Fringe 'faked' box office figures

Guess at free tickets 'sold' boost total

The Edinburgh Fringe has inflated its box office figures by including an arbitrary number for audiences attending free shows.

Earlier in the week, festival organisers issued a statement boasting that a record 1,955,913 tickets were ‘sold’ at the Fringe. However, it has now emerged that even though the number gave the impression of being accurate to seven places – it was obtained by partial guesswork.

A total 125,982 tickets were added to the figure based on a rough approximation of the number of people attending free Laughing Horse shows, even though promoter Alex Petty admitted it was impossible to know for sure how many people came through his doors. And rival promoter Peter Buckley Hill said he was not even asked how many people attended the 200-plus shows on his Free Fringe.

Petty said he had ‘no idea’ how the Fringe arrived at its figure. He said: ‘The figure I supplied was a very rough estimate of 50 people per performance. There was no suggestion this would be used for ticket sales figures, as all our shows are free and unticketed.’

Petty estimates he had 3,500 performances registered with the Fringe – which at 50 people per show would work out at 175,000.

Buckley Hill says he was not even asked to provide such a figure and said he found the Fringe’s conduct ‘disgraceful and dishonourable’.

In an email to the Fringe earlier on Wednesday – to which he has not yet had a response – he said: ‘We certainly provided no figures. We were not asked. And had we been asked, we would have declined to provide any such figures.

‘Attendances at our shows are simply not monitored, except in the sense that, at times of peak demand, audiences are counted in to ensure that safety capacities are not exceeded.

‘If we have absolutely no idea how many people attended our shows, how can any other body have any such idea?

‘We do not sell tickets. Our ticket sales are zero. They do not pass through the Fringe box office. Nobody has the right to invent a figure for attendances at our shows and then to pass it to the press.

‘We are in the business of entertaining the people in front of us, however many or few there are. We are not in the business of counting them. Anybody who wants to know the total number of people attending our shows can go on wanting. We simply do not know, nor do we wish to know.’

According to new figures released by the Fringe last night, the number of tickets actually sold was 1,829,931. And, the festival similarly exaggerated figures in 2009, claiming 1,859,235 when sales were really at 1,739,235.

A Fringe spokesman A Fringe spokesman said: ‘A large number of Fringe events are free and un-ticketed and these events are an integral part of the festival landscape.

‘Journalists use our figures to create a picture of average audience attendance for their reference, and if no account is taken of the shows that have no ticketing, but whose performances are included in the calculation then the picture that that creates is not accurate. We have a responsibility to the participants and audiences of those shows to acknowledge them as part of the Fringe makeup.’

However the original statement made no indication that audiences for free shows were being included in the figure – boldly asserting that 1.96million was the number of tickets ‘sold’.

A total of 558 shows at this year’s Fringe were free, compared to 465 last year – more than a fifth of the total 2,453 in the programme. This was also the first year a free show had received a nomination in the Edinburgh Comedy Awards, with Imran Yusuf shortlisted for best newcomer.

Published: 3 Sep 2010

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