For years, rumors have been flying around about Las Vegas PRIDE. Rumors that have caused many a heated argument at PRIDE board meetings and throughout the community. These rumors and ongoing issues have caused rifts within our community and alienated some from what should be a community-wide celebration of love, togetherness and acceptance. Spectrum caught up with the new Pride Board President Brady McGill to get some answers that would honestly address some of the major issues; so that we, as a community, can move forward, unite and grow stronger.
Q: To give people a better understanding of how PRIDE works, let’s get some of the basics: Who puts on our Pride event each year?
A: Las Vegas PRIDE (also known as the Southern Nevada Association of PRIDE Inc.) is a federally registered 501(c)(3) organization. This classification of nonprofit business is required to be non-political. We are prohibited from endorsing politicians and participating in campaigns, etc. Our board of directors is comprised of an all-volunteer team of local individuals who give their time and energy to our annual parade and festival as well as the many programs and events we produce throughout the year.
Basics of group are explained
Q: Are any of those people paid for their efforts?
A: While our board is all-volunteer, we do have a great variety of services that we simply have to outsource to paid individuals and groups. In running our monthly events, our website, Las Vegas PRIDE Magazine and all of the production work in producing the annual parade and festival, we contract with many external providers. Ernie Yuen runs our events, produces/edits the Las Vegas PRIDE Magazine, generates and manages sponsorships, maintains relationships and mentors the board. He also currently serves as president of CAPI, or Consolidated Association of PRIDES Inc.) and consults with many other national and international programs and large-scale events. We also maintain an active workload with several graphic artists, designers, printers, marketing, distribution, etc. etc. We are blessed to have some work totally volunteer-produced, and have many others offer reduced rates for their paid works.
Q: How many months does it take to put a PRIDE festival together?
A: 50. Just kidding! It does take longer than anyone might think. A PRIDE Festival has so many moving pieces. In a typical year before this one, we would need to contract with roughly 100 service providers, 100+ parade entries, 100+ festival exhibitors, plan and execute all of the entertainment program, all of the community areas, media, marketing, all of the food and beverage needs, plus licensing and inspections. It is a lot!
Q: About how many volunteers does it take?
A: The more deeply involved help we can get, the better the quality of the end result. It is challenging for most people to give up this much time and energy for free, and we respect that!
We have done it with as few as 15 core volunteers planning the events. On festival/parade day. We need at least 100 more individuals to help us run all the various areas and programs. It’s a small but mighty army coming together to make it all happen.
Q: What’s the average cost of putting on this type of festival?
A: The scale of our festival is roughly 10,000 attendees. Many factors go into a festival at that scale and the little variables can really add up. For example, police staffing for our event last year cost nearly $20,000. In the past five years, we have spent roughly as little as $100,000, and as much as $250,000+ for the annual parade and festival; and we always strive to improve as we go.
Pride’s focus is parade, festival
Q: Where do most of the funds come from?
A: Las Vegas PRIDE currently self-generates all funds. For the most part, our monthly events support themselves and our ongoing expenses. A program like PRIDE Family Bingo pays for itself and generates some extra (funds) for our general expenses. We also have our sponsorship program that largely pays for the parade and festival. We do not currently have any grants (something we hope to improve in the future).
Q: Can you explain how a sponsorship works?
A: Las Vegas PRIDE has one main purpose to exist: to produce the annual PRIDE Parade and Festival. Secondarily, we produce ongoing events and the Las Vegas PRIDE Magazine and our website and social media pages. Each of these programs are vehicles for us to raise money through our sponsorship. Businesses are welcome to sponsor the annual PRIDE Parade, festival, bingo events, one-off events, etc. Sponsors have many options and levels and the more they select, the more they can benefit with exposure. In simple terms, we help brands market themselves/their products and they help us generate funds to produce PRIDE.
Q: Everyone’s under the impression that Pride makes $100,000s from the sponsors, ad sales, entrance fees and various parties, what’s the truth behind that?
A: Oh, the good old days when we ever had that many zeros that weren’t just on a bill!
PRIDE is expensive, time-consuming, and labor-intensive, it’s also so rewarding when we see people enjoy our results.
Last year, we lost roughly $40,000 on the parade/festival. Sponsorship and events do offset these losses in the long run, but we have been struggling financially. Honestly, since always. There are pride organizations out there with more than $10 million in the bank, but we have been on a cash-and-carry loop since the organization began. This is something that we are working hard to change, not focusing on scarcity and being strategic about the future.
With that in mind, 2019 we have made many changes. Moving to our new location at Downtown Las Vegas Events Center allows our parade to be more fun but also generate more cost-savings. We really are excited for a win-win with a really fun space and much more achievable costs to cover.
Learning from past mistakes
Q: Has there ever been any “missing” money or miss-used funds and if so, how was that taken care of?
A: Yes. Historically, there’s a story of a former president leaving the country with all the money in the bank account after PRIDE one year. This was long before my time on the board. Sadly, we did have someone in the past few years who cost us a lot of money, too. Through identifying those losses, we made many improvements to how we operate. We obviously terminated the individuals involved and alerted the proper authorities. We learned a lot and we are better from the experience of it all — forged by the fire.
Q: Does the money earned at PRIDE go to run the PRIDE magazine? If not, where does that operating money come from?
A: In theory there is one pot, and everything goes into and comes out of that same pot. In the past several years, the opposite has been true. The festival and parade have been losing money and we have had to offset that with monies from our other sources.
Each program that we have has independent self-sustaining operating systems. They’re all designed to be paying for themselves. Our primary purpose to exist is the parade and festival. At the end of the day if something was going to put our ability to make that happen, we would pull the plug to save the main focus.
Q: Attendance over the years has varied greatly from the reports. It has been reported to draw upwards of 9,000 to 12,000 people. It never seems that crowded. Are those numbers for real?
A: Numbers don’t lie — but words can be poetic. I like to look at our ticket sales to get a real number for us to use. Over the past five years, our ticket sales for the PRIDE Festival have been flat at 4,000. It’s not a huge number, but it’s the truth! We have many more attendees for the parade and other events. We have had PRIDE Festivals with excess of 10,000 people, but in the last 5 years, we have been struggling with attendance. Many bright ideas have been thrown at improving attendance over the years, but the fact is, it’d stayed flat.
This year, we’ve identified a few more things to try. We’re moving to the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, opening the festival on Friday night to coincide with the parade, and then again on Saturday. This change of venue reduces our costs significantly and it is a beautiful venue in a great location. (We) also have additional resources to market and promote the events. We also have been able to confirm dates earlier (the parks only allow a six-month ahead calendar). We all hope that we get bigger numbers and see growth with our new changes.
Community has complaints
Q: Over the years our PRIDE has changed greatly. Primarily it seems, Las Vegas PRIDE is now being marketed more toward the tourists rather than the locals as it was originally envisioned. Why is that?
A: I was able to do a big deep dive into some of our demographic data from our festival at our community workshops. The average person who attends the festival is under 40, female, and local — overwhelmingly local — more than 90 percent local.
Locals are our main focus for marketing through many programs like Las Vegas PRIDE Magazine, events, posters, etc. We hope to have some local billboards, specifically not on the Strip but on local freeways.
We also have out-of-town programs to attract visitors. We have had a returning sponsorship program with the Las Vegas Visitor and Convention Authority. They help drive tourism to Las Vegas by sponsoring booths at out-of-town PRIDE Festivals and our royalty teams go and give out rack-cards, take photos, collect email and kiss babies to help get people to join us at Las Vegas PRIDE.
We hope that with our new ability to know and market/promote Las Vegas PRIDE Parade and Festival dates that we can really connect better and drive attendance numbers up. We get mostly local attendees at our festival and to grow we really need to get people to travel into us.
Q: In addition, a lot of people in our community feel that our PRIDE doesn’t represent them in anyway. They feel it’s a young, white, male party with lots of drag queens. What do you say to those other marginalized groups — the lesbian community, people of color and the trans community? How are you working to make the event truly encompassing?
A: It absolutely breaks my heart to hear that. Working to fix this honestly keeps me up at night. It’s no secret that there is a lot of mistrust of organizations, commercialization, white washing, etc. It’s also true that we have made mistakes in the past, I am sure we will make more mistakes in the future. The theme of Las Vegas PRIDE 2019 is, “Honoring the Past and Celebrating the Future.” Honestly, I have taken that stance for us: To take a good look at where we are at now and pick a direction to walk toward. The goal is to improve, learn and grow from any and every win and from every mistake.
Pride strives for more diversity
Having limited resources has really challenged us in the past. It’s kept us from really being able to have more of what we want, which honestly, is more diversity, fun and inclusivity. I really challenged myself and the team to think of ways we can do more with less. We know we need to not lose money again at our festival this year, but we also need to make some real progress.
With this in mind, I introduced our quarterly committee workshops. These are informal public meetings, focused primarily on the parade and festival. In these meetings we review data and plan our event with open input from our teams and the community. We also partnered with our local women’s group leaders to get some interesting women’s events on the books for PRIDE. We partnered with The Center and the Trans Pride organization to plan a welcoming and inclusive trans area at the festival. We partnered with Las Vegas Urban Pride for entertainment and a night party at the festival, too. Our entertainment committee also worked very hard to make sure that our lineup includes representations from every walk of life.
We really hope that it’s the best Las Vegas PRIDE yet. And even if there are things we can improve; we’ll be excited to take on the challenge.
Q: Lastly, and I hear this all the time, “For God’s sake we live in Vegas, why don’t we have big name entertainment?” Being that we are the Entertainment Capital of the World, and we have tons of gay or gay-friendly performers here every night, why don’t we have more people from the Strip performing?
A: I Know! If you know Cher, Celine or Ricky Martin, please give them a call for us! We have tried. Everything. No, really Everything. The only thing that works in that world is cash, and frankly, we don’t have it. We took a risk last year in bringing in bigger names. I know it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but there were bigger names. The results were flat attendance to the year before. So, it’s a tough balance to find with entertainment, with cost and notoriety.
This year, we have access to new resources who are connected to our host venue, Downtown Las Vegas Events Center. They are working some new angles and building some new connections. Our entertainment committee also works hard to bring diversity and representation to our stage. The bottom line is as much as we would love to have a big name, unless we have them volunteer or get a lot of disposable cash, it’s just a bigger bite than we can tackle now. Trust me, it’s on my list of things to keep getting better and better.