2014 Riverfest sees rise in attendees, button sales

07/19/2014 5:20 PM

07/19/2014 10:10 PM

This year’s Riverfest saw more sponsorship, more attendees and more button sales.

The nine-day event drew about 380,000 attendees and sold 111,000 button passes, an increase in both areas from last year’s festival, which drew 360,000 attendees and sold 104,000 buttons. Mary Beth Jarvis, president and CEO of Wichita Festivals Inc., said the festival is poised to be profitable for the year. Final revenue numbers won’t be available until the end of the year.

“This was a festival that brought in significant revenue,” she said. “It was also a festival that required robust expenses for investments in equipment and other purchases that had been postponed during tougher years. We’re still working on that turnaround, and we’re aiming for more positive results next year.”

This year’s celebration introduced a number of new additions, including the St. Francis Ferris Wheel, which benefited St. Francis Community Services’ foster-care program; a daylong Salute to Aviation to celebrate Wichita’s role as the nation’s aviation capital; and a laser light show to conclude the festival.

Hot-air-balloon rides, a previous favorite at the festival, were brought back this year, and a second main stage was added for music performances, for which bringing more national headliners such as Tamela Mann was a priority, Jarvis said.

Jarvis said the greatest accomplishment of the festival was its wide appeal.

“Many nights of the festival you could look out on the crowd and see a blend of local and visiting attendees that was truly diverse,” she said. “There really was something for everyone, and on many nights, you had a great mix of generations and parts of town represented.

“That felt really good; whether it was DJ Grandmaster Flash or the Wichita Symphony, the crowds were wonderfully diverse and blended. Folks were just out there enjoying the festival with their neighbors.”

Riverfest’s success is attributable to increased sponsorship and volunteerism, Jarvis said. Sponsorship revenue increased 15 percent from 2013, with more than 200 business sponsors and 138 individual donors. More than 5,400 volunteers worked the event selling buttons, cleaning tables and installing fencing, among other tasks.

However, Celebrations for a Cause, a program that provides buttons to social-service organizations to give to the people they serve, saw a decline in participation after donations for the program dropped. The program distributed fewer than 1,200 buttons this year. In 2013, it distributed 4,263 buttons.

When Jarvis took over as CEO in November 2012, the company was operating with a deficit of $85,000. Jarvis introduced a number of changes and renewed emphasis on attendees purchasing and wearing the $5 button passes, increasing revenue by $170,000 in 2013, giving Riverfest a slight surplus for the first time in five years.

Wichita’s Riverfest 2015 is scheduled for May 29-June 6.

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