The facts behind the acts: how the SA Programming Board books shows

Between sending bids, handling money and satisfying students, here's how it's done

Every year, students bemoan the Spring Fling lineup, no matter which acts the Student Association books. We all know that little ol’ Binghamton University can’t afford to book Beyoncé, but how much money can the Student Association spend, exactly? And how does the whole process of booking concerts work? Well, let’s break down the numbers.

Every full-time undergraduate student pays the Student Association an Activity Fee of $190 each year along with tuition and other fees. From that sum, 11 percent goes to the SA Programming Board (SAPB), which organizes festivals and books concerts throughout the year. This year, the SAPB was allocated a budget of $250,211.50. According to Mariana Moriello, the vice president for programming, the budget is small compared to other schools’. University at Albany, which has around the same number of undergraduates as BU, has around $388,000 to spend on their spring concert alone (they’re getting J. Cole).

“Basically, they have a lot more money than we do to play around with,” said Moriello, a senior double-majoring in anthropology and psychology. “That’s something that maybe we can change in the future, but for now at least we do really well with our money.”

And then there’s the deficit. Because of overspending from previous years, the Programming Board is operating with a $30,000 debt. Moriello tries to spend less than her total budget to chip away at that figure.

The Spring Fling budget isn’t set yet, and Moriello did not disclose how much each act costs, but the festival normally costs around $30,000, not including the cost of the concert. Frost Fest, the second-most expensive festival, costs around $10,000. Then there are more fees — cleanup after the festival costs $14,000, security costs around $7,000 and an agent fee for booking the artists usually costs 10 percent of the cost of the act.

“We have a very good working relationship with him, so we normally don’t end up paying the full 10 percent. Usually it’s around 7 percent. He gives us a good break,” Moriello said.

SAPB sent out around 30 bids asking artists to perform at Spring Fling this year, starting the process in late November. They booked Matt and Kim in December and the other three acts in February. Artists usually take up to two weeks to reject or accept a bid to play a concert, making the process slow. The two-week wait period sometimes leads to missed opportunities — the board tried and failed to get Chance The Rapper and Hoodie Allen for Spring Fling, for example, because they were already booked.

Moriello said that using an agent to book bids on the board’s behalf is worthwhile despite the cost.

“People have this misconception that an agent wants you to pay more, but that’s not necessarily true because he block books,” Moriello said. “So what he’ll do is he’ll book J. Cole for us, and then he’ll book J. Cole for two more schools by us so that we can all get a discount because we’re all together.”

Numerous other festivals, planned months before Spring Fling, are happening on the same day, so booking was competitive, according to Moriello.

“There are so many festivals on the same day as Spring Fling,” Moriello said. “There’s huge music festivals on May 3rd throughout the country and even in Mexico. That impacted who we could get.”

Budgeting for the Spring Fling concert also depends on the success of the year’s previous concerts. Moriello decided not to have a second fall concert in order to save money for Spring Fling. Last semester’s J. Cole concert recouped the cost of the performance, but it didn’t make any money on top of that.

“We’ve never — I mean ever — made a profit,” Moriello said. “To make a profit, we would have to charge the students way too much money.”

SAPB distributes money from their overall budget to each programming chair based on which events happen every year and how much they cost in previous years. The chairs include concerts, festivals, hospitality, advertising, variety, insights and Binghamton Underground Music Presents (BUMP).

“We allocated the standard. We know we always have Spring Fling, and we know we always have Frost Fest, and we know we always do the concert or the comedy show for Parents Weekend,” Moriello said.

After funds were given to each chair at the beginning of the year, the remaining money was pooled and set aside. Chairs can request funds from that pool based on their plans. For instance, BUMP normally gets $5,000 to $8,000 for their annual budget, but because BUMP tried something new this year and put a show on during University Fest, they received additional funds from the pool.

In previous years, SAPB gave each chair a particular percentage of the overall budget with no central pool of additional funds. The Programming Board also has other small sources of funding. Last semester, Campus Activities contributed toward the $30,000 cost of the Demetri Martin show.

With only about $250,000 on the table every year, Miley and Kanye may be out of reach, but SAPB regularly brings entertaining acts to the students and makes our lives a little more fun.