even remotely a community event.
In a nutshell, Gulf Shores sells exclusive use of its public beach and the roadway in front of it to a private business to the detriment of other area retailers and restaurants and against the wishes of a vast majority of its citizens in return for money that benefits those citizens.
Gulf Shores collects three percent sales tax on all sales inside the fest, including ticket sales, just like it does from Wal-Mart or any other retailer. Gulf Shores also collects special event license fees from merchandise vendors and business license fees from companies that provide tents, lights, potable water, etc. It is a long list.
What has changed significantly is the franchise fee the fest pays on ticket sales. Before 2017, it was nonexistent – a mere $1 per year. That fee increased to one percent of gross ticket sales in 2017 and two percent the following year.
In 2019, the franchise fee increased to three percent of ticket sales. That will continue through next year. This means Gulf Shores collects $60 on every $1,000 VIP ticket sold.
The Hangout Fest and the city are not required to reveal how much the fest ends up paying the city, but let’s put the number at $2 million, including the six percent bed tax the partying kids pay for every dollar they spend on accommodations. The 2024 Gulf Shores budget is $73.6 million, with building projects at Gulf Shores City Schools and transportation improvements making up the largest segment.
The Embassy Suites that will open in the middle of the Hangout footprint next summer and vacationers coming here in 2026 because it is not Hangout weekend will help alleviate that lost income pain.
The Hangout also reimburses the city for expenses occurred directly or indirectly in connection with staging the fest. But it’s not like city employees do not have ample other opportunities to pick up extra shifts. The fest is a major strain on city staff in just about every department.
Gulf Shores has given this upscale late spring break a place at its family vacation table. And it is fair to question why Gulf Shores would want to promote itself as anything other than a safe, family vacation destination, especially when neither the city nor the Visitor’s Bureau have control over the brand being pushed by Hangout Fest owners.
The best possible promotion for Pleasure Island’s brand is for all of us to continue with our natural inclination to simply be nice to others, including tourists.
Some fest attendees, once exposed to our beaches, will return later in life with their families. But so will the people who come here for the NCAA Volleyball Championships, destination weddings, high school track championships and the numerous youth soccer, softball and baseball tourneys the sports arm of our tourism bureau works to bring here. These people are already coming here with their families.
Back in his frontman days, Zislin said rock stars talk about the beaches here as they travel the world performing. He said people come to the fest for the first time and then come back ready to buy a $2 million condo. That same theory applies to the music stars who play the Wharf and doctors from Birmingham when they discover what we already know.
The circumstances were horrible, but the BP Oil Spill put Pleasure Island’s beautiful beaches in the national conversation. That terrible explosion on the DeepwaterHorizon, an accident that cost 11 men their lives, occurred on April 20, 2010, three weeks before the first Hangout Fest.
That tragedy led to the multi-million dollar advertising campaign paid for by BP that raised Gulf Shores’ profile as a beach vacation destination and the RESTORE Act that allocated over $202 million from the BP settlement for ecosystem restoration, economic recovery and tourism promotion for Alabama.
There is a direct correlation between that first Hangout Fest and the free (if you rented a condo) RESTORE Act funded concerts featuring Jimmy Buffett and Brad Paisley at Gulf Shores Public Beach later that dreadful summer.
By 1919, our own John Mullen was reporting about rampant rumors that the fest would be leaving Gulf Shores.
“Our phones were ringing from citizens about noise and traffic which was overwhelming at times,” Mayor Robert Craft said. “Our challenge is to try to explain all the things that we’re doing and the money that we collect. It balances out. This is what you give up, this is what you get.”
Gulf Shores has the option of cancelling the contract if it believes the fest has grown too rowdy or is too much of a burden on the city during its four-day run.
Fest capacity remains at 40,000, and it does not bring in a bad element, just young people willing to buy many expensive alcoholic drinks. Arrests dropped from 133 in 2022 to 117 last year.
Share the Beach and the ACF keep the beach clean and encourage fans to recycle, which they do. There are no issues with possible nesting sea turtles.
The fest has changed in 10 years. What can we expect it to look like in 2030? We’ve already branded ourselves as a family vacation destination. Why muddy that message?
Gulf Shores, in an effort to get ahead of rowdiness spurred by spring breakers no longer welcome in Panama City, instituted a spring break alcohol ban in 2017 that continues today.
Orange Beach decided to take a zero tolerance approach instead, arresting more than 1,000 people for mostly underage drinking or public intoxication during Spring Break 2017, ending the problem.
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said his city’s decision was a business decision.
“It generated a certain amount of dollars. But a majority of Orange Beach residents want nothing to do with it. And that’s what this (Hangout Fest) is – a late term Spring Break,’’ he said.
“Those are not the type dollars we want or need. Those specific dollars have far less value than dollars generated from multi-generational families visiting our city. This is just as much a business decision as it is anything else. We in Orange Beach refuse to compromise our family friendly brand which we have worked so hard to establish.’’
Mayor Kennon is right. At its core, Hangout is a very upscale spring break for 20-somethings, and attendees mostly come and go by chartered bus. It is a controlled enviroment, but there is also some hypocrisy in banning alcohol during spring break while welcoming 40,000 young Hangout patrons with open arms.
Organizers don’t want the fest associated with bad behavior. So called bad elements cross the Holmes Bridge every single day.
That does not mean that facebook posts and calls to City Council about illegal and lewd behavior, vandalism and public drug use are not valid. Residents absolutely have the right to expect decency and basic manners from our tourists, whether they are here to make memories with their family at a condo or here to overdrink and dance with 10 of their fraternity brothers and then pile into a two bedroom condo, much to the dismay of the condo cleaners who are the backbone of our tourist industry.
Is it not OK to not want the fest here just because it’s not a good fit or because we don’t want to see our public beach rented out to any business for an extended weekend?
I don’t know if elected officials besides Steve Jones are in favor of extending the contract.
But I do know that a majority of Gulf Shores residents do not want to take Zislin up on his offer to become “forever friends.’’
As Brown said, Gulf Shores will most definitely hold public meetings before extending the Hangout contract. Our leaders want our input and attending meetings is the best way to let them know our opinion.
I didn’t tell her she was on record. So, I won’t use her name, but a friend who has never been to the fest or knew much about any of the bands playing here said she thought the fest divided our city in unhealthy ways.
“Besides,’’ she said. “People can hear all the good music they want to at the Flora-Bama.’’
We can also hear good music at city sponsored free Waterway Village, Meyer Park and Public Beach concerts. Good musicians also play at LuLu’s, Big Beach, The Cove, The Sloop, Papa Rocco’s to name just a few spots.
Friday’s fest headliner is Lana Del Ray, Odesza headlines Saturday, and Zach Bryan closes the fest Sunday. Each evening concludes with fireworks.
Other acts booked include The Chainsmokers, Cage The Elephant, Dominic Fike, Renée Rapp, Subtronics, Jessie Murph, A Day To Remember, Dom Dolla, Doechii, Alison Wonderland, Nelly, Koe Wetzel, Megan Moroney, Sexyy Red, All Time Low and NLE Choppa.
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