In the 10 years since its launch, Portsmouth’s Victorious Festival has grown to become the UK’s biggest city-based festival with a local economic impact of more than £15m. Access caught up with the festival’s director and co-founder James Ralls to discuss changes to the event this year.
Launched by Andy Marsh (pictured below left), James Ralls (centre) and Ben Miles (right) in 2012, the past decade has seen the Victorious Festival become one of the industry’s major success stories.
Originally a free two-day event at Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard that was attended by around 40,000 people, Victorious is now a multi-stage, three-day festival on Southsea seafront that contributes around £15m to the Portsmouth economy and is attended by around 160,000 people. It has an 80,000 per day audience capacity on Saturday and Sunday, with a limit of 45,000 on Friday.
The festival is operated by a core team of 12 at Victorious Festivals Limited but when the event is up and running the workforce is expanded to around 3,000. Ralls, Victorious Festival’s MD, says the event team is focused on using local suppliers and production professionals where possible: “We are always looking to spend and use employees in the local area. That’s a big part of keeping the community happy.”
Among the new initiatives this year is Neighbourhood Eats, which will see subsidised pitches offered to local independent caterers.
Victorious has seen performances by many major acts over the years, including Nile Rogers, The Prodigy, Madness, and Manic Street Preachers. Ralls says the artist booking budget has been doubled this year, and among those to perform at the 26-28 August event are Sam Fender, Stereophonics, Paolo Nutini and Anne-Marie.
With the events industry facing severe cost rises across almost every element of the supply chain it seems an unlikely time to hike talent expenditure by so much, but the move appears to be paying dividends.
“It’s looking like we will sell out for the first time, we’re about 40% ahead of where we usually are.”
“We have sold the most tickets we have ever sold at this point in the year. It’s looking like we will sell out for the first time, we’re about 40% ahead of where we usually are,” says Ralls.
He says there has been investment across the board for this year’s festival: “We have extended the dance area, the outdoor arena, and we’ve got a bigger comedy area so we’ve booked in bigger acts – everything is just getting incrementally bigger.”
To fund the increased spending on infrastructure and talent, and to mitigate the impact of inflation, weekend ticket prices have been raised to £155. They were £110 in 2019 and £135 last year.
“We are still one of the least expensive festivals in the country for the content we offer,” says Ralls. “Portsmouth is like a northern city in the south – people don’t have a lot of money, there’s a lot of deprived areas, so we’ve always tried to keep the festival affordable for locals.”
While the event’s production is handled in-house, led by head of technical production Ben Miles, the festival team is able to draw on the international perspective and knowhow at its owner Superstruct Entertainment – which acquired it in 2019 after radio group Global divested its festival brands.
Los Angeles-based Superstruct Entertainment is led by Creamfields founder James Barton, as CEO, and backed by Providence Equity Partners. Superstruct owns and operates more than 30 large-scale festivals and live music events globally. They include the UK’s Kendal Calling (25,000), Tramlines (40,000) and Boardmasters (50,000), along with Croatian festival Hideout (15,000), Sziget (95,000) in Hungary and Oya (15,000) in Norway.
“Superstruct has expertise in every aspect of the international live events industry, and they’ve made it easy for event operators to share information and help each other,” says Ralls. “There is a lot of information and experience from different markets, which can be really useful.”
Despite the many supply chain issues caused by the pandemic and Brexit, Ralls says the organisation of this year’s event has not been problematic: “Many of our suppliers have worked with us for the past 10 years. Last year some stopped operating in the industry, so that caused us a few problems specifically around toilets where there simply weren’t enough – we booked them, but they didn’t turn up.
“This year we booked everything in really early, so now we’ve got everything booked and, in some cases, we have intentionally overbooked. It has all cost a lot more money but we’re hoping that is going to be reflected in the customer experience, so it’s going to be worth it. The price of everything has gone up significantly but we just have to live with it.”
In between working on Victorious, the dozen-strong team outsource their services to other events; whether that’s managing the catering for the Y Not Festival (15,000) or setting up new shows. In 2018 they launched Victorious Events (VE), offering everything from event consultation to full delivery. It has worked as Portsmouth City Council’s event management delivery partner for the D-Day 75 commemorations, and on the Americas Cup World Series.
In 2019, VE teamed up with the council, University of Portsmouth and Arts Council England to launch “catalyst organisation” Portsmouth Creates with the aim of promoting culture in the city. Last year it launched free event series We Shine Portsmouth; which saw art and light installations set up across the city from 18-20 November.
Ralls says it is another way of enriching the arts and entertainment offering in Portsmouth: “We have a really positive relationship with the local council. We do a lot of work with them, and in the community. We’ve been doing that for years before Victorious started, we’ve got relationships going back 20-plus years.
“All of us are local and I live near the site myself. We try hard to keep the residents happy and that’s why we get very few complaints. I’m always out having cups of tea with all the old ladies who may not be the most enthusiastic about the festival.” Each year the festival team coordinates significant local charitable contributions, and in 2021 £53,600 was donated to projects across the city, including Portsmouth Young Carers and Pompey Pensioners.
The team funds an annual report of the festival’s local economic impact, and Ralls says the next step is to fund a social impact study: “That will put an economic value on all the social interactions that happen between people that wouldn’t happen if Victorious didn’t take place.
“There hasn’t been a year when the economic impact has gone down, so we’re confident it will rise again this year.”
Fencing – Steelshield
Toilets – GAP, Tardis, L&S Waste and Gigloo
Medical cover – ACOS Medical
Audio – BCS Audio
Lighting – GLS Lighting
Radios – Mark Comms
Portable buildings – Wernicks
Water – Wicked Water Services
Security – Vespasian Security
Health & Safety and Welfare – Tiger Tea
Waste Management – TJ Waste and Recycling
Showers – GreenTree Mobile Showers
Sound Management – Vanguardia
Staging – Acorn
Bars – Freemans