New Mardi Gras is likely to cut its festival launch, charge a gold coin entry fee for Fair Day and is seriously considering selling naming rights to the entire Mardi Gras festival.

Marcus Bourget, New Mardi Gras chair, told Sydney Star Observer costs had to be cut after the organisation posted a $304,000 loss on its 2005 season. The company’s woes were worsened by the fact that 2,500 fewer tickets than expected were sold for last month’s fundraising party, Sleaze.

All events being held over the four-week festival season were being analysed and some brave decisions had to be made, Bourget said.

We have to evolve the organisation to survive, but we have to do it in a very sensible way, he said.

We have to change, we have to adapt. And I think this is the year it has to really start happening.

The board was also in talks about the controversial issue of selling naming rights -“ or presentation rights -“ to the festival season. This would see the festival called The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras presented by X.

We have to have a discussion about presentation rights for the Mardi Gras season because it’s such an obvious way of raising funds, Bourget said.

I know it’s a highly charged issue for the community but we need to have that discussion. The reality is we’re 2,500 tickets short of where we would have liked to have been after Sleaze. And I think people understand that.

A number of high-profile companies are interested in having their name attached to the title, he said. When asked if Virgin -“ who had a visible presence at Sleaze -“ was one of those companies, Bourget declined to comment.

The traditional open-air launch party, which in past years was held in Hyde Park and in the Opera House forecourt, is unlikely to happen next year. The board is looking at kicking off the season in a smaller way, such as having a fundraising black-tie dinner or a smaller party.

Meanwhile there’s a massive opportunity to increase revenue from Fair Day, Bourget said. One option being mooted is to request a $2 donation from the thousands of people who attend.

If you’ve got 50,000 people coming to Fair Day, and they all donate $2, that’s $100,000. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask the people who participate, if they understand it can cost up to a quarter of a million dollars to put on the parade.

Mardi Gras wouldn’t be Mardi Gras without the parade and the party at Fox Studios, Bourget said. But discussions were under way about making the party smaller and reducing the ticket price.

I think everyone really understands now that financing Mardi Gras out of the party and Sleaze is not really viable any more. That said, they still make a source of revenue, so it would be foolish not to have a party. But it has to make economic sense. We have to make sure it’s a sexy party people want to come to.

Bourget said the organisation was happy with the agreement it had with the City of Sydney and state government and that they would not be asking for more funds. The organisation needs to be able to stand on its own two feet and we shouldn’t have to look to third parties for assistance, he said.

Other sources of revenue being explored include bringing back the popular pool party plus staging other outdoor events in places like Bondi Beach and Luna Park.

The board is also discussing ways to expand the Mardi Gras membership base, including the possibility of bringing back the membership model for party attendance.

Some for the decisions the board would have to make would be unpopular with sections of the community, but were necessary for the survival of the festival, Bourget said.

When you talk about evolution and change to the organisation, you’re playing with 28 years worth of history. And that is quite a daunting and challenging task. I appreciate the importance that Mardi Gras has to so many different people, especially those who were around in 1978, he said.

We’re in a very serious position, but there’s that saying that out of the biggest crisis comes the greatest opportunity. And there really is a huge opportunity for us to reinvent Mardi Gras now.

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