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The Fyre Festival Fiasco Shows How Insane The Festival Market Has Become

"You always have to be upping your game because the competition is so fierce."

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Ja Rule and the people behind Fyre Festival were the subject of an epic dragging today after the would-be luxury getaway devolved into a nightmare disaster zone.

Expectation v. Reality for the biggest scamming festival in the 21st Century #FyreFestival @WNFIV @FyreFraud

But it's not totally surprising that a new music festival would go off the rails like this, especially in the context of the modern festival industry.

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As festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo have helped turn what was once an alternative pastime into a business worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year, competition has intensified.

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Big festivals have gone to extremes to stand out from the pack, offering deluxe amenities like personal chefs, catered cabanas, and 24/7 golf cart access.

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At Desert Trip, the classic rock Coachella spinoff last year, festival-goers could pay $179 for a "wine and food experience" featuring “a program of wineries crafted by [a] World Renowned sommelier.”

"You always have to be upping your game because the competition is so fierce," said Janine Small, a lawyer who represents Bonnaroo and Outside Lands and has worked in music festivals for decades.

For a new festival trying to lure customers from more established names, the pressure is even higher.

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If the organizers don't have a long track record, they may also have to pay more in expenses up front. In the last five years, some artists have started demanding their fees in advance to work with newcomers, according to Small, leaving the organizers desperate to make up the money in ticket sales. "It's a real challenge for [promoters] to come up with that much money in advance, but that’s just the nature of how the beast has played out," Small said.

And even if they don’t crash as spectacularly as Fyre did, failure among new festivals is pretty common. Even just putting on a modest, multi-day outdoor experience is insanely hard.

The dinner that @fyrefestival promised us was catered by Steven Starr is literally bread, cheese, and salad with dr… https://t.co/GjBxQygxV9

Many festivals take over a year to prepare, and given all of the expenses involved — including talent booking, property rental, permitting, insurance, sanitation, security, and event staff — it usually takes a few years before a new one sees its first profit. "The idea is that maybe you break even in year three," Small said.

In 2002, the first Bonnaroo got notoriously out of hand, with up to 18-hour traffic jams on the road to the grounds in Manchester, Tennessee. And in 2014, the original producer of BottleRock festival in Napa Valley was forced to file for bankruptcy after failing to pay staff and sustaining $8 million in losses.

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"A lot of people out there think 'I wanna get into this business because it’s a good way to rack up some money,' and they don’t really realize all that’s involved," said Small.

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For the new generation of high-end festivals, Fyre Festival was a perfect "case study in what could go wrong."

Reggie Ugwu is a features writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Reggie Ugwu at reggie.ugwu@buzzfeed.com.

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