Ticket prices. People always complain about ticket prices in this town. They complain about the cost of tickets. Once there, they spend more time trying to figure out what they actually got for their money and fail to have a good time. I’ve been a part of planning a few balls now, so whilst I can’t speak for the fashion shows, I can try and help you understand the costs involved. I’ll add a caveat to this article before I get on my soapbox: hall balls are often funded through residents hall fees, where the committee gets £85 per student to fund social events for the year, so your £5 hall ball ticket is actually much more. Bare that in mind when you wonder how a hall ball can be cheap, but FS, May and Christmas Ball are much more.
Frankly, these events are a costly and time-consuming endeavour. Trust me when I say they can and lead organisers to leaves of absence, late coursework and close shaves with failing class! As organisers what we do is try and make the events as good as they can be and for the lowest cost, often whilst trying to support a good cause. Christmas Ball supports Mermaids Shows, hall balls generally make donations to charity – that is the general idea. However, what the paying attendee doesn’t see are the overheads. People bemoan paying £37 to be at Christmas Ball and “all they get” is cheap fizz, a couple of skewers at a chocolate fountain and a scoop of ice cream. In addition to all of this, there are the costs of the venue; Kinkell is expensive and so are marquees, security, toilets, first aid, DJs, bands, all of it. I’m going to break down why all of these costs can’t magically go away in order for every ball to be £5 and everyone be happy.
First of all, venues. This town is small and so are the venues. You can push Kinkell Byre to 2000 capacity if you add a marquee and that is about the biggest you can go. The Champions Room at the Old Course Hotel can be nudged to around the 400 mark, but then you’re spending your month’s rent on one drink. Marquee’s on Lower College Lawn are commonplace and can sit there for weeks at a time as events such as DRAFP Ball and FS share them. This year, ABH Ball and Glitter Ball will share a venue at the Spanish Garden next to the School of Economics (assuming it doesn’t get blown away again). When I was part of organising the North Haugh Ball that marquee for 800 people cost in the region of 10 grand; instantly you have £12.50 per ticket, just for the venue. Kinkell can cost up to £10,000 just for the building, no lights, sound, heating, additional marquee or anything. This is often the first oversight for people bemoaning or questioning the pricing of events. Quite simply, venues aren’t cheap!
Next, we have to look at lighting, sound, DJs and bands. Again, this isn’t cheap. The guy who does lighting and sound at Kinkell is an absolute trooper, he hardly ever gets to go home and in winter is setting stuff up in that freezing cold barn. I’ve been there days before Christmas Ball and his team are helping with everything including putting up the Christmas trees. Though the committee was up ladders wrapping the lights around those trees, trust me, it’s pretty high up! Production for events that Stevie (Kinkell man) has been part of range between 5 and 15k (for me anyway), so you can see how this is adding a few extra pennies onto the cost of your ticket. Add into the mix paying bands and DJs, typically this will be around the £1500 but can spiral when you start wanting celebrity DJs, radio hosts and performers who you’re more likely to find in a high end club in London or Ibiza. I can tell you that a certain Radio host/DJ cost upwards of £10,000 (plus VAT) for a single hour, then you also have to pay for their transport to St Andrews, their rider (any drinks or snacks they want) and their accommodation for the night. So next time you want someone famous at a ball, expect to pay for it. Some of the student DJs in this town are pretty good, so hit them up if you’re ever trying to organise an event; we also have some pretty decent bands going around town too.
Then we get to decorations, props etc. and my god can they be a hassle. Events with the bigger budgets such as hall balls have the ability to hire props in from companies that are generally based south of the border. Not only can they cost a load of cash, but you have to pay for them to get here. The company I’ve seen used a few times charge around £400 to deliver up here. Let us not forget that the committee have to help unload these props and then help reload the van at an ungodly hour the following morning, probably hungover. For events with a smaller and/or tighter budget, they make props. Christmas Ball makes pretty much everything, the last two years the same person was head of creative and her subcommittee put a lot of effort into making those props, leaving the workshop no earlier than 3 am the day of the ball. If that is not commitment I don’t know what is! Even making them costs money, so bare in mind that decorating venues and trying to make them unique is easier said than done, especially given we all probably know what Kinkell Byre and Marquees look like. Hopefully you’re beginning to see that even the basic costs of events is well beyond the fiver everyone wishes it cost.
Finally you have all the miscellaneous costs: security (you need a lot of it); first aid depending on who you use could be up to £1000; insurance; welcome drink ala Opening Ball and Christmas Ball’ extra toilets – they aren’t cheap either! Putting all of this together on top of production, venue costs, staff costs, decoration/props and you end up around the £20-25 mark, and that is just the bare break even point and includes none of the things like Jannettas, Chocolate fountains, etc we all wish we could get. Those are all added extras that aren’t any cheaper than you’ll find them in shops or markets, trust me when I say that I have been the person to tell a vendor our budget and them tell us what we can get and be painfully underwhelmed. If you start going into the realm of wanting free burgers, hot dogs, crepes, toasties and all sorts then you start adding £5+ to any ticket price as well. Beyond all of that, events tend to donate to charities or fund projects; Welly Ball and the Charlie Waller Trust, Glitterball supports LGBTQI+ projects I believe and Christmas Ball is Mermaids’ main fundraiser and supports shows throughout the year and shows at the Edinburgh Fringe (Blind Mirth are a funny bunch), so you have to factor in what you are supporting as well. FS always makes a substantial donation to their chosen charity circa £40,000; others don’t always do so well.
Hopefully now you will have a new found understanding of how events work, from the basic costs, to the extras. Please consider the efforts that committee members put in over a quite lengthy period of time. Now you’ll be able to really appreciate the costs and efforts involved in the balls you attend, and I imagine the fashion shows have their own unique set of additional challenges too and so the costs are higher. Most importantly, once you’ve decided to spend your money attending something, just try and enjoy it as best you can!
Finally, remember for next year, Polo, FS, Christmas Ball, Glitter Ball and Welly Ball are all committees you can apply to join. If you live in halls, speak to the committee about being a part of the ball there too!