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Banding's Article 50 dilemma
Can EBBA stop further Euro Brexit decisions being made?

Will Whitburn's decision not to go to Montreux trigger others to vote for an 'opt out' option to Europe's flagship contest, or can EBBA reform pave the way for future European Union?

Brexit
Signs of the times? Can EBBA stop further opt out decisions being made?

It appears that the British people are well and truly fed up to the back teeth with the political shenanigans surrounding Brexit. 

However, the news that Scotland will not have any top flight representation at the 2019 European Championships in Switzerland is a timely mouthful reminder of the future problems the European Brass Band Association (EBBA) could well face in persuading UK bands in particular to remain as proactive, rather than occasional members of its version of ‘European Union’.

Perplexed

Speaking to well informed European banding personalities recently, 4BR found them to be rather perplexed by the decision of 2018 Scottish Champion Whitburn not to take up its invitation to compete in Montreux - especially given that they had over a year to raise the funds to attend whilst other qualifiers had less than half that time to do so.

On the other hand Whitburn supporters have told 4BR that since qualifying in March 2018 they’ve had to self-fund contest appearances at the Europeans in Utrecht, as well as the British Open, National Finals, Brass in Concert and the Scottish Open, whilst rivals from many other countries may only have had one or perhaps two other events to compete at.

what odds would EBBA get on not seeing just a Scottish champion, but a full line up of ‘Home Country’ representation at these future events?

Validity

Whatever the validity is of the different opinions, the fact remains that unless another band steps in to meet the projected £20,000 plus cost, it will be the third time since 2103 that Scotland will not have had a representative in the Championship Section contest.  

And with the event itself heading to Palanga, Malmo, Innsbruck and Stavanger in the next four years, and with no national body in the UK seemingly willing, or currently able, to give direct funding to their qualifying bands (including youth bands), what odds would EBBA get on not seeing just a Scottish champion, but a full line up of ‘Home Country’ representation at these future events?

Whitburn
Whitburn will not be flying the Scottish flag in Europe in 2019

Bureaucracy and bucks

As always with the relationship between Britain and Europe, it invariably comes down to thorny, ingrained opinions over bureaucracy and bucks - although EBBA supporters would have a pretty strong counter argument in saying that’s a bit rich coming from nation’s who have had more than enough time to sort out forming policy decisions from their own national bodies. 

There is no doubt EBBA has done a great deal of work in developing the European Championships into a week-long festival - complete with competitions for emerging countries, youth bands, soloists, conductors and composers, as well as the hosting of an annual European Youth Band.  

This though now costs a great deal of money, and as EBBA itself found out when it self-promoted the event in Freiburg in 2015, turning a profit isn’t easy. 

In the last published accounts presented at their 2018 AGM, the year ending 31st December 2015 resulted in a loss of over €51,000 (Euro) whilst 2016 saw a profit of just over €4,000 (Euro). 2017 had a reported loss of over €7,000 (Euro).  

This though now costs a great deal of money, and as EBBA itself found out when it self-promoted the event in Freiburg in 2015, turning a profit isn’t easy. 

It’s hoped Utrecht will make a small profit, but given the well-publicised reservations over Palanga and the potential costs of first time events in Malmo and Innsbruck, you can see why EBBA hopes that its flagship Championship contest can keep attracting flagship bands if it is to keep funding its expansionist ideals (the own-choice discipline is invariably sold out).    

Worthwhile

However, critics (and many do come from the UK) believe that to do just that the Championship Section event in particular needs to be not just a pinnacle of musical achievement, but one that’s actually financially worthwhile doing well at - let alone winning.

And this, as they point out, is where the cost of EBBA bureaucracy comes in.

‘That’, as one band representative recently told 4BR, ‘… is a lot of money to find out for a fourth time that the Swiss can run a brilliant event in Montreux’.

The stated EBBA annual budget for 2018 saw projected sponsorship income of €31,000 (Euro) as part of total income of €72,000 (Euro) made up of membership costs, future contracts, participation fees and other activities.  

However, the various expenses for the EBBA Secretariat and organisation alone (including travel expenses, hotel and meeting allowances) were budgeted at €35,000 (Euro).

‘That’, as one band representative recently told 4BR, ‘… is a lot of money to find out for a fourth time that the Swiss can run a brilliant event in Montreux’.

Switzerland
Montreux will host the Championships for a fourth time 

Prize funds

All this and critical eyebrows also continue to be raised by the rather byzantine distribution of prize funds (which according to the same accounts amounted to €28,000). 

This saw €7,500 (Euro) in hard cash dispersed between the top five bands in the Championship Section in 2018, with the winners receiving just €2,000. 

EBBA can with justification point out that Valaisia Brass Band also received two top of the range euphoniums (instruments were also won by the other podium finishers), although many would argue that such prizes hold limited financial value when it comes to having to pay for hotel rooms or costs of flights or buses.

Competing bands do not get any additional financial help.

EBBA can with justification point out that Valaisia Brass Band also received two top of the range euphoniums (instruments were also won by the other podium finishers), although many would argue that such prizes hold limited financial value when it comes to having to pay for hotel rooms or costs of flights or buses. 

The winner of the Challenge Section got €1,000 plus a euphonium and a cornet, whilst in contrast the 2018 European Solo Championship prize fund of €5,750 (Euro) was shared between just three competitors. The winner received €2,500. There were no instruments on offer. 

And whilst the youth bands are currently benefitting from a three-year €10,000 per year deal with Geneva Instruments to help their participation in the European Youth Championships, they get no instrument prizes, whilst critics would argue that the Youth Championships has still to attract a substantial audience.  

Lucrative trough

To its credit, EBBA has in the past tried (twice at least) to gain a financial foothold into the lucrative trough of European-wide cultural funding streams - but without success. 

However, given that they have also admitted that such bodies are loathe to providing funding to competitions and contests (the very elements EBBA has increased in recent years), it has meant they have inevitably become stuck between a financial rock and a hard place of their own making.  

Rosenberg
Ulf Rosenberg is EBBA President, but does the organisation really need a CEO instead?

EBBA has a host of very capable hard working volunteer officers (led by President Ulf Rosenberg), but at present it hasn’t got a salaried Chief Executive Officer or even Commercial Manager able to spend time seeking out bigger, more diverse corporate sponsors or negotiating help to claim cultural funding.   

EBBA has a host of very capable hard working volunteer officers, but at present it hasn’t got a salaried Chief Executive Officer or even Commercial Manager able to spend time seeking out bigger, more diverse corporate sponsors or negotiating help to claim cultural funding.   

Little wonder then that sponsorship money, that ideally should be going to the most successful bands to help offset the cost of them attending the Championships, is instead having to be earmarked to offset the cost for hotel rooms and travelling expenses for EBBA delegates and members, whilst instruments that should be presented to youth bands to help with their development goes to bands that don’t need them.

Reform

So how does EBBA continue to make the pinnacle contest in the banding world a financially attractive commitment to the best performers when at present it hasn’t got the means to do so? 

Structural re-evaluation and commercial reform is required. 

Hard questions need to be asked about the validity and viability of many of the competitive aspects of the event (some of which have been implemented) – and especially how its flagship Championship Section contest can continue to attract the very best bands in Europe, year after year after year. 

For unless there is a real desire to change, Scotland’s temporary absence may well herald a more permanent Brexit option for bands not just in the UK, but beyond.

Iwan Fox

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