I’ve been watching the Netflix documentary Fyre this week like everyone else, and find it totally fascinating. I remember reading the news at the time the music festival crashed and burned back in April 2017, but I didn’t appreciate just what a disaster it really was. How could the pilot who learned how to fly a plane by playing video games be the smartest guy in the room?
As most have seen from watching, Fyre Festival was a train wreck of overpromising and underdelivering at an epic scale. When they lost access to Norman’s Cay, the private island experience that most people were buying into was already toast.
So I, like many, imagined how I would have done it. First, in the “oh crap how do we salvage this and still pull it off” kind of way the real planners were in. Then second, starting from scratch, how to approach it to better deliver on the original vision.
Fyre Festival Baseline
Attendees: I’m going to say 3,000 per weekend at the most. This is highly debatable, here’s why. The pitch deck shows 40,000 total attendees spread across two weekends. Most insiders reported that any number given to investors by this team was inflated. The space planners in the film were bemoaning that the first 300 attendees filled up all the tents and were “only a third” of those arriving that first weekend, which would indicate about 1,000. As a second point of reference, Seth Crossno actually found one of the staff’s notebooks on the ground while at the festival. Written in the upper right of the page ordering Blow Pops (seriously?) and other snacks is the guest count – “2000 – 2500 (per wknd), 3,700 total”. So based on data, we have somewhere between 2000 and 3700 guests total, plus the influencers (reportedly 200-250 attending) and their guests, plus the talent and their entourages. 6,000 total seems generous with these numbers.
Goals: Private island/luxe experience (original promise from the video), rubbing shoulders with celebrities and influencers all weekend, partying, giving back to the local community through tourism
Constraints: Budget, all the logistics (transport, space, performance venues), Bahamas as a location, break even or better for costs
Worth noting: Most major festivals don’t make money their first year (a strong showing sets up buzz for following years).
As Keith the pilot so helpfully pointed out, they needed to be thinking about toilets, not models. No small, remote island would be able to support thousands of concert goers and their demands for food, water, beds and toilets. His offshore cruise ship idea as a floating hotel was solid. In fact, some of the influencers were put up on a small boat, you can see it in the background of the Netflix film footage from the beach and the interior is shown in CC Clarke’s video.
Her comments are telling: “we’re loving life on this ship”, “I’m so pleased we’re on a ship”, and this is from a run-down stateroom with twin beds. Any port looks good in a storm, but if this was an upscale ship, my guess is most people would have been pretty happy.
Royal Caribbean Full-ship Charter, Freedom Class
Capacity: 3,634 passengers, 28 ft. draft, 5 nights. Cost: $2.5M
It can be difficult to find the prices for chartering cruise chips, Royal Caribbean has good transparency at the source link above. They have smaller Radiance (2500 pax) and Voyager (3100) ships, as well as the larger Oasis, but the Freedom class has the best capacity for the price. Charter ships come fully staffed and inclusive of all food, gyms, pools, shows, and use of all A/V equipment for private concerts, plus the paid bars and casinos. Independence of the Seas has 1824 rooms. 120 of those are suites, including a Royal Suite (1600 square feet plus a balcony) that has a piano and private balcony hot-tub, a Presidential Suite (1215 square feet with a 800 square foot balcony) and six two-bedroom Grand Suites.
Upsides: Everything is self-contained and already taken care of with full staff; unlimited food, balcony staterooms, medical facilities onboard, bartenders and alcohol everywhere. DJs can rock the pool area and the indoor clubs all night long, high-end suites and private lounges for the performers so they can get away when needed.
Downsides: Tacky, shore transports necessary, ship is too big to feel private
Side Note: Usually charters are booked 1-2 years in advance; however, money fixes all problems. It’s possible to buy out a ship even if it’s mostly sold, you simply have to pay the cruise line to compensate all the passengers that have already booked (including nonrefundable flights, etc.) and give them future incentives. It could have been done for Fyre Festival even in the short timeline, they had $27M from investors!
The marketing video clearly promised a full private island experience; however, there are several challenges with that. One, physically transporting and fitting hundreds of people on a small island, with water, toilets and so on. Two, the safety aspects (keeping track of everyone in case they’re lost or injured). And three, a major one, many private islands limit capacity to around 30 guests. Overrunning an expensive island with hundreds of drunk party guests is probably not going to endear you to the owners, and you’re likely to get sued for damages.
So how could some of that private island experience still be captured?
Reportedly (and backed up by Fyre announcements for parties that never happened), Over Yonder Cay was rented for use during the Fyre Festival. It’s a 72-acre island with 4 villas and a whole host of toys, rent is $64,000/day for the maximum of 28 guests. No doubt it’s gorgeous for a small group, but there’s not as much beach as other islands, and there’s no airfield so it’s boat access only. (I’m guessing only Billy and Ja Rule ever saw the inside of that place.)
Musha Cay (owned by David Copperfield) is double the size at 150 acres with more beach area, bigger houses (the largest is 10,000 square feet), and a private 2200 ft. runway, so small planes can land here directly. It rents for $57,000/day for 24 guests max, all-inclusive.
And check out what’s out front:
These sand bars can be found all over in the Exumas at low tide, Musha Cay’s is particularly beautiful. Three miles long, it’s a great place for tanning, sports, and snorkeling, guests can relax and roam where they want, and, since it’ll disappear when the tides rise, you can be sure of getting all of the guests back aboard. Penelope Cruz even got married here. As in, on that exact sandbar.
So there’s Musha Cay for the performers, special occasions, VIP receptions, etc., with daytime parties on the sandbars and other local attractions reached by the cruise ship tenders after repositioning (e.g. Pig Beach, about 23 miles north).
Another big advantage of a cruise: transportation for thousands. All of the Fyre Festival attendees flew to Miami and then had to hop on another plane (737) to Great Exuma Island. Here, passengers board in Miami, party all night, and wake up in the Bahamas.
For those special few going to the island, only small planes will be able to land on a runway that short. These STOL (short takeoff and landing) charter planes abound in the Bahamas and don’t cost much at all. Small six-seaters like the BN-2 are popular and would cost just a few thousand dollars for back-and-forth trips. Again, the celebs get to fly from Miami direct to a private island, this is a big convenience and selling point. Let’s call this $10k.
There’s a great page still live here that shows the supposed final lineup of the Fyre Festival and a few other details, the big artists were mentioned in the documentary (G.O.O.D. Music with no artist detail, Major Lazer, Blink 182, DJ set by Disclosure, etc.). In retrospect the pre-emptive thank you they wrote for the excellent customer service is hilarious.
Talent/performer lineup is the biggest unknown cost, prices are not public and subject to a lot of negotiation based on the venue, availability, their tour riders, crew, sound requirements (which might need further negotiation if they’re using a pre-existing setup on a cruise ship that can’t be extensively altered), and so on. Variety did publish an old list back in 2014, and there are a few others more recent that give some rough reference points. For an EDM-heavy party, let’s try a list like this:
|T-Pain (on a boat!!)||$40k|
|Far East Movement||$30k|
These costs are very rough since they’re outdated, it’s a multi-day party with several performances, and other factors. According to industry articles, the bottom-line performers are very inexpensive or even free just to get exposure. Filling in the roster with some other performers and budgeting for extras, we’ll round up to $2M. I don’t know what the ‘gotchas’ would be here as I’ve never booked talent.
In the film, Samuel Krost was responsible for booking the acts and stated that they were “grossly overpaid”, estimating 3.5-4 million was spent. Calvin Wells (the VC opposing Fyre) also mentioned in the film that he spoke to several artists’ agents and Fyre was offering double the market rates; i.e., half of 4M puts us squarely at two. Top-down or bottom-up, both approaches point to around $2M as a reasonable figure.
Marketing: Models and Social Media Influencers
Like music performers, costs here are all over the map. According to the SEC filing, Billy McFarland didn’t keep any accounting records, so finding details of what was paid out to whom is difficult. It’s clear from the pitch deck and recorded comments that they were strongly relying on influencer buzz to build anticipation and sales, so this was a big expenditure. What little we do know is starting to come out in the wake of the SEC investigations.
At one point in the film 400 influencers are mentioned, but again these numbers were likely inflated and some of them – actors, comedians, and so on – were probably induced to promote the festival as favors with minimal to no payment. Samuel Krost, “just” the guy booking artists, is close friends with Gigi and Bella Hadid, and even dated Selena Gomez. I’m sure the entire team was asking for help across their personal networks.
IMG Models, the agency representing Bella Hadid, Hailey Bieber and Elsa Hosk among others, was reportedly paid $1.2M, while DNA Model Management for Emily Ratajkowski received $299k. That’s already $1.5M. I’m including it here for completeness, but these were sunk costs by the time the festival organizers were called in.
Social Media Influencers
Kendall Jenner was paid $250,000 for a single Instagram post, but she’s definitely the outlier. Most of the other personalities building buzz by actually attending and documenting the festival were middle influencers with far smaller audiences, like CC Clarke (1.6M followers) and Alyssa Lynch (500k followers), both seen in the film. There are plenty of guidelines out there for pay scales by follower, as well as “influencer earnings calculators“, that would indicate a range of $2,000-5,000 per post at these levels. Amanda Riley, a model with 85k followers, apologized for her role and stated she was simply given free travel with VIP access in exchange for social media promotion.
In a case like a multi-day festival with ongoing posts, a nominal payment plus attendance, transportation, room and board like Amanda’s would probably get negotiated, with nicer rooms for higher influencers. Averaging $5,000 for 200 people to cover fees/transport (plus comped accommodations), budget here is $1M.
So, to recap what this Fyre experience would look like:
- Guests board private cruise ship in Miami and anchor near Musha Cay. Day trips in tenders to sand bars, short repositioning cruise for other local spots (pig beach, iguanas, deserted islands like Lee Stocking, etc.)
- Top performers (e.g. Calvin Harris, David Guetta) are flown in on private planes and get luxury villas on the island. Reserve one villa as an ultra-expensive guest option (divided in half-day segments), which includes island exploration and meet-and-greets at VIP parties.
- One headliner is on the ship in the Royal Suite (Tiesto) and the other performers have Grand or Junior Suites. All Influencers would be provided Balcony rooms plus roundtrip airfare to Miami.
- Most parties occur onboard and most performers and influencers are there circulating. Headliners would have scheduled performances onboard and have transfers to/from the island.
- Brief stop in Nassau on the way back to Miami for shopping and sightseeing (required for the cruise operators, and allows some tourism to contribute to the local economy)
Obviously there are more expenses we haven’t covered here; production costs for the marketing video, private yacht rental for the video, a social media team, the management team salaries, payments to Bahamas coast guard/tourism officials, and other day-to-day business operating expenses. This is primarily focused on festival execution.
Fyre Festival Costs
|Line Item||Cost for two weekends|
|Lodging||$2.5M * 2 = $5,000,000|
|Island||$57k * 10 = $570,000|
|Plane Transfers||$10k * 2 = $20,000|
|Models||$1,500,000 (or more)|
|10% misc. buffer||$1,034,000|
$11.4M is less than half of what they raised from investors, and far cheaper than what they were trying to achieve. Fyre’s initial catering estimate alone was almost $6M – more than the ship rental itself (which includes food, even the Indian and Sushi options Grant Margolin wanted). The toilet estimate in the Vice article was $1M, which didn’t include shipping or the barge costs for waste disposal. Stage costs to deliver and set up on a remote beach were at least hundreds of thousands of dollars, as stated by the stage consultant in the film. The list goes on, their (ultimately failed) approach was burning through money. If they’d listed to their consultants, they might have had a shot at pulling this off.
In addition to the investor fundraising, Fyre also took in a substantial sum in ticket and ancillary sales. Reported ticket prices varied widely from $500 at the low end, $12,500 for a villa, and then upgrades like the Fyre festival bracelets or the $50,000 cabana Shiyoun Deng mentioned in the film.
Reserving the Royal suite (1), Owners Suites (8), and 2BR Grand Suites (6) for performers and a few key influencers, plus 200 Balcony rooms for other influencers, still leaves the following:
|Room (double occupancy)||Price||Quantity|
|Interior room (three types)||$1500||788|
|Oceanview room (four types)||$1800||281|
|1BR Grand Suite||$3200||22|
At these prices, which are high for a five day cruise, you can recoup the cost of the ship per weekend plus about $1M ($6.03M total take). The organizers would have to get inventive on upsell, merchandising, and so on to even approach break even on $11.5M, but we did plan for some of that.
|Luxury Experiences||Price||Spaces available per trip||Quantity|
|Half day Island Villa retreat plus artist meet-and-greet||$10,000||10||4|
|VIP Reception with artists in private ship lounge||$2,000||25||4|
|Island hopping on private boats (Musha Cay’s fleet)||$1,000||8||8|
These are just a few experiences that bring in close to $700,000 at these prices. The organizers were actually adept at dreaming up this kind of stuff and getting people to pay for it, they just couldn’t deliver. It’s still going to be quite a challenge to break even.
Fyre Festival Round 2: Reimagined
So with more time and proper planning, what could have been done to better deliver on the vision?
Fyre Festival was selling exclusivity, right? Luxury. Celebrity access. $1M treasure hunts on deserted islands. That’s one reason why there was so little sympathy in the aftermath, these were a bunch of rich models and YouTube personalities baited and switched into sleeping on wet mattresses in the dark and vlogging the entire thing. MDavid Low originally pitched the idea for industry insiders only, as a way to raise awareness for the Fyre booking app that was supposed to be the “real” product. The monster it turned into was never thought through, or at least, the decision makers weren’t listening to the feedback.
A festival of 10,000 people is never going to feel exclusive. A private island with 5,000 villas is unheard of (Internet, please, correct me if I’m wrong). Even Lanai, the sixth-largest Hawaiian island, only has 3,000 permanent inhabitants plus about 1200 tourists a week. The new Baha Mar megaresort in Nassau has 1000 rooms spread across three hotels, renting this entire resort wouldn’t contain that many people and would feel very commercialized. I mean, who wants to vlog this selfie as “exclusive”?
- Much smaller. 500 to 600 people.
- Eliminate all the models and public hype, target industry middle influencers that will actually reach people who might use your app
- Single weekend, five days
- Much more expensive. This is a Coco Chanel bag, not Coach.
Lodging: Luxury Cruise, Silversea Silver Muse
I get it. Cruise ships can be tacky and gross. Many younger people hear cruise and automatically picture Grandma’s wedding anniversary or a pastel-colored Disney cruise with thousands of screaming kids.
However, there are some very luxurious brands out there that are challenging that perception. Silversea is one of these. The Silver Muse, their newest ship, holds 596 passengers. The finishings are tasteful and luxurious, parts of the ship resemble a high-end spa covered in Italian marble. Every single stateroom comes with a dedicated butler, private balcony, free WiFi (for live Insta streams onboard), and unlimited alcohol. The high end suites are huge and insanely nice. They accept full-ship charters but the costs are not public; since the booking rates for rooms are approximately 5-7x a mainstream cruise, I have to imagine a full-ship charter will run at least about the same as the much larger Royal Caribbean craft, around 2.5M for 5 days. This is an assumption, but based on available data, I think it’s close.
Island: Blue Island, Bahamas or Laucala, Fiji
Obviously nobody on an “exclusive” trip wants to feel left behind, and you have to get ashore sometime. The new owners of the biggest private island in the Bahamas, Hog Cay (now called Blue Island) are investing in improvements and trying to build up the reputation of the island. Because of this and the size of the island (almost 700 acres), there’s a much better chance of negotiating entrance to hundreds of people that will give the island publicity, unlike the exclusive private islands of celebrities who don’t want their personal playgrounds ruined. No public price listed.
As an alternate choice here, there are some amazing islands in the South Pacific that have incredible reefs and diving. Laucala, Fiji is a huge (12 square kilometers!) island that can be booked privately. Island rates aren’t publicly listed, based on the room rates it’s likely on the order of $100k/day.
Exploration is the key here – rainforest tours, windsurfing, horseback riding, and diving. It has 25 beautiful homes, but with the cruise ship nearby and the cost of this island, a two-day stopover here seems like a reasonable compromise. Get in, explore, and leisurely head back to Nadi, Fiji. $200k-$250k, assuming the owners will rent for a short duration.
I won’t get in to all of the specifics, but let’s take a quick look at what ticket sales might look like for this approach.
|Room (double occupancy)||Price||Quantity|
|2BR Owners Suite||$35,000||4|
|2BR Grand Suite||$35,000||4|
|2BR Royal Suite||$28,000||2|
Some of these rooms would need to be comped/covered by investors, but the numbers are much more favorable here than they are on the big ship. It’s expensive, but people can really see what they’re getting for their money, whether they’re asking their butler for another round or riding horses up a mountain on a private Fiji island.
I firmly believe that the team could have pulled off the first scenario in the time allotted if management had allowed them to. It wouldn’t have delivered on every promise from the marketing video, but they’re 90% of the way there and can address the 10% gap next year, with far less egg on their face and damage to their reputations. Not to mention avoiding federal prison!
Hope you enjoyed this analysis, thanks for reading. Love to hear feedback. Comment below!