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Festival reports record financial loss and lowest attendance in over two decades

MEMPHIS, TN, June 16, 2022 – Memphis in May returned in 2022 presenting two of the city’s most popular large-scale events at the Fairgrounds in Liberty Park, a temporary location for one year. Preliminary attendance reports indicate a substantial decline in attendance for both the Beale Street Music Festival and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest as a result of being held outside of the traditional riverfront home downtown in Tom Lee Park.

For the first time in over twenty years, combined attendance for the two events fell below 115,000. By comparison, both events attracted 175,330 attendees in 2019 and 178,478 attendees in 2018.

The organization projects a record-setting financial loss of approximately $1.9 million from the 2022 festival operations. The organization’s previous record financial loss occurred in 2020 when the festival was forced to completely cancel due to COVID and sustained a $1.8 million loss. Memphis in May presented two reduced-scale events in 2021 due to the ongoing COVID pandemic.

Final financial data will be released by Memphis in May at their Annual Meeting in August when the organization issues its annual report, along with an economic impact study for 2022. The festival’s most recent economic impact study in 2019 indicated the festival generated an impact of $149.1 million, produced $4.6 million in local tax revenue, and supported 1,409 local jobs.

“Our fans were pleased we presented the full-scale festival in 2022, for the first time in three years.” said James L. Holt, President & CEO, “We knew we would experience a significant decline in attendance because of our displacement from Tom Lee Park. The ongoing COVID pandemic, inflationary environment, and artist cancelations at Beale Street Music Festival also partially contributed to the decline in attendance.”

Despite the significant decline in attendance in 2022, the festival events remained a boon to the local hotel/motel and lodging community that is seeking to recover from the COVID pandemic. City-wide hotel/motel occupancy peaked at 88.8% during the Beale Street Music Festival and World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and produced average daily room rates topping $268, a significant increase compared to normal rates.

The 46th edition of the Memphis in May International Festival will return to its riverfront home in Tom Lee Park in 2023.

About Memphis in May Memphis in May is a 501(c)3 nonprofit community-based organization whose mission is to promote and celebrate Memphis’ culture, foster economic growth, and enhance international awareness through education. Founded by racially diverse Memphians in 1977, racial equity and parity are embedded in the fiber and culture of Memphis in May, the official festival of the City of Memphis.

Recipient of 228 prestigious Pinnacle Awards from the International Festival and Events Association, it has been named to Travel+Leisure’s international list of Festivals Worth Traveling For, and in 2018, Memphis topped CNN Travel’s list of international destinations to visit in May because of Memphis in May events. Beale Street Music Festival was named by Oprah Magazine as one of “14 Festivals You Won’t Want to Miss in 2020.”

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