Summer brings outdoor theater and music festivals to towns and cities across the United States. How do these events impact their host cities? We dove into the data to find out.
Shakespeare In The Park
Shakespeare in the Park has become a time-honored summer tradition, with cities nationwide (and worldwide) offering complimentary or heavily discounted theater productions. Beyond the cultural significance, these performances can help introduce residents to new neighborhoods and local businesses.
Central Park in downtown Louisville, KY, hosts a summer-long Shakespeare in the Park festival from late May to early August. Examining foot traffic during two twelve-day periods – from July 10th to 21st, during the peak of the festival period, and from August 10th to 21st, when the festival had ended – reveals the festival’s impact.
Between July 10th and 21st, Central Park’s trade area was almost seven times larger than it was between August 10th and 21st, once the festival had already ended. This indicates that people from all around Louisville – and not just those living near the park – made a special trip to attend the theater performances.
Using STI: Popstats data to analyze the park’s trade during the two periods shows that the Shakespeare in the Park festival didn’t just increase the park’s trade area – the event also shifted the demographics of the park’s visitors. During the festival, visitors to the park came from trade areas with higher median HHIs and larger household sizes when compared to visitors to the park after the event ended. It seems, then, that the festival attracted a more suburban audience from more affluent areas – and offered an opportunity for local businesses and restaurants to introduce themselves to new patrons.
Bonnaroo: Walmart Business Boost
Bonnaroo is an annual four-day camping and music festival that began in 2002. The festival takes place on a 700-acre farm in pastoral Manchester, TN, population 13,000. But for four days every June, music lovers descend on the town – particularly to its Walmart.
The Manchester Walmart, aside from serving as a convenient place to pick up last-minute camping gear, snacks, or sunscreen, has also become part of Bonnaroo lore, with festival-goers enthusiastically discussing its merits on Reddit and Inforoo (the unofficial Bonnaroo forum). Unsurprisingly, the superstore experiences a rush of visitors during festival days. And while other local businesses also enjoy the influx of festival-goers, few see the same visit boost as this Walmart.
Foot traffic data for the Manchester Walmart highlights this boost, with weekly visits during the week of the festival up 44.8% relative to a May 1st 2023 baseline. Meanwhile, the Food Lion next to the store saw only a minor visit spike for the period.
Visitor journey data further highlights Manchester Walmart’s status as a mecca for Bonnaroo attendees. During the festival (June 14th to 18th), the top destinations from this Walmart were all related to Bonnaroo. In contrast, during a similar four-day period in July, visitor patterns returned to normal, with Walmart shoppers heading to local shopping centers and grocery stores.
Shifts In Festival-Goer Behavior
Lollapalooza is a music lover's dream. The Chicago festival, which takes place in Grant Park, attracts upwards of 400,000 attendees a year with headliners such as Billie Eilish and Kendrick Lamar. Each year, some attendees continue into the evening at one of the numerous afterparties hosted in the city’s event spaces. But the pandemic seems to have shifted festival-goers' behavior, with 2023 a larger share of festival goers choosing to come from and return directly to their homes or hotels than in 2019. 2023 Lollapalooza attendees were also less likely to come from one of Chicago’s numerous parks, waterfronts, or landmarks,
This behavioral shift may stem from this year’s economic headwinds, with festival-goers placing financial considerations front and center. The cost associated with attending Lollapalooza could be encouraging visitors to head home instead of continuing the party, helping them avoid additional festival-related expenses.
Summer can be a time to gather – and these events show how cities can benefit. From introducing suburbanites to new neighborhoods to the Walmart phenomenon, outdoor events can shape not only individual experiences but also the broader landscape of their host cities.
For more data-driven insights, visit placer.ai/blog.