SHEFFIELD’s free music extravaganza Tramlines is set to charge for the first time.
Organisers say the festival’s main sponsor Nokia is set to pull out – which comes on top of a cut in council funding.
Sheffield Council paid £82,000 towards the cost of the 2012 event but is considering reducing its subsidy by more than half to £42,000.
Mobile phone company Nokia has been the main corporate backer of the weekend for the last two years and sponsored the main stage at Devonshire Green.
The festival attracted 165,000 people last year and featured hundreds of bands and singers, including performances from Reverend and the Makers and Ms Dynamite on the main stage.
News of charges has been greeted with dismay.
Geoff Barradale, manager of the Arctic Monkeys said: “I think it’s sad news. The Tramlines festival is a fantastic thing for Sheffield all round, musically, culturally and socially.
“I hope something can be worked out to ensure the festival is not in jeopardy but I think it is very important it remains free.”
Tramlines organisers said in a statement: “We have been very lucky to enjoy sponsorship from Nokia for the past two years, which has helped build the event and allowed us to put on great shows like Heaven 17 and Reverend and the Makers.
“It has also made a significant contribution to the running of the festival.
“We are awaiting a final decision from Nokia but, with the shifting economic climate, we are not expecting them to return in 2013, leaving a significant gap in the festival’s finances.”
Sheffield Council has already announced it is reducing its funding for Tramlines and other city centre festivals and events.
Tramlines organisers said they are ‘still in the process of making plans for 2013’s event and haven’t made any firm decisions’ about possible charges.
But their statement added: “As it stands, it’s highly likely that we will be charging for 2013’s festival in some form.
“In 2009, the cost of running Tramlines stood at £200,000. By last year, this figure had risen to £390,000, with the higher costs driven mainly by catering for the ever-increasing numbers of festival-goers coming to the event.
“In the first year, Sheffield city centre welcomed 35,000 people on Tramlines’ Saturday event. By last year, this had grown to 90,000 people.
“Two outdoor stages became six to accommodate the extra attendees and the costs of running a safe, clean event went up with it.
“Funding a free festival is a complex model, particularly in the current environment. Putting on a party for 100,000 people isn’t cheap and even without a cut in the council budget next year, we would have probably had to make this decision.”
Tramlines said it is also expecting a fall in income from food and drink sellers at the event because numbers have reached ‘saturation point’ and operators said stall rents were too high.
The organisers added they were ‘working on building a model which can be self-sustaining’. Since 2010 the festival had been run on ‘a shoestring’ and on ‘a break-even basis’.
Fundraising by voluntary donations, including a ‘text to donate scheme’, collection buckets in 2011 and selling programmes and apps in 2012 had not raised enough cash.
Coun Bryan Lodge, Sheffield Council cabinet member for finance, said: “We recognise the value and benefit of Tramlines but while we support the event, this is a local enterprise and we have to prioritise spending for front-line services.”