Edinburgh Festival Fringe sells more than 2.2 million tickets in 75th-anniversary year
More than 2.2 million ticket sales were recorded across the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year – the sixth-highest figure in the event’s 75-year history.
The event, which was staged against a backdrop of concerns about the cost of accommodation for audience and artists, industrial disputes and the cost-of-living crisis, saw an increase in the proportion of tickets booked by local residents and overseas visitors.
The final tally of 2,201,175 was around 800,000 fewer and more than a quarter down on the Fringe’s record attendance figure, which was recorded in 2019.
However, this year’s Fringe, which was marking its 75th anniversary, was notably smaller in scale, both in terms of the number of shows and venues, than three years ago.
And the festival saw its audience increase more than five-fold from the 2021 edition, which had to be planned by venue operators while Covid restrictions were still in place.
The Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) said it had distributed more than 150,000 tickets, including 34,000 for free shows, compared to its official figure of 181,000 in 2019, when it staged 155 events compared to 92 this year – a drop of more than 40 per cent. More than 70 per cent of its tickets were sold in Scotland.
The biggest Fringe venue operators, including Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly, have claimed the cost of accommodation was the main factor in their ticket sales dropping by 25 per cent from the record year in 2019 and warned the reduction was a “major threat for everyone involved in the festival”.
Fringe Society Shona McCarthy had previously insisted that returning the event to its previous scale was not a priority, after criticisms over the impact of the event on the city centre in the years running up to the Covid pandemic.
The Fringe Society has faced criticism from some venues over its planning for this year’s festival, including abandoning operating an official mobile phone app and failing to tell participants registering for the festival about its absence.
Despite the comeback of the event and the 2.2 million-strong audience it attracted this year, the Fringe Society warned the event’s future would be “in jeopardy” unless a collective approach was taken to help bring down the costs of taking part and working on the event.
This year’s printed Fringe programme, which was published a month later than normal, featured 3,171 shows – down more than 17 per cent on 2019 – with the 276 venues featuring this year, compared to 323 three years ago, a drop of 15 per cent.
The Fringe Society eventually registered 3,586 shows on its website, compared to the 3,841 staged in 2019.
Local residents were responsible for 39 per cent of ticket sales compared to 35 per cent in 2019.
Ms McCarthy said: “Our enormous congratulations go out to everyone who came together to create the 2022 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
"This year’s festival is the first step in what will be a long road to recovery and renewal.
"The hard work of thousands of artists, and hundreds of venues, producers and staff has combined to deliver the 75th-anniversary festival during one of the most challenging summers on record.
“We recognise the significant amount of work that is still required to support the long-term sustainability of this phenomenal festival.
"As we review and discuss all the learnings from this year, our focus this autumn will be on planning for the 2023 Fringe.
"Collectively we will work to advocate for greater support for those at the heart of the Fringe – our artists.
"The eyes of the world look to this historic city every August, and we need to work together to ensure the Fringe is the best place for creatives to express their ideas, audiences to support them and for people across the sector to develop their skills and careers for the next 75 years.”
Benny Higgins, chair of the Fringe Society board, said: “The importance of this festival cannot be underestimated. Artists use the Fringe as a place to perform, connect and springboard onto their next career opportunity.
“The society acts to offer anyone a stage and everyone a seat, and there is much to do in the coming months.
"We need to ensure the Fringe is the best place for thriving artists, while ensuring fair work and good citizenship.”
Summerhall said its ticket sales were 7 per cent down on 2019, but pointed out the number of shows in its programme had been reduced by 30 per cent. Programmer Tom Forster said: "This reduced programme, leaning into the idea of building back better, does also mean, on balance, more tickets sold for each show across the venue.”
Mike Jones, managing director at The Stand Comedy Club, said: “Our box office income was slightly up on 2019 for the venues which we decided to run this year.
"There were definitely issues around accommodation costs, changing customer spending habits and sales tailing off in week three.
"And not all of our shows did well. But it sounds like we fared better than some of the bigger venues.”
TheSpaceUK director Charles Pamment said: “We've had a good year. Our ticket sales were 165,000 compared with 175,000 in 2019.
"Much of it is to do with sensible ticket prices and participant-focused support. All in all, given the various economic issues and post-Covid recovery, it’s been a comfortable year for us.”
EIF director Fergus Linehan said: “As the curtain falls on the 2022 festival and on my tenure, I’m awestruck by the resilience, generosity and talent of the thousands of artists who have lit up our city over the past month.
"I am also hugely grateful for the responsiveness and dedication of all those who delivered the festival season, from ushers and technicians to drivers and administrators, in the most challenging of circumstances.”