Live Aid 1985: The Day the World Rocked

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The Money

The people involved in setting up the Live Aid concerts didn't like to talk much about money — which countries, which unions and which companies donated what. Instead, they preferred to play up the event's inspiring message. Still, money is the medium through which Ethiopia will presumably benefit.

At press time Worldwide officials were estimating that Live Aid would net at least $40 million. But that figure could easily change: "Whether we bring in $20 million, $30 million, $40 million or $75 million depends entirely on the telethon," said Mike Mitchell.

Other sources of Live Aid revenue include:

• At least $10 million in rights fees for the television broadcast worldwide.

• Approximately $5.6 million from ticket sales. The 72,000 seats at Wembley, which sold out in two hours, cost $31.25 each. The U.K. total: about $2.25 million. The 90,000 tickets at JFK Stadium sold out in five hours — 15,000 went for $50.00 each, while the remaining 75,000 cost $35.00 each. The U.S. total: $3.375 million.

• At least $3 million from corporate sponsors. Four corporations — Pepsi, Chevrolet, AT&T and Eastman Kodak — sponsored the event, and each was asked to donate at least $750,000 in cash, plus an undisclosed amount in goods and services. In return, the sponsors received advertising time on both MTV and the domestic daytime broadcast, and they were permitted to display advertising banners at the two stadiums. (Coca-Cola decided to withdraw its advertising from the ABC broadcast, reportedly because of the prominent display of Pepsi signs at the stadiums.)

• Combined merchandising efforts at Wembley and JFK added about $750,000.

Mitchell estimated that an event the size of Live Aid would normally cost about $20 million to produce. But, because of donations, the total expense of producing the benefit was reduced to about $4 million — most of which was incurred by the American production. The Wembley concert cost only about $259,000, but that was because the show there was far less complex than the U.S. production. For example, the worldwide satellite transmission, which originated from the States, cost an estimated $500,000, a third of the usual rental rate. "England's not paying for it, we are," said Mitchell. "So is it our cost or theirs?"

Wembley cost about $125,000 to rent — some $60,000 less than usual — but Goldsmith claimed that nearly all goods and services had been donated, including the sound and lighting systems, the monitor system, the stage, the rehearsal rooms, a small fleet of helicopters and airline tickets.

British organizers were quick to point out what they saw as philosophic differences between the two countries. "In England people give their services free," said Goldsmith. "In America they give their services and want to be paid."

"We tried to get every item donated," Mitchell said of the Philadelphia production. "That included the food, the rental cars, the flights, the rooms. You name it, I've got a crew out trying to get it donated." And, in fact, many services were donated. At least six hotels in the Philadelphia area donated about 250 rooms, and the Hard Rock Cafe provided $200,000 worth of backstage catering in London and Philadelphia.

Still, Geldof was irritated by such items in the American budget as commemorative plaques. In one budget $15,000 had been allocated for these mementos; later the cost was trimmed to $5000.

The Power Of Rock & Roll

Sitting in semi-darkness on an Amtrak train bound for Philadelphia twelve days before the concerts, Bill Graham appeared upbeat and full of energy. "This is life and death we're talking about," the fifty-four-year-old promoter said. "Saving people's lives. Here is a specific desire to affect consciousness, to make people aware of the plight in Africa and to raise funds that will hopefully lead to food and pharmaceuticals, equipment and drugs and vitamins, to help out these people. I can't recall anything being that productive for that many people, productive in the sense of awareness and in what the end result could be."

Graham propped a foot up against the seat in front of him and stared out the window. "There is a general awareness now of the power of rock & roll and how far-reaching it is," he said. "This is the first show that's going to challenge the all-time record of viewing audience, which was for the 1982 World Soccer Cup [about 1.2 billion viewers]. And what's challenging it? A rock & roll show." He adjusted his tortoise-shell glasses and rubbed his forehead. "It's about time that the world realized that the rock & roll musicians of the last twenty years have stood out there," he said. "I'm sick and tired of hearing about Altamont. What about the hundreds and hundreds of benefits that rock and pop musicians have given to worthy causes?"

The Big Picture

When the 1984 Summer Olympics were broadcast, that event involved only one network, ABC, which fed its signal to participating nations. The Live Aid show, however, called for at least five independent productions on site in Philadelphia. Four were for video — MTV, ABC, the domestic syndicate and the world broadcast — and one for the ABC Radio Network. Each had its own crew and marching orders for ads and station breaks.

At least twenty-five video cameras covered the action in JFK Stadium. Those signals were fed to what were called stadium trucks, where various producers decided which camera shots to use and when to use them. Another truck handled the signals from London, Australia, Japan, the Soviet Union, Holland, Austria, Yugoslavia and West Germany. All those signals were then routed to the various networks, each of which put its own spin on what would eventually be seen or heard.

Missing in Action

While the Wembley Stadium lineup remained pretty much the same as was first announced, the JFK bill was in almost constant transition. Perhaps none of the changes caused quite as big a stir as Huey Lewis' announcement on June 28th that he and the News had dropped out. "It was a very tough decision," Lewis said. "There were some questions as to whether the food is actually getting to the starving people or not. We felt, having done the USA for Africa thing, that we should wait and watch that. The jury's still out. The prudent thing to do is to see how that money translates into food for the people before we do another one."

Lewis' comments drew an irate response from Harry Belafonte, a USA for Africa organizer who recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Africa. "I would suggest that Mr. Lewis get his facts together, that he stop being disruptive and divisive," Belafonte told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "If he is such a hotshot with his mouth, let him get on a plane and go sit in a camp. . . . For him to sit back here and send out information based on hearsay is unfair to his colleagues and very unfair to the victims."

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