September 6, 2021 | By Joyce DiMascio | Image: Brock Gilmour third from the left at this year’s show
Brock Gilmour, Chief Executive at Royal Agricultural Society (RAS) of NSW, says the 2021 Sydney Royal Easter Show would not have been held had it not been for the support it received from both the NSW and Federal Governments.
Eight hundred thousand people paid to attend the event and it generated an economic return of $350 million and loads of other social benefits for Sydneysiders and regional communities.
The much-loved institution celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2022, so there was a lot at stake if it was unable to run again in 2021, after its cancellation in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Gilmour singles out Federal Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud and NSW Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet as massive supporters of the Royal Agricultural Society and its iconic Royal Easter Show.
For events as big as the Easter Show, there’s a lot of money spent to set up the show and there’s no revenue until people pass through the turnstiles.
Bump-in is a massive operation with thousands of people involved getting the site ready, from pavilions to carnival areas to the arenas and indoor venues. It’s a big build.
Gilmour says the cancellation timing in 2020, just three weeks out from the event, was terrible.
“All the money that we had saved for a ‘rainy show’ went on the ‘pandemic show’,” he says. “It was a horrible feeling.”
“We knew our only way out was to talk to both State and Federal Governments.”
In Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide this year’s shows did not run because of COVID-19 restrictions or risks. There was no underwriting provided by their state governments Gilmour says, and these shows have not run for two consecutive years.
Both Governments came to the party with support recognising the enormous economic contribution of the Sydney event.
Gilmour says Minister Littleproud understood the importance of agricultural shows to the national economy and he backed 560 agricultural shows all around the country.
“And the RAS received $15.2 million – and with that we were back up and running.”
But the game changer was the underwriting that came from the State Government.
“In 2021, we couldn’t find ourselves in a position where we’d have to cancel the show with the preparation costs incurred again. We couldn’t wear a repeat of 2020. Thankfully, the State Government gave us the underwriting to give us the confidence to go ahead.
“We had incredible support. Then we had to work with the NSW Health to put together a CovidSafe Plan. Health set the numbers at 60,000 paid attendees a day. That meant we knew we could make the event work financially.”
And with that the show proceeded from 1 – 12 April this year. And while a positive Covid case in Byron Bay in the far north of the state the day before the show opened created enormous fear that that the event may be cancelled, it went ahead and was a roaring success.
With the risks faced by so many organisers not able to secure Covid-19 cancellation insurance, the experience of the RAS in NSW demonstrates the importance of government backing.
Industry peak bodies and live event industry entrepreneurs are currently mounting the case for the need for Government support for insurance and underwriting. There is no other way.
Gilmour agrees that an underwriting scheme requires a national approach and the involvement of the Federal Government.
He believes State Government backing would only be achieved on a case-by-case basis.
With its 800,000 attendees, the 2021 Sydney Royal Easter Show was the biggest event in the world to run following the start of the pandemic in 2020. It restored confidence in the ability to run safe events and showed the public’s appetite for gathering.
As the State Government starts to chart the course for reopening the NSW economy, let’s hope that the events sector is included and that both State and Federal Governments come to the party to solve the insurance issue. There is already a Sydney Business Events Coalition pushing for events to be included amongst the industries to restart.
Gilmour said the Sydney Showground had developed a solid pipeline of events with its organiser clients.
“To see the second wave of Covid in June really knocks you around. The only way out is vaccination.”
“We are very lucky that we’ve been able to work with event organisers and find new dates for their rescheduled events. We’ve got events in the calendar for November, but I don’t think they’ll be able to operate.
He also said that once NSW achieved 70 and 80 percent vaccination rates it would make no sense if the state government imposed a one person per two square metre rule.
“That would be ridiculous.”
Just as the RAS has enjoyed a strong partnership with Governments, he said the organisation wanted to develop strong partnerships with the organisers and help to shoulder some of the risk.
He said it was incumbent upon all venues to revisit their approach to contracts and charges with the aim of encouraging organisers – especially new ones – to come forward with new shows and events.
“The industry needs to encourage new organisers to come forward, we need to work with them and share some of the risk. Things have got to change.”
Gilmour is grateful to his clients for sticking with the venue in rescheduling rather than relocating or cancelling their events.
He also realises that without the partnership with the NSW Government on insurance underwriting, the hallmark event of the Royal Agricultural Society simply would not have gone ahead.