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Why it was a disaster: Fyre Festival. What happened? What went wrong

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Why it was a disaster: Fyre Festival. What happened? What went wrong

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Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened. This is the title of the Fyre Netflix documentary about the ‘Instagram that came to life’ phenomenon. Where lied the magic of Fyre Festival? What happened, to earn it a title of the biggest event fraud of the last decade? I decided to prepare a case study analysis to find out. Dig in!

What’s all this hype about, what is Fyre Festival?

At the end of 2016, Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, the now-infamous event makers, announced their plan to the world. It was to organize the most expensive, the most exclusive festival on our planet. Fyre Festival, because that’s how they named the event, was to take place on weekends: 28-30 April and 5-7 May 2017. Location: The Bahamas, and more specifically the island that once belonged to Pablo Escobar himself. Ah, the thrill! Formerly the cocaine smugglers paradise was about to become the luxurious party center!

Avoid Fyre Fest Mistakes Request Demo

Major Lazer, Blink 182, Disclosure, Rae Sremmurd, Migos, Skepta, Dayi and many others were invited as the stars of the festival. It was part of the promotion of the festival, designed to attract crowds of participants to the island. In addition, numerous celebrities were involved in the promotion. In the spot promoting the Fyre Festival, you can spot Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski and Kendall Jenner.

Of course, all this glitz was reflected in the price of festival tickets. For such attractions and luxuries as, for example, special hotel rooms, yachts and the highest quality food, participants were to pay between $1.5 thousand to $12 thousand dollars. Unofficial rumors say that the most expensive ticket was sold for, $250,000 dollars.

And all this for nothing. Guests arriving on the island saw conditions that are difficult to call luxurious. Tents instead of villas, wet mattresses and cheese sandwiches in styrofoam boxes.

The festival came into being thanks to the huge promotional machine in Social Media. It also ended its life in this medium. Participants very soon began to share photos of the conditions they found on arrival. The first information about huge problems also appeared even before the festival began. A profile named “FyreFestivalFraud” was created on Twitter. His creator was convinced that Billy McFarland and Ja Rule just organized a huge scam and tricked thousands of people.

Fyre Festival: What happened? A timeline of a disaster

To better understand the failure of this luxurious-to-be festival, let’s take a look at its timeline.

October 2016: Billy McFarland and Ja Rule come up with the idea of a festival during their Halloween trip to the Bahamas. The idea behind the festival is to promote McFarland’s Fyre talent-booking app. The organizers make their first move to promote their first large-scale event. They spend millions on models, private jets, and yachts. The first sparks hit kindling.

Fyre festival what happened at the island

December 2016: The recruitment process of influencer begins. Kendall Jenner, Ashanti, Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski, Hailey Baldwin become Fyre Starters. Rumor has it, that Kendall Jenner got paid $250,000 for a single Instagram. The pitch mentions millions of “media impressions” and pending partnerships with Samsung and Casamigos Tequila.

The deck named the Fyre Squad of organizers, including:

Ja Rule – “widely recognized as among the most commercially successful hip-hop artists of all time”

Billy McFarland – “he guides the company’s overall direction and strategy”

Grant Margolin – chief marketing officer

Elliot Tebele – a man whose social media presence included recycling other people’s jokes on his Instagram account @FuckJerry.

Grant Margolin reportedly tried to purchase a private island after the first round of ticket purchases. However, the island was not suitable to make such ginormous festival. It had no electricity or water. The plan was abandoned.

January 2017: It is said, that Billy McFarland had a plan to make a reality-TV show around the festival. He even hired a TV production company but (surprise, surprise) didn’t pay their $100,000 bill.

January 12: Fyre Festival’s marketing machine enhances with a glamorous video, that I embedded earlier in this text.

“When you look at their teaser videos, all they show is models frolicking in the sun. It barely mentions the music,” said concert-business professional to the Rolling Stone. “Something of this sort requires at least a year of intensive planning. To go to an island without any infrastructure and build something from scratch, it’s hard for me to pencil out how the finances could work effectively.”

March 2017: The Fyre Squad goes low on funds. The organizers try to get a second round of investments.

On the same time, first rumors appear. The employees say that planning meetings of Fyre Fest look like anything but the planning meetings. The organizers act more like schoolboys, than event professionals.

The festival preparations on the island are nowhere near ready.

Former Fyre Festival talent producer summed it up for the Cut: “This was a development lot covered in gravel with a few tractors scattered around. There was not enough space to build all the tents and green rooms they would need. There was not a long, beautiful beach populated by swimming pigs. There were, however, a lot of sand flies that left me looking like I had smallpox.”

The same person told, that one of the festival marketing team members told Ja Rule “Let’s just do it and be legends, man,” when the latter came for a site visit. Their discussion was about how to make the Fyre Festival happen despite the limited budget and planning time.

Fyre Netflix

March 31: By this moment, organizers planned to hit the benchmark of 40,000 ticket sales. The actual figures forced them to lower this number to 20,000. The estimated volume of ticket sales was never achieved, hence the decision to switch from the luxury lodging mentioned in promo materials to the refugee-camp style tents that were available.

Beginning of the April: Starr Catering Group abandons the ship. After visiting the Festival site the catering team prepared an elaborate plan on how to put together all the necessities of meal offerings and staffing for the event. The organizers didn’t want to agree on the company’s six-figure cost. Instead, they decided to cope with the budget they had and find another catering company.

April 27: A headliner, Blink-182, resigns. The band announces the statement: “We’re not confident that we would have what we need to give you the quality of performances we always give our fans.”

April 28: Fyre hits the fan. “So Fyre Fest is a complete disaster […]Mass chaos. No organization. No one knows where to go. There are no villas, just a disaster tent city.” tweeted blogger William N. Finley IV.

Guests get stuck on the Bahamas. It is nearly impossible to leave the island. The infrastructure doesn’t exist. The tents, the catering, the overall atmosphere – people share all the vital information via social media. At first, it is perceived as a rich kids’ lament. After a moment people realize, that there’s a group of Festival attendees stuck on the island, in really lousy conditions who can’t escape their temporary prison.

What Billy McFarland has to say? He didn’t even apologize. When asked by Rolling Stone he said that he and his team “were overwhelmed and just didn’t have the foresight to solve all these problems.”

Fortunately, the help services finally managed to take everyone out of the island. People returned home safely, but the bad memory remained… followed by numerous lawsuits.

Fyre Festival: what went wrong?

At some point, we all start from scratch. We try on our own and we learn from mistakes. However, it’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes. Fyre Festival had quite a lot of them. There were some things that were ok as well. So I will look at each of the points that affect the success of event management. Let’s analyze the Case Study of Fyre Festival.

Fyre Festival: what went wrong – Event’s goal

At the very beginning, the goal of the event was defined as promoting Fyre, McFarland’s talent-booking app. And here the assumptions were fairly right. If you want to promote the application for hiring celebrities, show the process in an organic way. Engage talents and celebrities in a venture that appeals to the target group of the application. The epic festival for wealthy customers eager for new experiences seems to be a good choice. If the promised value were delivered, I wouldn’t say a bad word about this point. However, if you want to read more about this, I encourage you to read our handbook on how to properly set event marketing goals and objectives.

Verdict: Innocent!

Fyre Festival: what went wrong – Lack of the plan

Don’t even get me started on this one! From the very beginning, the Fyre festival lacked any strategy or planning.

“[Organizers’] approach was, ‘We thought up the idea, we put tickets on sale, then we decided on marketing and talent and tried to see if the venue would work,’” said to Rolling Stone a source who wished to remain anonymous. “The traditional way of promoting a festival is: Find a great site, make sure it works, then select some talent and put together marketing and put tickets on sale. They took the traditional method and did it the opposite way. It seems like you should know if there’s running water before you put on a festival on your site.”

As I have already described in the timeline, there were voices at various stages of the event organization process that the whole event is not planned as well as it should be. For example, a month before the event on the island there was no decent accommodation for guests, there was no idea for water supply, nor the contracted caterer.

In general, the whole organization of the event this big (an event that took place on the island!) should take about a year. Of course, if it was organized by an industry veteran, not two rookies. Rookie mistakes were made. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a warning sign for the people who bought tickets for the Fyre Fest.

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{{Parody/Meme}} Dying at this ACCURATE super expensive, super exclusive #LegoFyre Festival Set!! (When the day comes that my love of Pop Culture Craziness (one of those internet "rabbit holes" I go down) actually CROSSES OVER with my #Lego obsession- you *know* I've got to repost.) I'm dying. 😂🤣😅 I want to find @adam.the.creator and hug him for this. No idea if hes an #afol; but it's #GENIUS.. Dare I even say… Its "#lit". 😄🔥😂🔥🤣🔥😆 #FyreFestival #Scams #LegoJoke #AFOL #funnyLego #Lego #LegoParody #ImCrackingup #Netflix #NetflixFyre #FyreFraud #fyrefestival2017☀️🌊🌴 #FyreFraudDocumentary #fyrefestivalfraud #fyrefestivaldocumentary #FyreFest #Meme #FyreMeme #FyreMemes #FyreScam #Netflix #ViralMeme #FunnyViral #DailyMeme #Millenials #Influencers #InfluencersWanted

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On the other hand, the marketing plan worked fine to some point. Future festival guests gave a warm and enthusiastic welcome to video materials and influencers’ posts. If only those actions did not absorb the majority of the budget, and if the organizers provided the quality they promised, the Fyre festival would have a chance to become a second Coachella or Burning Man.

“That’s when the shit hits the fan. This was presented as high-end, and obviously, it wasn’t together,” said Billy Arfa. “It was promising people paradise, and they didn’t deliver on paradise. […] The Bonnaroos and the Coachellas and the Governors Balls — we know that those are all legitimate,” Arfa continues. “But then there’s a second layer, and then there’s the tertiary layer, and those are fringes. If you’re working on those festivals, you have to know some of them are on a shoestring. Not everyone’s Coachella.”

Budgeting event without the data is not budgeting but guessing!

Unfortunately, budgeting the event also requires careful planning based on the data. Money to promote the event is important, but you can’t spend it without providing basic conditions in the place where the event takes place.

Of course, not every organizer can afford to spend such huge sums on hand. That is why it is necessary to either scale expenditure (without lowering promised quality), or quickly get reliable and trustworthy partners and sponsors. Not once or twice, it happened that these co-organizers helped to finance the eccentric visions of the creators of the events.

Of course, there is also the issue of ticket prices (still not sure how to calculate them? Check our guide on calculating event ticket prices!). Tickets for Fyre, to put it mildly, were not the cheapest. However, counting on the fact that the guests will finance festival expenses on a regular basis is a gigantic mistake that can endanger the whole event. Hence, again, the need for partners and sponsors, not to mention The Planning!

Verdict: Guilty as hell!

Fyre Festival: What went wrong: You know your target group, but you don’t dive deep enough

The very first step of the event planning process is understanding the target audience. When it comes to identifying the needs of the target group, the Fyre Festival organizers have done both a good and bad job. On the one hand, they perfectly matched marketing language and means of communication to the needs of this group. They were looking for rich kids who appreciate the splendor and glitz of mortal life. The Festival was the translation of Instagram’s delusion into real life. It was advertised by the influencers in those channels where potential festival-goers can be found. The most susceptible people paid horrendous sums for festival tickets.

On the other hand, what accounted for the power of marketing activities has also become the end of the festival. The people who paid for the VIP experience were expecting exclusive conditions. They got something that did not suit their expectations nor even approached them. Deceived festival-goers immediately shared with the world with what they found on the spot via their favorite channels. The avalanche moved and it could not be stopped.

I do not defend the organizers. They disregarded the characteristics of their target group and got what they deserved in return. I’m just saying that the assumptions were right, but nobody cared to use them in further activities.

You should also notice, that along with the drying up sources of financing, the efficiency of the marketing machine decreased. Proof? At the end of March the organizers did not even sell half the number of tickets they planned to. Here is an important lesson: if you want to achieve great things, you can not press gas and brake at the same time. You will stop the engine and you will not get anywhere. Translating it into this particular example – remember that if you have a premium class event for a VIP target group, then all experience, from the beginning to the end, must guarantee such quality. Otherwise, your recipients will sense the BS and you will end up with nothing.

By the way, here’s another case study on how ignoring the target audience’s needs affects the event: Design Thinking Camp Case.

Verdict: A lifetime of shame. They’ll even make a Fyre Netflix documentary, so no one forgets!

Fyre Festival: What went wrong: No clear KPI system

“Let’s just do it and be legends, man” is not a good plan. Determining the event KPIs and systematically measuring their implementation can save many events.  If the team knows exactly what to do and when to do it, then the chance for successful event organization and achieving goals grows. In the case of Fyre Festival, the general purpose of the event there was known. So was the number of tickets that should be sold by the end of March.

However, if the organizers sat for a moment and wondered what to do and in what form, then it was possible that the Festival would not end that bad. Seeing that there is no chance of preparing the site on time, they would, for example, have the chance to reschedule the event and prepare technical facilities in a reliable way. They’d also be able to better control expenses and marketing activities.

“Any professional would know 30 to 60 days out that this thing wasn’t happening to the level they were advertising it,” says Bert Holman, the manager for the Allman Brothers Band to the Rolling Stone. “I look at the audience like, ‘What are you people thinking? How could you buy tickets for something that doesn’t have a track record? Oh, man, are you guys crazy?’ I think they all got what they deserved.”

Fyre Festival what went wrong- wrong kpis?

Verdict: Rookie mistakes, but still mistakes. Guilty!

Fyre Festival: What went wrong – Technical support

Where to begin. Fyre Festival is a Fest of bad technical preparations. From the location to transportation, all shouted: ‘Disaster’.

The ‘Venue’ – the paradise island of Pablo Escobar seemed to be the perfect place for organizing a festival for rich people who are looking for an escape from their daily routine. It had a hint of mystery, it looked Instagram-good and encouraged with its tropical climate. Unfortunately, as it turned out later, the weather on the island was not so kind. A few hours before the festival itself, a storm surged through the Bahamas and destroyed some of the tents.

What’s more, the island did not have enough capacity to accommodate 40,000 people, service teams and festival stars. There were insects on the beach that could have caused a major inconvenience, especially if someone paid $ 12,000 to be there.


“Any time you have a mass gathering in a remote place where you don’t have an infrastructure and you don’t have resources, it’s hard to supply,” he tells Rolling Stone. “Even doing a show in Hawaii is challenging. If you don’t plan it properly, you can pretty much plan on not having the things that you need: ‘Oh yeah, we needed golf carts, I forgot.’” said Dave Frey, manager for Cheap Trick who co-owns the annual Lockn’ Festival in Arrington to the Rolling Stone.

Funny thing – the venue. Nowadays you can easily run a data-driven venue search. So why risk your event success and personal reputation, if you can simply support your decisions with hard data?

The Catering – the promised high-end catering never happened during Fyre Festival. As I’ve said before, after the inspection of the site, the catering company’s representatives wrote out a catering budget for a six-digit number. The organizers said they would give up this service and find someone who would be able to operate on the lower numbers.

First of all, it was a cardinal mistake to leave such an important matter practically for the end of the road. Organization of a multi-day festival in a place where Uber Eats does not arrive, and the nearest Seven-Eleven can be reached on a private jet, catering is a must-have. The organizers should give this matter a very high priority. ‘But, but…’ – you will say – ‘there was food there’. Yes. The world’s most expensive sandwich in a styrofoam box! And I know that you can eat it as well as a Swiss cheese fondue with rye bread, but the context is important. In the case of Fyre, the context is ticket prices and marketing promises that have not been met.


The Transportation – The festival on an island requires an additional logistical jam. People can’t leave just like that. Therefore, there must be all means to cope with health issues on the spot, as well as vehicles ready to take participants from the island to the nearest airport. The organizers promised that. Have I mentioned, that the promises were hollow? The unprepared transport contributed to the fact that a whole lot of cheated guests had no way of getting out of the island where they did not have the right conditions. This is a BIG no-no. Huge!

Verdict: Guilty with zero chance for redemption

Fyre Festival: What happened? Wrap up

Overpromising and under delivering is the worst scenario that can happen. Ignoring all the important elements of successful event management, such as planning, budgeting, preparing the venue, and so on leads to a huge disaster. Aside from the obvious part, Fyre Festival was dragged down by the greed and the lack of respect to the participants.

As Bert Holman from Alman Brothers said: “I can’t figure out what this thing is. It’s not like they have other festivals. At the end of the day, when you deal with bad people, bad things happen.”

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