July 17 2017 —
In an effort to make Bermuda Shorts Day more financially sustainable, the Students’ Union attached a $5 price tag — $10, if you didn’t buy in advance — to the event’s 2018 iteration. The end result was a near-six-figure deficit, a number over $10,000 worse than from the free event in 2017.
Charging admission for BSD was a worthwhile experiment but it’s now safe to say it was a failed one. Over 3,900 fewer entry wristbands were claimed in 2018 than in 2017, a number that can largely be attributed to the newly implemented ticket charge.
After losing over $98,000 to host the BSD event with the lowest attendance in at least the last six years, the SU is at a crossroads. There’s no question that BSD is a vital part of campus culture at the University of Calgary. It’s the one time of the year when the campus emanates collective energy and an invaluable asset for a school with a reputation of being a dull commuter campus that lacks community.
At the same time, it’s extremely difficult to justify going nearly $100,000 in the red to host an event that allows students to drink in a cordoned-off parking lot on the last day of classes. That’s a staggering amount of money that could be used to improve day-to-day student services the SU provides, be it the Health and Dental Plan or the Campus Food Bank, which is seemingly always struggling financially.
The SU doesn’t host BSD in order to make a profit — it’s an event put on at a loss in order to carry forward a cherished end-of-year tradition — but this year’s deficit is indefensible. A significant change needs to be made, and soon, if U of C’s longest-lasting tradition has any chance of survival.
The biggest roadblock for the SU for future BSDs is the ever-increasing expenses for the event imposed by the U of C. The SU pays huge fees for things like Lot 32, the Scurfield Hall-adjacent parking lot where BSD is held, as well as for security increases mandated by university administration. Ultimately, the onus here is on the U of C to help make the SU’s event — which directly benefits the school by helping to contain the end-of-year madness to a single spot on campus — more viable, but that seems unlikely given their actions thus far.
The SU would do well to find a way to lower those costs or to cut the U of C out from the equation. This could be by hosting BSD in MacHall, a building they manage and frequently use for large-scale concerts and events. While the concert hall, MacHall’s largest event space, can only hold 1,800 people — considerably fewer than even this year’s low attendance — the option would cut overhead costs.
Hosting BSD outside the U of C campus is another option, though it runs the risk of even lower attendance. However, many students only come to campus on the last day of class for BSD anyway — it’s not unreasonable to think they would be willing to head elsewhere. A change in venue might be necessary regardless, as SU president Sagar Grewal has expressed concerns over the construction of Mathison Hall slated to begin in 2019 next to Lot 32, where BSD is currently held.
If the SU wants to continue ticketing the event, they’ll need to make it appealing to the swaths of student who chose to celebrate BSD in unofficial, off-campus events like D-Block instead. Some students’ unions in Canada have explored bringing in bigger-name artists to play at their celebrations, though rarely with success. Still, it’s a route worth exploring.
The other big financial problem faced by recent BSD events is diminished drink sales, which have dropped dramatically in recent years. This could be due to the lack of good drink options inside the beer gardens or students choosing to drink outside of the venue instead. A significant way the SU could recoup some losses from BSD would be by further pushing to have The Den & Black Lounge open for drink sales that day. Currently, the SU doesn’t operate their bar on BSD because of required security charges from the U of C. Despite these problems, the SU should fight as hard as they can to keep their business open on what could be its most profitable day of the entire year.
At this point, the future of BSD is just speculative. The SU has said they’re having discussions about what needs to change in order to make the event sustainable and to ensure that they’re spending student money appropriately. One thing is certain — BSD can’t and shouldn’t carry on in its current state. Students should hope that the SU can find a way to right the ship for BSD 2019.
— Jason Herring, Gauntlet Editorial Board