August 10, 2013

Five ways to improve the World’s

For what it is, the World Pipe Band Championships is a magnificent event. I’ve remarked before that it runs like a flawless Swiss watch, with thousands of moving parts and several rare jewels. Three-hundred-odd pipe band performances running on time, judges and stewards and administrators all knowing their role and doing their jobs. There is no bigger or better competition in the pipe band world.

But the World’s is at a crossroads. As the organization realized back in the late-1990s, they had a great product on their hands. The popularity of the contest with pipers and drummers from Canada, USA, France, New Zealand and just about everywhere in the world where pipe bands exist had grown so much that it finally dawned on the City of Glasgow to get on board in a serious way.

In a stroke of obvious entrepreneurial genius, Piping Live! was born 10 years ago. Events Glasgow partners with the RSPBA to stage the spectacle. If we are to believe the purported stats, tens of millions of pounds come into Scotland during World’s Week. It is a cash-cow for the local economy.

The World Pipe Band Championship is a great event, and it could be so much better, and so much more beneficial to the art overall and to the performers who make it the spectacle it is. The move to a two-day event shows that the RSPBA wants to try new approaches. It could be a spectacular success or a colossal failure, or even net-neutral, as they say, but at least they are trying.

Here are five more changes to improve it:

1. Transparency. We do not know how much the RSPBA charges the BBC to broadcast the event, or if it is given to Events Glasgow to negotiate. We just don’t know. As a broadcaster, by law the BBC must pay or negotiate a direct license with the organizers. The BBC doesn’t send eight tractor-trailers, miles of cable, dozens of technicians and an editing team back at head office to cover just anything. This is a mobile broadcast crew on the order of the Glastonbury Festival or T in the Park. There is a lot of money either unrealized or unaccounted for. It’s time to share the terms negotiated with the performers.

2. Bring the Grade 1 Final indoors. The SEC or the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall are prime venues to stage a 10-band Grade 1 Final. If a two-hour Pre-World’s concert with one band can sell out 2,000 £30 tickets, then certainly a four-hour World’s Final could command £60 a ticket. That’s a £120,000 gross. Do the Grade 1 Qualifier and all the other grades at Glasgow Green on Saturday, and then focus on a guaranteed dry Grade 1 Final on Sunday.

3. Pay-per-view. Again, the RSPBA, by selling or giving away the broadcast rights to the BBC could be missing a huge opportunity. The BBC is not allowed to charge viewers or listeners, so it’s all free. That’s nice, but the only way that is fair is if the BBC is paying the RSPBA at least as much as it could make from a pay-per-view broadcast. This year’s Saturday event is being streamed, not by the BBC, but privately, and that, too, is free. A pay-per-view streaming format each day where viewers purchase access for, say £10, at 10,000 viewers a day (a fraction of the number they contend logged in to the streamed broadcast last year), would bring in £200,000. And, if the viewers knew that the performers were being compensated fairly, they would be happy to pay a fair amount . . . so . . .

4. Share the wealth. Even without a ticketed indoor Final on pay-per-view streaming, the World’s is big money for the Scottish economy, and the license to broadcast the Grade 1 event is extremely valuable. The money must be shared with the performers. No performers; no money. The RSPBA can take an administrative share, but the rest should go towards prize money and appearance fees. The performers have a legal right to be compensated fairly, and saying that bands waive their right when they enter the competition is simply not legally true.

5. Promote the art. All pipe band associations contend that their first mandate is to “promote the art of piping and drumming” (or words to that effect). In truth, they are little more than competition-running machines. The RSPBA is by far the best in the world at keeping its competition machines finely tuned, but whether the World Pipe Band Championship or anything else they do truly promotes the art is debatable. The art is not solely competition. Fair enough, promote the competition as a product, but plow some of the money from the product into truly promoting the art through teaching, by taking it further afield, by promoting new and creative ways to present the music.

Many people still say that there is no money in all of this. Bollocks. Just look around. The week in Glasgow culminating in the glorious World Pipe Band Championships is huge money, and the performers deserve a fair share. Piping Live! by all accounts does a great job of compensating performers, and many bands are able to recoup some of their costs by playing during the festival.

We are not unique. Musicians of every kind can be and are exploited. Rock, rap, classical, pop, opera – you name the genre; all of them start off just happy to play and to have their music heard and they don’t know enough or are afraid to ask questions. We are really no different from the fledgling garage band who ignores their rights while others reap the benefits, until one day they realize they’re playing stadium gigs and can’t afford anything but fish suppers.

The irony is that we are not talking about greedy for-profit record labels. This is a nonprofit association that represents the will of its members and strives to create a fair and level playing field for all. Pipe band associations are not businesses, and they can be forgiven for missing business opportunities. They do a fantastic job of executing competitions, and now they need to catch up to the business end of the deal.

It’s now time to compensate fairly, once and for all, those who provide the product: the performers.


  1. Moving the locations might be nice (works for the olympics); why should the City of Glasgow be the exclusive benefactor of the trickle down economics such events provide?

    We are a global community, right?!

    — and indoor venues would negate weather issues.

  2. Here we go again…the usual gripes and complaints about what?…travelling and weather? indoor worlds? Just so everyone is nice and dry and warm…laughable to say the least. Where would bands tune up? As for getting paid.. surely the whole idea is enjoyment and trying to be successful…if you want paid to compete then its time to jack it in.

  3. The money is already being collected, Cameron. The BBC pays for the rights to broadcast the contest. Time to account for it and share it fairly with the performers whose performances people are paying for. Our greatest bands having cold water dumped over them and their instruments every other year seems not only laughable, but completely absurd.

  4. But the live streaming is surely part of the promotion of the art as everyone who has access to the internet can see the contest.
    The greatest bands have been getting rained on for decades and that is part of the challenge. Not once in thirty odd years of playing in bands have I heard anyone moaning about weather or getting paid.

  5. That’s true, but the BBC must purchase the rights to stream the event. The BBC is should be paying around £10,000 pounds now (if they’re not, then something is wrong). The are not allowed to charge for it. A PRS license for the music festival (legally required) is on the order of £15,000 based on attendance and ticket prices. Eight BBC tractor-trailer trucks of equipment and dozens of technicians – this is a very valuable event. Whether or not pay-per-view is introduced, at the very least disclose the terms of the BBC licensing, and share it with the performers. Isn’t that fair?

    1. Well technically your wrong about not charging as the bbc is funded by licence fee payers which funnily enough is only paid by us in the UK….so really the rest of the world is getting a freebie at our expense. So if pay per view comes along do we get a refund?

      1. Good points, Cameron, but the BBC cannot charge a fee to watch the streaming or accept advertising. The broadcaster does, though, pay a lot of money for content. They just completed a massive deal with the Rolling Stones to stream a concert. Where does that money go? To the Rolling Stones, of course. Pipe bands are not the Stones, but an eight-hour broadcast of top pipe band content is still worth a lot.

  6. Undoubtedly there are large sums of money changing hands
    One example of this is, from minutes I came across online, that Belfast City Council at one time or another paid or will pay RSPBA £60,000 for a major.
    The problem with introducing ‘big money’ into the whole equation is that the Grade 1 bands [a bit like the Premier League] would probably get – indeed demand- the most of it and as time would go by they would want more and more.
    There can however be no secrecy about the money because the RSPBA hold AGM’s when the members can question and indeed see the accounts if they bother to attend.
    Many of your suggestions have merit and would be worth exploring but I doubt if many would be prepared to pay £60 to watch an indoor Grade 1 final no matter where it was. Its not that long ago that the Grade 1 arena was three sided with stands and that caused a furore.
    Even the 2 day worlds is not without its detractors particularly the point made on a lot of websites about ‘bandsmen and women ‘ having to pay in on the days they are not playing.
    I have attended the Worlds since 1983 and certainly with regard to Grade 1 it has improved beyond all recognition.
    The Worlds is indeed a wonderful event, even in the rain, and there should be changes but by progression. It should perhaps move around different cities and indeed some of the overseas countries should host it from time to time. What about going overseas every 5 years.
    God willing I will be on the 7.30am ferry on Friday morning for Glasgow and even though I am not that keen on the Sunday aspect I would not miss it. It will cost quite a bit of extra money for extra nights stay, food and drink and admission fees, but when its all over we will be looking forward to 2014.

  7. [Edited] Money, money, money… It’s a hobby! The performers enjoy playing and socialising. They don’t want or need paid!
    Also I’m sure most will agree that hearing the top bands up close when in tuning is one of the many joys of the day. If it were indoors where would you be able to listen to bands tune up? More importantly, where would the bands tune up? And £60 for a potential indoor final ticket! Madness. Who in the right mind is going to pay that? It’s pretty steep as it is!

  8. Just when I thought it was only Cowal that upset the bands.Pipe bands are meant to be listened to outdoors in competition and indoors when in concert only because people are not going to stand in the cold in the evening for 90 minutes,because that’s when concerts take place,as for £60 for a Grade 1 final best of luck persuading people to part with that amount.Gilbert Cromie made a good point in saying that Grade 1 would want the biggest share of any monies paid to bands, as soon as you start thinking of bands being given a share of any monies garnered by the RSPBA you are going to open a can of worms as foreign bands coming to the World’s might look for travelling expenses and SFU reckons it costs them £100,000 to come over,I don’t think £60 a ticket for an indoor final is going to be enough.

  9. As a spectator, I don’t want to watch a Grade 1 final indoors as if I’m at some kind of concert. I’ve spent my life watching Pipe Bands outdoors and marching onto the field to play. Indoors for Grade 1? Sacrilege.

  10. T_Mac – as a grade 1 competitor, I want a fair and level playing field. I don’t want to play at 9am in freezing conditions and the bands on 2 hrs later than me play in lovely warm conditions. I don’t want to play in pissing rain when the band on an hour later than me is playing in sunshine. I’m really surprised anyone would be against the idea of an indoor Grade 1 final.

  11. Why destroy the prowess of the ‘Grade 1 Arena’, its the thing that every piper and drummer is inspired by, to get the chance to play in front of thousands of people, moving it indoors would be expensive, create unfair circumstances in terms of weather and ultimately destroy the atmosphere that comes with the grade 1 arena. If something were to be changed it would be the juvenile competition being held there. No disrespect whatsoever to these bands (bands like Dollar and GWC are top top bands) but I just don’t understand the decision to put them in the arena why has this change been made?

  12. @ Ross – I admit, you as a competitor trumps me as a spectator. Regardless, if the decision is made to move it indoors, it will be very hard to adequately reproduce everything it has always been and I fear it will lose something vital.

  13. Yes Ross life can be a pain,I’m a Celtic fan and my team is going to have to play on a plastic pitch again when that is not their natural playing surface but life’s like that and you just do your best at any given time.I have heard bands complain about playing when it was too hot and that affects their pipes,not that that is a major problem in Scotland,indoors conditions would create it’s own problems.You can please some of the people some of the time etc etc you know how that saying goes.

  14. Wherever the Worlds is held, indoors outdoors, it will be broadcast on the Internet and as it is now nobody knows where the money is going. Certainly not to the bands and this must change. The organzers can take tehir fair share and the RSPBA take their’s and the rest can only go to the bands. That is the right and just thing to do. And I totally agree that this will help everyone and the art. Yes it is money but yes it is fair. Let’s all grow up and agree that the money is there and people are making it so lets just make sure the bands get their fair due.

  15. It’s not all about grade 1. Lower grade bands bring in lots of interest, and funds to this event as well. I think that is forgotten sometimes.

    The RSPBA has come a long way in leveling the playing field, by creating a qualifier that now includes every band. The old way of playing to qualify at 9:00 am, and then watching the pre-qualified bands unfairly entering the park later, all calm and well rested after you probably had one of the most nerve wracking plays you can have, ever, has finally been scrapped. Three cheers for that! So, there is movement to make things a little more even for all.

    To put any final inside would limit the live audience, and really lessen some of the greatness/grandeur of this whole spectacle. Weather is an issue, and other competitors deal with it (golf comes to mind). It has a way of evening out though from year to year.

    Full bands don’t really suit indoor venues anyhow. We do it, but it doesn’t sound right. You remove one variable (weather), but then create other variables like tuning facilities, heat in the theatre etc.

    We could also go back to the Grade 2 RIP blog, and comments, and consider a band’s size and placement on a stage, and the ability to hide players on that stage now becomes very easy. Nothing beats outdoors for band sound, and for the ability to judge a band fairly.

    Playing the final inside is not going to happen, so really this is all just wasted blather anyhow. It’s Scotland, if you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes, it’ll change. Your vintage instrument has been rained on before, and it is still going.

    1. Absolutely agree Weeman and if the Grade 1 final went indoors you would start to get accusations,quite rightly,of elitism from the lower grades who are the pipe band world’s life blood plus how many people would fork out £60 a ticket?

  16. I agree with the transparency point 100% Being a professional musician once years ago, the talent deserves the money much more than the business. There are avenues to investigate as there is huge potential to generate massive amounts of money. It is a hobby and that’s why we do it, but why not be able to recoup some travel expenses from the revenue’s generated? Nothing wrong with that!

    1. How would you work out travel expenses for the World’s Matt comparing say Dumbarton with SFU who reckon it costs £100,000 to come to the World’s and the bands from Oz and New Zealand will probably be more.It wouldn’t take much to pay dumbarton’s travel expenses but could the RSPBA actually make a dent in the foreign bands expenses.Cuold be opening a can of worms here.

      1. Well the can of worms needs to be opened! These bands are what people pay to see, so the royalties should trickle down to them in some way. This is the World Championships we are talking about, the best of the best. The RSPBA should capitalize as much as they can and help out the bands that make the association what it is today. Maybe pay the KM’s to travel………work something out!

  17. I believe what Andrew is pointing out is that, although piping and drumming has always had a traditional grass roots approach to the common man, the art form now as a commodity, has truly benefited if not exploded, due to the new delivery applications of technology and modern media, thereby fuelling the global interest and a far greater audience reach. By moving the World Pipe Band Championships off Scottish soil is really of no consequence if the primary issue of access to delivery (viewing it) is globally superb and affordable to each individual user. Media broadcasting, no matter how it is channelled to your TV, computer, iPad or phone…is not like the old fashioned-pay-per view…there is or will be an “app’ for it, at the stroke of a finger. The question is…who is going to or should ‘really’ own it?

    Already there is a silent race going on, as key players are jockeying for position while recognizing the economic value of media delivery that is not only contributing to this global awareness of piping and drumming and in making the prosperity of the World Pipe Band Championships’ coverage, while also creating an international constituency worth far more than ever before. As it stands, currently the television or media ‘content’ of the WPBC is presently highly undervalued on paper and needs to be formalized with proven revenue streams common to those found in any media broadcast industry (television, cable, direct satellite, Internet, or streaming media) especially when it pertains to any world class annual championship, like in sports or otherwise.

    Plus even if the WPBC is no longer just about a traditional weekend gated Games and high octane band competitions, rather it’s big business and a bit like Christmas, that happens once year and shared around the world. The monetary value of broadcasting rights of the event alone is mind boggling, when you think of what other people clamour for each December (Christmas) and/or August (Glasgow Green) . Whether they are the manufacturers, distributors, broadcasters, DVD producers, advertisers, retailers or consumers, everyone wants a piece of the action, and when the numbers are exponentially growing, so they should. But the percentage of revenue and it’s value to such a global event must be shared by all those participants who produce the end product…all vying for a winning performance…including of course, the contributing bands themselves!!! If not, somebody clearly is going to be, or already being robbed…right out there on the open Green.



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