Sziget Festival: exploring something new

Radiohead, Prodigy, Nick Cave, Franz Ferdinand, Placebo, The Offspring, Pendulum – this is a small part of the musicians who took part in the biggest European musical festival – Sziget

When you arrive on the Island of Freedom (“Island” is the literal translation of Sziget), you have everything you need: countless musical stages, restaurants, information stands, interesting activities from partners of the event, laundry rooms, ATMs, children's zone, drug stores and many other things and services.

You could try something new in many different areas  – from different cuisines to different musical and cultural experiences. In addition to music, the festival offers plenty of other activities (cinema, theater, dancing, tatooing, rock climbing, tennis, football, volleyball etc).

We spoke with András BERTA, International Relations Director of Sziget Cultural Management, about the Sziget Festival and its secrets of success.

How did you catch the interest of such a large audience? Is it about the right kind of marketing or something else?

Sziget is a major event with a unique concept, which international guests have more and more begun to notice. People already started to appear at our festival in the mid 90's, but the real international breakthrough came a bit later and as of now more than 50% of our guests come from abroad. Since 2010 we have had a specialized department which takes care of international communication and ticket sales, and also runs an extensive network of promotional partners in approx. 30 countries.

What new solutions and know-hows did you implement in the last festival?

Sziget has always looked for new solutions. A few years ago we were one of the first festivals to introduce cashless payment. We were also among the first European festivals to have an online live stream from our event. We are working hard to further improve our services that make the festival experience easier for fans. And of course a lot of effort goes into renewing our program and venue structure every year, so Sziget stays exciting and fresh for fans who have already been here before.

How have you expanded the guest experience? Has it allowed you to attract more customers these days?

I think we only need to do what we’re good at doing. We try to imagine a festival from a different – maybe Central European – perspective and try to make sure it’s different from all the other major festivals. Sziget is bigger and longer than most other events and the fact that we put more effort into non-music programs is also part of this strategy of staying different.

Please tell me more about your sponsorship cases.

We’re simply open to new and creative ideas from our sponsors. Of course we don’t want to bombard our audience with commercial messages, on the other hand we believe sponsors can be good partners to reach a new audience and implement new attractions, so this can be a win-win situation for all.


Let's talk a little about the technical side of the event.

How many people are involved in the organization? How many partners, sponsors and artists took part in Sziget 2015? How big was the area of the event?

We have about 50 people who work for us throughout the year. During the festival this relatively small group of people directs several thousand seasonal employees or external partners, so it’s a big operation to keep it running. The festival area is huge, this year we had about 60 program venues, so just to walk around Sziget is a big adventure… especially because you will stop every 20 meters to explore something new.

About

The Sziget Festival is held every August in northern Budapest, Hungary, on Óbudai-sziget (Old Buda Island), a leafy 108-hectare (266-acre) island on the Danube. More than 1,000 performances take place each year.

The first Sziget festival was held in 1993 and was called Diaksziget (student’s island). There was about 43,000 participants – and now the amount of guests is more than 500,000 people.

The week-long festival has grown from a relatively low-profile student event in 1993 to become one of the most significant European rock festivals, with more than half of all visitors coming from outside Hungary, especially from Western Europe (UK, Germany etc.)

The second event (1994), labeled Eurowoodstock, was headlined by performers from the original Woodstock festival. By 1997 the total attendance surpassed the 250,000 mark, reaching an all-time peak in 2015 with 441,000 visitors from 95 countries (the daily capacity having been raised to 90,000).

In 2011, Sziget was ranked one of the 5 best festivals in Europe by The Independent. The festival is a two time winner at the European Festivals Awards in the category Best Major European Festival in early 2012 and 2015.

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