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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Inside USG: Why Back to the Brook really failed

Post Malone performing at Back to the Brook in September 2017. The Undergraduate Student Government said they canceled Back to the Brook Vol. I this year because of low ticket sales. SASCHA ROSIN/STATESMAN FILE

On Oct. 18, Stony Brook University’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) posted a letter on their Facebook page claiming that the Back to the Brook Vol. 1 Concert was canceled due to insufficient “promotion of the event.” From the outside, the concert’s cancellation looks bad; 50 Cent tweeting about it and BET covering it certainly does not help. From my perspective as a USG Senator, it only looks worse.

The original cancellation announcement perpetuated a misconception that the sole reason only 24 tickets were sold for the concert was due to insufficient marketing and advertising. I feel that was a deflection of blame away from the underlying issue.

The atmosphere on campus and students’ responses on social media told a completely different story. I conducted a survey about the concert to increase student feedback and collected over 520 responses through social media and face-to-face conversations with students. The results gave a clear picture of the concert’s shortcomings, and it certainly did not coincide with the official USG statement.

The first survey question was intended to address the notion that marketing was to blame, and the student response signified a majority of students were aware of the concert. Because the news of a concert is also spread further by word of mouth, the marketing was more than sufficient. Advertisement viewers are not necessarily potential customers, which I noted and sought to address. After cross-analysing the results from several questions about ticket pricing, scheduling and interest, I concluded 64 students who answered the survey were potential customers.

So why did that interest not translate into ticket sales? The answer lies in the third question.

An overwhelming majority of students, 92.6 percent of respondents, were not satisfied with Ashanti as a headline artist. I gather from this that most students were unwilling to pay $20 for a concert with a headliner they did not want to see.

This is not a statement on the quality of Ashanti’s music or the success of her career. What this data points to is simply that Ashanti’s music does not appear to resonate with most of our generation.

However, I have to give credit where it’s due. The Vice President of Student Life, Kojo Dansoh, pulled off an incredible feat by booking a new headline artist within 24 hours of Teyana Taylor’s cancellation. He worked to the best of his abilities within a short time to make a concert feasible. The decision to cancel the concert was also tough, but it was the right call in the face of a difficult choice: spend roughly $100,000 of students’ money to run a concert few students would attend, or cancel and save the money for future USG events.

The issue is not how he handled the situation — but how the Student Activities Board (SAB) put themselves in that situation.

Historically, USG has conducted public opinion polls to determine which artists the students would prefer to see perform. This year, input from the general student body was forgone. Even the USG Senate was not consulted for our opinions. We were just told to trust the process blindly when we asked for details.

The SAB insisted upon booking solely R&B artists in an attempt to place music diversity at the forefront of the concert as opposed to years of EDM and hip-hop performances at USG concerts.

I share the belief that music diversity should be considered, but I draw the line when the students’ opinions are completely subverted in place of what one person may feel is “important,” regardless of who the person is. Picking a headline artist should come down to student interest.

So, what solutions are available to address the issues which arose from this concert? How can we ensure we learn from our mistakes in time for Brookfest?

I think USG should return to determining the headline artist with a public opinion poll. Once the students are given the opportunity to voice their preference, the SAB can use that information along with any other concerns they have to choose the headline artist and opening acts. The only surefire way to include students’ input in the concert-planning process is to ask them directly.

My second suggestion is that the $100,000 saved from canceling Back to the Brook should be used for Brookfest in the Spring. Ideally, the money would contribute to booking a more popular artist than we can typically afford, and ensure that students’ ticket prices are either drastically reduced or completely free. As ticket revenue in the past was intended to cover only part of the cost of a concert, reducing ticket prices is financially feasible with an extra $100,000 in the bank. This would serve both to increase turnout and to repay you for this concert.

In the face of this event, the SAB and the rest of USG learned many lessons, but the rejection of objective reality within recent official USG statements is alarming to me. To truly improve in the future USG has to look at the situation objectively without trying to deflect any blame, and show some humility. Many senators and executive council members are being proactive in trying to improve themselves, and USG has picked up its pace as a whole. However, the real underlying issue of artist choice is still being overlooked to avoid having anyone take the blame.

As a USG Senator, it is my duty to speak up, and I will no longer stay silent when there is anything less than 100 percent transparency and the students are not heard. I encourage you to hold USG to the same standard and to express your opinion loudly. The USG budget is roughly $3.3 million — that is not their money, it is your money. Never forget that.

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