Hikuwai Sounds: Deep in the Red

By Justin Wong (he/him)



AUTSA’s orientation concert, Hikuwai Sounds, is expected to lose more than $120,000, with the association overestimating the number of paying attendees and diverting from a break-even approach.

The concert was originally scheduled during Week 1 on March 5, but it was postponed to April 16 after Auckland was placed under Alert Level 3 restrictions.

Debate understands only 102 out of the approximately 1,200 concert attendees paid for a ticket. The rest got free entry as AUTSA gave away tickets on campus days before the event.

Budget documents of the past three orientation concerts, released by AUTSA to Debate, reveal the student association spent $179,290 on this year’s Hikuwai Sounds despite uncertainty around COVID-19 Alert Levels in Auckland, but they do not include revenue figures.

The finalised expenditure is yet to be released.

AUTSA’s Acting General Manager Simon Bell told Debate the exact numbers are not yet available, but ticket revenue is around $6,000 while the event made “roughly” $50,000 from sponsorship deals, while breaking-even and profit- making is not the association’s intention for the concert.

“The intent is to provide an activity for the students and has no hope of making money.” He told AUTSA’s Student Representative Council (SRC) in April that Hikuwai Sounds was “not a moneymaking exercise”, and claimed more people attended than Auckland University’s orientation concert, Party at the Spark.

However, Auckland University Student Association (AUSA) General Manager Will Watterson, who was AUTSA’s General Manager from 2017 to 2020, confirmed to Debate that 1,443 people went to Party at the Spark.

He also said Hikuwai Sounds and Party at the Spark run on different models.

“From my time at AUTSA, I remember the concerts were usually run on a break-even basis.”

“AUSA almost always run our concerts at a loss in an effort to keep ticket prices low for our students.”

“Part of this loss is covered by the University, who make a small contribution to the event that rarely covers the difference between income and expenses.”

Proposed spending for Hikuwai Sounds in 2021 nearly doubled from previous years, with the event’s 2019 edition costing around $93,000, while expenses for the Block Party in 2020 was around $68,000.

The documents also show AUTSA was aware that Hikuwai Sounds would not be profitable from ticket revenue and sponsorship alone.

Artist performance fees, including flights and accommodations, take up most of the 2021 expenditure, totalling $121,670, ranging from $300 to $32,000.

The budget also allocated $21,850 for production costs on audio, lighting, and LED screens, and another $16,000 for staging. The rest was divided on items including security, staff, and photographers.

The association initially planned on charging up to $45 for every early bird ticket, and $60 per AUT student. It also planned to set up a new ticket category named “Other Tertiary” that targeted students from other tertiary institutions, charging up to $60 per person. Public tickets and door sales would be between $70 to $80 each.

However, modelling projected that under proposed prices, losses could stretch from $80,000 to $115,000 in the “worst case scenario” of only 1,000 to 1,500 ticket sales. In a “best case scenario” where the concert sold 2,000, the deficit would still lay between $45,000 to $63,000.

The model also suggested the concert must sell at least 2,350 tickets to have any chances of cutting losses to less than $45,000. This led AUTSA to increase prices for all ticket categories, with early bird tickets at $60 per person and each AUT student ticket at $75. The “Other Tertiary” category was scrapped, meaning non- AUT students would have to pay $90 for a public ticket. Door sale prices also rose to $110.

But the modelling forecasted that even with 250 early bird tickets, 700 public tickets, and more than 1,000 AUT student-only tickets sold, the event would still lose $7,000.

Bell told Debate that AUTSA was willing to spend almost $180,000 on Hikuwai Sounds because it made a “statement of intent of hope” for the year, and the association was forced to prioritise attendance over revenue because of disruptions posed by lockdowns.

“We’re well aware that there are returning and new students who are apprehensive of having the student experience they would expect.”

“AUTSA made the decision to go ahead with an event and make sure it was high-profile enough so students can really take pride in it.”

He said feedback for the event has been “overwhelmingly positive” from his experiences on the door that night. However, AUTSA has not conducted a survey to back those assumptions.

Bell also claimed this is not “the most expensive student event in the country” as student associations in Otago and Wellington get “very expensive artists”. Debate is unable to verify these claims.

The association has not ruled out another concert for re-orientation week in July, with Bell saying the event would be smaller scale than Hikuwai Sounds if it goes ahead.