Confetti covers the crowd as Arcade Fire play their final song at the Big Day Out in Sydney. Photo: Rachel Murdolo
The Big Day Out is reeling mid-tour, plagued by detailed rumours that organisers have inflated attendance figures and that its owners, AJ Maddah and Texas-based company C3, are likely to face off in court as they face losses between $8 million and $15 million.
Several senior music industry sources have also told Fairfax the touring festival's chief executive officer, Adam Zammit, was sacked this week with two shows remaining: Adelaide on Friday and Perth on Sunday. It is believed Mr Zammit's plane tickets to Adelaide were cancelled, but another source said he has since been re-hired.
Mr Zammit, who was appointed in November 2011, was in charge of the day-to-day planning and operations of the event, and it is believed he oversaw several clear-outs of long-standing Big Day Out staff.
Surfing the Big Day Out crowd in Melbourne on January 24. Photo: Jason South
One source claimed the only Big Day Out so far to achieve attendance of 30,000 was the Auckland event, run by promoter Campbell Smith. The Australian legs, promoted by Mr Maddah, achieved much lower numbers, believed to be around half 2013 attendance figures. Sydney is believed to have drawn 27,000, Melbourne 26,000 and the Gold Coast 23,000. Organisers are believed to have told media 35,000 attended in Sydney and the Gold Coast and have reportedly faced questions from the management of headliners such as Pearl Jam over their estimates.
The disastrous ticket sales are thought to have Mr Maddah and C3 - who are each believed to own 50 per cent of the Australian event - facing losses of up to $15 million after headline bands Arcade Fire and Pearl Jam, and late replacements Deftones, The Hives and Beady Eye, were paid.
One senior figure in the Australian music scene said the Big Day Out had become ''a f---ing mess'' and questioned whether the $5 million of existing debt, which is alleged to have been Mr Maddah's equity to enter a deal with C3, was ever paid in full. There is speculation Mr Maddah could try to walk away from the deal, which if successful would leave the American company carrying any loss from the 2014 Big Day Out.
Festival falters: Promoter AJ Maddah. Photo: Marco Del Grande
It is believed relations between C3 and the Australian operators have been frosty for months and broke down in December.
''I think the Big Day Out is coming to an end,'' the industry insider told Fairfax. ''I don't know that it's got any legs and may have run its course.'' At the very least it seems there will not be another Big Day Out in Perth after Sunday: Mr Maddah has tweeted repeatedly the event will not return to the city.
Mr Maddah responded on Thusday night, disputing several points as "nonsense", saying Mr Zammit had not been sacked, that he did not own 50 per cent of the event, the relationship with C3 had not broken down and that while crowd numbers were down, they were higher than Fairfax had been told. For example, he said, 31,000 people attended in Sydney.
He acknowledged the Big Day Out had struggled in 2014.
"The event was a basket-case before I walked in and I did my best to try and make it a success,’’ he said.
Multiple sources told Fairfax sponsors were unhappy because of small crowds and a lack of on-site presence for their brands, and major vendors who provided costly infrastructure such as staging and fencing have not been paid.
''If AJ walks away I'd be surprised if C3 picked up a $15 million loss,'' the senior insider speculated. ''I imagine they'd bankrupt the company, go back to America and forget about Australia.''
In a statement released on Saturday C3 denied that vendors would not be paid.