Did Mudtopia ‘Rent-a-Crowd’ with Government Grants and Ratepayer Money?

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The inaugural Mudtopia in Rotorua, a three-day festival of mud-based events and musical acts, was deemed a success by organisers. They said the general vibe was one of “amazement”.

Festival-goers were able to enjoy the Mud Arena, full of inflatable games, slides and obstacles covered in mud, as well as the Mud Run, and Mud Games Zone. They were also able to relax with mud-therapy treatments at the Mud Day Spa or with a drink in the bar area.

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However preliminary financial details released by Rotorua Lakes Council revealed Mudtopia made just $117,000 and cost $1.48 million to stage, leaving Rotorua ratepayers’ with costs of $437,000.

Organisers of the three day festival have revealed that 12,000 complimentary tickets were given away to the community via schools, tertiary providers, sports groups, recreation facilities, businesses and community groups, as well as sponsors, partners, funders and for promotions and prizes. Rice said in total the festival had 14,000 visits across the weekend, including individuals coming and going multiple times. Taxpayers’ Union executive director  Jordan Williams said “The event was basically a ‘rent-a-crowd’, paid for by government grants and ratepayer money.”

Organisers had earlier said attendance numbers were lower than hoped for, and the council report cited event timing, proximity to Christmas and an oversupply of concerts in the marketplace as challenges.

It was also revealed that external funding totalled $907,000 – a shortfall against budget of $80,000. Sponsorship was also below the $60,000 budget at $35,000.

The total cost of the festival was revealed to be $1.48 million, $200,000 less than the initial business case. Council also estimated Mudtopia contributed $285,000 to Rotorua’s accommodation sector with 1556 bed nights.

Council said a full debrief and report will be presented to councillors’ in the New Year to discuss future Mudtopia events.

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Mudtopia received negative publicity earlier in the year as an agreement to import  South Korean mud into Rotorua was cancelled after public criticism. “It’s like Dubai importing sand for a desert festival”, said a researcher for the Taxpayers’ Union. The agreement would’ve cost $90,000, with debate around whether taxpayers would be paying the bill.

Was Mudtopia ultimately an expensive rent-a-crowd? Or, is it just the nature of the events industry that a first-year event can often start on a rocky path and succeeding years are when things take off? Mudtopia is definitely an unique addition to the New Zealand festival scene, which included a mud run and other mud activities around the central music stage.

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