Jay-Z Made In America bash should benefit schools

    If past is prologue, Budweiser Made In America, the Labor Day concert series helmed by Hip Hop impresario Jay-Z, will gross over $5 million. How much of that money will go directly into Philadelphia’s coffers? None.

    That’s right. After media types finished fawning over the bicoastal extravaganza, after Kanye West packed up his reality show drama, and after Pharrell Williams finished singing “Happy,” the concert promoters were only obligated to pay for the cost of event-related city services, which meant the city broke even on cops and sanitation. But beyond that, the $89-per-ticket event yielded no direct funds for the City of Philadelphia. That’s a travesty, given the financial emergency our schools currently face.

    Fortunately for Jay-Z, the Philadelphia School District’s $81 million deficit isn’t his problem. In fact, when it comes to Made In America, he has no problems at all. While Philadelphia makes no money at all from the endeavor, the Labor Day concert series is Jay-Z’s personal cash cow.

    According to a Forbes analysis of the 2012 Made In America event, Jay-Z not only received a performance fee believed to be in seven figures that year. He also used Made In America as a vehicle to cross-promote his numerous business interests. 

    In 2012, Made In America was promoted by Live Nation, the company that signed Jay-Z to a 10-year, $150 million deal. Translation, the ad agency which Jay-Z co-founded with marketing genius Steve Stoute, was paid to work with Budweiser on the festival. Duracell Powermat, in which Jay-Z was an investor, advertised at the event. And Jay-Z pushed acts in which he had an interest, such as Rita Ora, one of his Roc Nation protégés.

    Don’t get me wrong. If Jay-Z put this thing together, he should get paid. But when Philadelphians don’t benefit as well, our city leaders and the concert promoters must be called on the carpet . Especially since the concert promoters told us in press releases that the primary goal of Made In America was to have a positive impact on the community.  

    According to Billboard, the 2012 Made In America Festival grossed $5 million in ticket sales, and attendance doubled last year. That’s great, but if the primary goal is to help the community, and the concert made at least $5 million last year, why give a portion of profits to the United Way, rather than giving the money directly to our cash-strapped school district?

    The cynic in me says there’s a simple explanation. It’s cheaper to give a tax deductible $300,000 donation to the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey than to make a sizeable donation to a cash-strapped School District. Of course, the cynic in me deals in feelings, and not in facts, so rather than assuming the worst, I emailed the concert organizers and asked two questions. The first query: How were the charities chosen that would receive the proceeds from the Made In America concerts? The second: Was there ever any consideration given to a charity that would directly benefit Philadelphia’s public schools?

    I haven’t received answers yet, but when I do, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, we can always look to the “economic impact” numbers that are always trotted out when an event like this takes place.

    In 2012, for example, Philadelphia-based Econsult Corp estimated the concert generated $6.1 million in direct new net spending, $3.6 million in indirect expenditures, and $223,000 in total city tax revenues. 

    Sounds nice, but in reality, the economic impact didn’t make it to the 26.2 percent of Philadelphians who still live in poverty. It didn’t make it to the 24 schools that closed last year. It didn’t make it to a School District that’s operating with an $81 million deficit.

    So while it’s great that Jay-Z made his money while promoting the companies and individuals in which he has an interest, that’s not enough. While it’s wonderful that Budweiser and Live Nation garnered the publicity they sought, that’s not enough. While it’s commendable that national and international press covered the event, that’s not enough.

    As long as our children are forced to attend underfunded schools, we should not allow Jay-Z or anyone else to benefit from our city without our children benefitting in return.

    After all, money shouldn’t be the only thing that’s Made In America.

    Solomon is the new morning host on 900 AM WURD.  

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